Good fung shui or not, if you are a skilled mainland professional who has chalked up three years of experience in sales, account management and back-office, or operations management, chances are 2011 will be your year. According to the latest Michael Page Employment Index for the fourth quarter, most mainland firms believe a shortage of skilled professionals will present a big challenge next year. 'The pace at which the white-collar employment market in China is strengthening is already causing talent-management challenges for employers,' the report says. The index is based on an online survey of about 300 human resources professionals and hiring managers from various sectors in northern and eastern China. Similar surveys were conducted in Singapore, Hong Kong and southern China. The survey found that more than 65 per cent of respondents said they would be adding staff at a rate of 5 per cent, up to 10 per cent in the fourth quarter, focusing on revenue-generating front-line positions in sales and account management. To support this, operational and back-office functions are expected to expand next year. 'Of those companies increasing their staff numbers in the fourth quarter, the majority of recruitment is occurring at the middle and graduate levels,' the report says. Given such optimism, about 50 per cent of the respondents said they were focusing on hiring, while 38 per cent rated staff retention as a major concern. 'Employers recognise the importance of retaining their most experienced and capable people at a time when their skills are crucial to support business growth,' the report says. However, this would be a big challenge as those experienced employees who had accepted pay freezes despite increasing workloads during lean times are now looking at other options. 'The challenge presented by an undersupply of professional skills will intensify over the coming year,' the report says. Companies in Hong Kong and Singapore also see a tight market for professionals. In Hong Kong, 81 per cent of employers surveyed saw the demand for skills outweighing supply next year, compared with 69 per cent in Singapore and 62 per cent on the mainland. To head off this problem, many mainland employers said they would focus on strategies to retain key staff. Salary increases for key employees were likely, but any increase in payroll costs must match business growth, the report adds.