China, the new manufacturing powerhouse of the world, is becoming home to a growing number of international procurement offices, as importers beat a path to the doors of low-cost merchandise. But many global companies prefer to put middle to senior management in the procurement and supply chain in Hong Kong with satellite offices in China, recruiters say. Ekta Madan, a Hong Kong-based consultant with global executive search firm Manpower Profession, said the outlook was 'healthy and optimistic' for mainland-based manufacturing posts. 'We conducted a survey of Chinese employers and found they have trouble filling manufacturing procurement supply chain posts in China because there is a dearth of qualified professionals. People from Hong Kong or even Taiwan or Malaysia are keen to move to China because of the opportunities,' she said. The Manpower survey to gauge the hiring trends for the final quarter of this year showed that Chinese employers across all industry sectors anticipated positive hiring activity throughout the quarter, said Ms Madan. However, responses indicated that while still positive, employer hiring intentions had cooled compared with the third and fourth quarters of last year. 'The strongest hiring plans are reported in the service industry sector. However, Guangzhou employers - mostly manufacturers - are reporting the most optimistic hiring plans for the forthcoming quarter, with a respectable net employment outlook of 15 per cent; and they keep recruiting a steady number of increasingly skilled people.' Net employment outlook is derived by taking the percentage of employers anticipating total employment to increase and subtracting from this the percentage expecting to see a decrease in employment in their area in the next quarter. Technical professionals were in the greatest demand in the sector, Ms Madan said. Earlier surveys by Manpower showed that employers in China had difficulty filling positions such as production operators, technicians (mostly production/operations, engineering or maintenance), management/executives, engineers, machinists and researchers. 'These are primarily manufacturing/production-based positions which support the fact that people with these key skills and qualifications stand a higher chance of employment and growth in China, thus making them move there,' said Ms Madan. This picture was endorsed by Arrann Young, of global executive search company Hudson, who added that Hong Kong was favoured for higher-level postings in the supply chain. 'We have seen a significant increase over the past year in the creation of international purchasing offices in Hong Kong and Shenzhen,' said Mr Young, who is manager of the manufacturing and industrial team for Hudson in Hong Kong and South China. But hiring intentions showed an overall preference for Hong Kong as a location for such operations and this was due to the ease of access the city provided to cheap sources of finished or semi-finished goods and components in China and Asia generally. 'Obviously a Hong Kong purchasing office has Asia as a backyard in which to source cheaper supplies and enjoy easy access to China, in particular to Guangzhou and Donguan,' he said. Lower supply costs were the chief attraction of establishing buying offices in the region. 'Everything cascades down from the customer, so the pressure is on companies to reduce their overheads to maintain margins. Hence they are looking for alternative sources of materials, components and labour - which explains the growth of joint-venture manufacturing operations in China.' Hong Kong or mainland candidates would have to satisfy employers on the two most important criteria to secure a post at the level of middle management or upwards, Mr Young said. 'The first being English communications skills. They might do reasonably well in written communications, but when speaking to global heads of supply chains they often lack the ability to think in business English and contribute from a strategic point of view.' A second area in which Hong Kong and mainland candidates often fell short of the job requirements set by employers was experience of working in a multinational corporate environment, said Mr Young. 'Those without exposure to this working environment are perceived as lacking in overall business awareness or an ability or experience to think in a regional or global strategic context.' Anthony Modrich, manager of the supply chain and logistics division of Robert Walters in Hong Kong, said senior postings in sourcing and merchandising remained 'by and large' in Hong Kong, though in addition many companies established satellite offices in China. 'Typically, all levels from junior merchandisers up to managing directors may be in Hong Kong, with lower level staff in China - though this may not necessarily be a straight split and obviously there would also be a lot of quality inspectors in China,' Mr Modrich said. Employers were typically looking for curriculum vitae that demonstrated a background of employment with reputable companies and a demonstrable career progression, he said and outside of technical postings, formal education was 'not a massive factor'. Typically a job advert for a general manager of an international company could attract more than 100 CVs, said Mr Modrich, and this would be narrowed down to a short-list of about five which would be presented to the employer. 'The chief factors on which CVs are disqualified include poor presentation, poorly written resumes and people changing jobs too often, or who have worked for small and unheard of companies, and CVs that show no career progression over time,' he said. Tanya Lau, director of South China at Hays, said experience was key to securing a managerial posting in procurement and supply chain management. 'There is a high level of demand for people with experience in the same industry, especially candidates who may have five to eight years of experience in the industry, or at least three years at a managerial level,' she said. 'Employers are also looking for strong communication skills and an understanding of the Chinese culture, as well as integrity. 'The majority of our clients are multinational companies and I can tell from their expectations that they are looking for candidates with very good communication skills as well,' Ms Lau said.