Mar. 16 ? While 10 years ago, China?s low-cost labor force was one of the major drivers pushing foreign manufacturers to choose the emerging nation as their production base, nowadays China?s human resource (HR) market is witnessing significant changes alongside its developing industrial landscape. But while it is widely recognized that hiring is becoming more expensive across the country ? especially in some industries and in major coastal cities like Shanghai - it should also be noted that the overall HR market is becoming more mature for employers.
More expensive hiring
According to the latest statistics released by Robert Walters in its 2011 China Salary Survey, recruitment activity increased in the first half of 2010 and peaked between April and June as the Chinese economy quickly recovered from the Global Financial Crisis amid strong market conditions. The survey predicts that in 2011, salary rises are likely to be around 10 percent across various industries, while top-tier candidates may command approximate 15 percent to 30 percent increases in their compensation.
The size of a company?s hiring budget is closely related to China?s policy alterations and economic development focus. Furthermore, a strong demand for information technology (IT) advancement, encouragement in merger and acquisition (M&A) activities, prosperity in consumer markets, and China?s attempts to further open up its financial sector mean that businesses in the fields of financial services, accounting, IT, sales and marketing may need to prepare bigger paychecks for their employees.
Shanghai: an increasingly mature HR market
Zhang Sheng, the Commerce Finance Division manager of Robert Walters, describes Shanghai as the third most mature hiring market in Asia among commerce-centered cities, following Hong Kong and Singapore. As Shanghai gains growing global presence and is ready to accommodate headquarters of international businesses, employers will be impressed to find out there is a significant number of candidates available with both local and international experience that make them completely qualified as being ?decision makers? instead of ?command followers.?
Professionals with local experience in the Shanghai market are of much value for employers who look to set up their business in Shanghai, since many of them have grown and learned with China?s rapid development and reforms in the past decade. The distinct development stages China has gone through in such a short period has enabled them to master a much wider span of business knowledge than those working in a country with relatively stable development.
The Shanghai HR market?s maturity also resides in its mounting diversity and comprehensiveness.
?You can find professionals at all levels to meet your demands in the city,? Zhang emphasized.
The overall national infrastructure development has not only made it easier for companies that want to take advantage of the lower cost in China?s inland cities to relocate their manufacturing bases and build up a national supply chain, but it also makes it more possible for those employers to hire people who are willing to relocate. The changing attitude to relocation means a senior manager can stay with a company longer, have a better understanding of the company?s periodical strategies, and thus become more qualified for participating in long-term decision-making.
The staff loyalty mystery
While loyalty is supposed to be highly valued in the Chinese culture, staff loyalty is becoming more and more of a mystery for many employers. On one hand, with a massive HR supply, the competition in China?s job market is fierce; on the other hand, companies still often find it difficult to maintain a comparatively stable staff since many employees hop from one job to another frequently for better opportunities or pay.
Zhang believes that low staff loyalty has something to do with China?s growth pattern. The country?s fast shifts in development focus has led to professional shortages in some fields. For example, While China?s M&A market just started booming two years ago, the supply of professional accountants that can help complete compliance processes failed to meet the surging demand, because it definitely takes longer than two years for an accountant to grow mature and competent enough for those positions. The imbalanced supply-demand relationship resulted in companies bidding for the limited amount of professionals, and finally facilitated the phenomenon of ?job changers.?
In order to maintain valuable employees, companies may need to take a closer look at China?s policy trends to receive a better understanding of when is the best time to offer employees more incentives. A universal 30 percent post-financial crisis salary increase in many companies that cut redundancy during the crisis is a good example showing how those employers perceive the ever-changing HR market conditions during different periods.
HONG KONG (MarketWatch) ? Headhunters recruiting in China say they?ve rarely seen busier times.
Domestic and multinational companies seeking to bolster staff as part of bold expansion plans in the Chinese market have sparked frenzied bidding to attract qualified personnel across a broad ranges of industries, recruitment experts say.
Candidates with the right level of education and skills are typically seeing inducement offers that include salary increases of 40% to 50%, in addition to enhanced responsibility.
?I think China is the hardest place right now to secure talent and to retain talent,? said Christine Greybe, president of recruitment firm DHR International in Hong Kong.
She estimates that about 30% of candidates who plan on leaving their companies receive counteroffers which match or even exceed the rival offer, as companies grow wary of the loss of personnel through poaching.
?A lot of attention is going towards finding ways to keep talent, which is very unusual to anything we saw before,? Greybe said.
The hiring drive reflects ambitious plans among multinationals to secure opportunities in China. In some cases, companies are seeking to double or even triple managerial staff within a few years, cramming growth that would normally happen in a 10-year window, experts say.
