Hiring outlook bleak for HK, China in 2017

Demand for contract employees to go up as more firms seek flexible staffing solutions, says Robert Walters survey

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 January, 2017, 6:13pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 January, 2017, 10:25pm

Employers in Hong Kong and China are likely to slow their hiring plans this year due to job freezes in the financial industry and the growing preference for contract employment, according to a recent salary survey.

More layoffs are likely in the banking and financial services sector in Hong Kong as global investment banks continue to lose significant market share to Chinese banks in the equity and debt capital markets, as well as merger and acquisition deals, said the findings from global recruitment consultancy Robert Walters’ Global Salary Survey 2017.

Last year China saw slow growth in hiring for traditional positions in the financial services industry after the emergence of new competitors such as internet banks and peer-to-peer lenders, the recruitment firm said.

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“Financial institutions were under extreme pressure to cut costs and reposition their business portfolio to build on their core strengths, resulting in minimal additional headcounts and even some redundancies,” said Matthew Bennett, managing director for Robert Walters in Greater China.

Bennett added that companies and banks in Hong Kong were likely to hire more contract employees for project and headcount purposes this year.

For business support roles last year, contract hiring took priority over permanent headcount, the survey found, especially since contract employees were seen as flexible and alternative solutions to headcount freezes and leaner budgets throughout the uncertainties in 2016.

But despite the cautious outlook for hiring in financial services, professionals in the information technology industry are expected to be highly sought after this year.

“The rising demand for new, innovative technology and cybersecurity experts would be the main drivers for the exponential growth of the fintech sector in Hong Kong,” Bennett said. “The general talent shortage of specialists in fintech, mobile development, e-commerce, big data and cybersecurity will create a strong demand for these talents.”

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The high demand for cybersecurity professionals for the fintech sector means that outstanding candidates can expect about 15 per cent salary increment, which on average is the highest among all levels of financial services, according to the survey.

Contract employees would also be in demand for the information technology sector, as companies would prefer such staff for help with rolling out new solutions, developing application features and driving digital projects.

“Unlike 2015, the number of contract employees under Robert Walters actually saw a 30 per cent jump. Most of the banks are doing transformation projects, and they would like to revamp their core banking system or IT system to replace back-office staff,” said June Tam, senior manager for information technology in financial services and contract division of Robert Walters.

“There is a lot of focus on the IT system and how to streamline the process to be more cost-efficient,” Tam said, adding that the time taken to recruit a contract employee is also much shorter than a permanent hire.

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Findings from Robert Walters also show that salary increments for Hong Kong this year are expected to remain at between 3 to 5 per cent for employees who remain in the same roles, while job movers can expect about a 10 to 15 per cent salary increase.

In China, salary increments are pegged between 3 to 8 per cent for 2017, while job movers can expect a 15 to 20 per cent salary raise.

However, despite the higher salary increments in China, a recent survey released by Chinese job listing site Zhaopin found that 50 per cent of the respondents said that they did not get a bonus in 2016. About 40 per cent of respondents indicated that bonus payment would be the key determinant for changing jobs.

Employees from the financial industry in China reported an average bonus of about 17,200 yuan (HK$19,326), the highest among all industries. Employees at state-owned enterprises reported bonuses of about 17,300 yuan on average, while bonuses at privately held companies averaged 11,300 yuan.