The employment market in the information technology sector in Hong Kong has been hit by the financial crisis, especially in vacancy rates and benefits. However, while permanent roles are scarcer on the job market, positions are still available through direct hiring. 'The number of IT jobs registered with us in the first quarter this year dropped 30 per cent compared with the first quarter last year,' said Emma Charnock, regional director of Hays Hong Kong and China. Only the government has been actively hiring. The finance and banking industry has been heavily affected but has shown signs of improvement this quarter. Anthony Au, general manager of Manpower Professional IT Recruitment, said: 'Fortunately, not all banks are in trouble. Some are doing fine. Life has to go on and banks have to keep their IT departments going because a lot of work needs to be done.' Employers in this sector are bypassing permanent technical specialists for short-term contractors or temporary staff. And candidates are being more flexible about their salary packages due to consequent supply and demand issues. 'However, clients will still pay competitive salaries for the right candidate,' Ms Charnock said. 'Existing mission-critical projects have remained live with a selection of employers and this has created a need for candidates skilled in applications development.' Mr Au said Java and Net programmers with two to five years' experience were also in demand. And increased activity surrounding risk and regulatory control meant that demand for IT candidates specialising in risk, security and auditing was also high. Retail and professional service companies, such as insurance, have been increasing their number of IT positions in recent years due to their expansion plans for new markets such as the mainland. 'This has resulted in an increase in more functional enterprise resource planning [ERP] systems with sales and distribution, warehouse management, supply chain functions and IT infrastructure,' Ms Charnock said. 'As well as IT technical skills, employers are looking for candidates with soft skills and a good cultural fit.' However, she added: 'Most IT hiring in the mainland is in areas where companies transfer part of their IT back-office support to the mainland from India, Japan and Singapore.' Hong Kong's international status means that English has become a must. Mr Au said: 'We are so close to the mainland that Putonghua is another important language. If people are serious about having a career in the IT industry, they must have this.' Strong communications skills, good presentation and a positive working attitude are also significant requirements. IT professionals can also look outside Hong Kong for roles. However, overall employment in the IT sector has dipped over the past nine months. Ms Charnock said: 'We are seeing some recruitment activity for IT sales and technical positions being sourced by major IT multinational corporations.' Niche industries where hiring is still busy include the internet, gaming and ERP.