?There?s been a redoubling of growth imperative of by multinationals trying to head into Asia, because companies are finding it hard to grow in the U.S. and Europe,? said Mike Game, the Hong Kong-based Asia chief executive officer for multinational recruitment company Hudson.
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Mainland Chinese companies are also offering more competitive wages for their senior executives, shrinking what?s been traditionally a gap with compensation packages offered by multinationals.
In some cases, Chinese companies are now paying salaries and packages that meet or beat those offered by Western companies, says Greybe, adding executives in technology companies ? such as Chinese Internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. /quotes/comstock/22h!e:700 (HK:700 218.20, -6.00, -2.68%) /quotes/comstock/11i!tctzf (TCTZF 28.94, +0.09, +0.31%) ? look more to stock options and other forms of compensation outside of salaries.
The place to be
?China is the place people want to be. They are not interested in a job in the U.S. in the way they may have been two or three years ago,? Greybe said, referring to China-born professionals.
Chinese companies accounted for 54 of those in the Fortune 500 list in 2010, up from 35 in 2008.
Greybe said that some clients take the view that careers spent at home could pay bigger dividends, given China?s rising status in the global economy.
In fact, leading Chinese firms are now more sought after than multinationals among mainland engineering graduates born between 1980 and 1990, according data compiled by recruitment company AonHewitt.
The jobs squeeze is also spilling over to service-center hubs outside mainland China, including Hong Kong and Singapore.
Lawyers with the right educational profile and job experience can expect to receive a half dozen offers within a few weeks, said Denvy Lo, a senior consultant with legal recruitment specialists Laurence Simons.
It?s fairly standard to expect pay rises of 30% to 40% when jumping firms, she said, adding that the frenzied recruiting conditions are reminiscent of the boom times of 2007.
?They will look around to see who can offer them the most and the best package,? Lo said.
Among those most in demand are China-born candidates who completed law degrees in the U.S. and have a few years? experience with multinational companies in Asia, Lo said.
The Manpower Employment Outlook Survey results for China were just released, with the data coming in a little worse than the previous two quarters, but strong compared to recent years. Net hiring intentions fell to 29% from 38% in Q1 this year, and a high of 51% in Q4 last year.
Chinese employers forecast an active labor market in Quarter 2 2011. While 34% of employers expect to increase staffing levels, 5% predict a decrease and 53% anticipate no change. The resulting Net Employment Outlook stands at +29%.
In short, though, the results are actually quite positive. Looking at the chart below, China is actually in the midst of a hiring boom. Compared to Q2 2010, much of its recent history hiring intentions for the second quarter of 2011 are still pretty strong. It's no wonder, then, that you hear stories about rising wages in China, or labor shortages. And it's this surge in employment that is creating an interesting set of threats and opportunities for the Chinese economy.
Looking at it on a sector-by-sector basis, the clear leader is Manufacturing, with a net 31% of firms looking to increase staff. The manufacturing sector also saw the smallest decrease compared to Q1 (down by only a couple of percentage points). Another strong sector is Finance, Insurance & Real Estate -- which is interesting with the backdrop of a booming property market -- with 10 million units of social housing set to be built this year.
Another strong sector is Services, with a net 28% of firms planning to hire; also interesting from an economic rebalancing angle. In other words, it is interesting to see sectors like Services, Wholesale & Retail Trade, and Finance doing well, as growth in these sectors will help China rebalance its economy to being domestic demand-led, rather than export-oriented.
So what is the overall synopsis? In terms of employment outlook, the answer is still "boom." Net hiring intentions show firms still need to hire more workers, which can be driven by a number of things, but is usually motivated by growth of the business and a need to increase capacity. It's this lack of spare capacity that is also contributing to higher inflation. Indeed, a key driver of inflation in China this year will not just be commodities, but also rising wage inflation.
This creates an interesting dilemma for the Chinese government: On the one hand it needs to stave off high levels of inflation to avoid instability and maintain a sustainable rate of growth; on the other hand, rising wages may also be a key catalyst in helping rebalance the Chinese economy and growing domestic demand, instead of relying on a low-cost export-oriented model. And of course there is the tension of reducing inflation, but without stalling the economy.
In short, the survey results suggest that the Chinese economy is still going strong, and is likely to continue to grow at a strong pace this year as domestic demand rises and government spending continues (the government plans to run a deficit this year). However, the inflation risks are highlighted and accentuated by this data point.
So it remains to be seen how the inflation battle unfolds. But as long as the fundamentals remain intact, it's almost a certainty that buying opportunities will be present, especially if valuations overshoot in reaction to monetary policy tightening.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.
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