Talent thirst tops Asia agenda

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 November, 2011, 12:00am


Asia's ability to maintain its robust economic growth levels despite the uncertainty brewing in the West may be a promising sign for some. But tucked behind the rosy earnings reports of the region's companies rests some key concerns - namely, worries about the ability of Asian companies to source and retain the leaders needed to maintain this pace of growth.

A 2011 survey conducted by The Conference Board - a United States-based not-for-profit international organisation funded by corporations - found the issue of retention to be among the most critical challenges cited by its 174 Asia respondents.

Of the business leaders polled in the region, some even went so far as to refer to it as their primary concern, one which has long been and will likely continue to be on their minds for some time, explains Rebecca Ray, The Conference Board's senior vice-president for human capital.

'Before the global crisis, people were very aware that talent was going to be a key issue in Asia,' she tells Classified Post during a recent visit to Hong Kong. 'It was already difficult to fill positions, particularly in the accounting, finance and banking industries. That's only become worse as the available pool of talent has become more scarce.'

On the supply side, another key issue contributing to the talent pressure, Ray says, is that of international migration. 'Countries like India and [others] in Asia Pacific have traditionally been large exporters of talent. Many companies from around the world have reached into the labour pools of these places to take the best and brightest,' she says.

However, given the current state of many of the developed world's economies, such movements appear to have eased somewhat. Ray concurs, noting that not only are Asians increasingly opting to stay in Asia - or in the case of overseas graduates, return to Asia - but many are also choosing to work for Asian-headquartered companies over once-more-preferable multinational companies (MNCs).

'There's a lot of pride that people have in working for a local company in their own country during this exciting time,' Ray says. 'That's a difficult thing to combat for a multinational.'

But all is not lost for MNCs, explains Ray. Ultimately, she says, all companies are capable of attracting top talent so long as they offer a compelling employment value proposition. At the same time, she also suggests cultivating talent internally and enhancing the effectiveness of existing leaders through development programmes, both of which were cited as primary points of focus by survey respondents.

Of the firms already focusing on these areas, Jardine Matheson is a notable case. Led by group human resources (HR) head Ritchie Bent, the global conglomerate has for 13 years run a management training scheme, which, Bent notes, continues to boast markedly high retention rates.

Dubbed the JETs scheme - for Jardine Executive Trainees - the programme involves a four-year training period, after which graduates are given the chance to run one of the group's business units within 11 years' time.

But like The Conference Board survey respondents, Bent sees a need for increased focus on talent sourcing and development - despite their longstanding efforts on these fronts. 'For any company that says talent isn't a top challenge, either their HR director has it wrong or the company is about to implode,' Bent says.

To address the concern, he and his team have developed a second management training programme, one that they have tailored to their bustling mainland operations.

Like the JETs initiative, the new China Management Trainee Scheme (CMTS) promises that participants will someday run one of its businesses. But unlike JETs, CMTS says this will be so within eight years, after its notably shorter two-year training period. 'It's too early to say if [CMTS] will be successful, but it's looking promising,' says Bent.

For its existing leaders, the company provides training and facilitates meetings between its top brass and the CEOs of other firms.

Source: The Conference Board