A road to opportunity

A road to opportunity

Investment in infrastructure and innovation is opening up new opportunities across the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area. But attracting talent is proving difficult

It has been a time of new beginnings for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area (GBA) since 2018. Made up of nine cities and two special administrative regions across South China, the concept for the area was first mentioned in 2016 in the 13th Five-Year Plan for Economic and Social Development of the People’s Republic of China. Since then, steps have been taken to create stronger links across the region.

The opening of the state-of-the-art Hong Kong- Zhuhai-Macau Bridge last September has improved the flow of goods between all ports and increased the number of tourists crossing the border.

Shortly after the bridge’s opening, China unveiled the GBA development plan, which aims to build the region into a globally influential innovation and technology hub.

Dean Stallard, Managing Director for Hays Greater Bay Area, says that businesses in the area are preparing for the changes these developments will bring.

“Most multinational companies, particularly those who have a presence in Hong Kong SAR, have a GBA expansion plan strategy,” he explains. “They’re taking it seriously and are looking at opening offices that side of the border and exploring where they should invest to capitalise on the opportunities available to them.”

One industry taking particular interest in the region is banking, as many Chinese firms strengthen their presence in Hong Kong SAR. “Traditionally, candidates have always wanted to stick to the international banks as there has been glamour attached to them,” says Wisely Wong, Senior Manager, Hays Hong Kong SAR.

“However, with the investments China has put into their Hong Kong SAR branches, candidates are able to see a brighter future in Chinese banks, not only from a compensation perspective but also in terms of strategy.

“They are aware that Chinese banks will be the future and, in order to get ahead of the curve, they are making their move to these businesses now – or are at least more open to joining them.”

Sectors with challenges

While banks are certainly looking to take advantage of the investment in the region, the industry still faces challenges to recruit the talent it needs. And it’s a similar story for the supply chain and technology sectors.

For supply chain businesses, an ambitious scheme launched by China in 2015 has meant a new range of professionals are needed. The Made in China 2025 initiative aims to move production in the country away from traditional outputs such as fashion items and phones to new high-tech industries such as quantum computing and self-driving cars. Government subsidies have allowed organisations to make heavy investment in research and development.

“One result of this change is in how the roles within the supply chain have altered, creating a new demand for professionals in the industry who can guide this transformation,” says Cece Tang, Team Manager, Hays Guangzhou.

“Roles like demand planners, supply chain analysts and logistics analysts are sought as they can assist companies in moving businesses from heavily manual processes towards an increasingly automated process. They’re able to build businesses that can cater to larger scales with a lower cost of production.”

Tang says that while the change in the industry appears to be happening fast, pay levels are failing to keep pace with IT and e-commerce businesses that want similar talent. She suggests that offering a vision of the future for each individual is a better way of attracting applicants: “Instead of looking for an immediate jump in salary, candidates also value job stability. They want to work for organisations that can provide them with long-term career development. Showing that your company offers career progression and solid training programmes is a good way to attract candidates.”

In Hong Kong SAR, the banking industry is also facing a shift in its talent needs as more virtual banks and fintech firms look to hire. Firms in this space require a blend of traditional banking abilities and virtual and fintech skills.

But uncertainty surrounding virtual banks compared with established, stable organisations can put some candidates off, says Wong.

“On the other hand, for more traditional banking segments like corporate, investment banking, private banking and wealth management, the challenges appear to be finding the right match.

“This extends to the technical competencies as well as the cultural fit of the candidates. There are many cases where banks find someone to fit their technical requirements, but they have unrealistic expectations on compensation and development paths.”

To tackle these challenges, Wong suggests a two-pronged approach. First, he advises offering those coming into the organisation training and development to help them understand the culture. Second, he suggests that, in order to cope with the transition from a traditional banking environment to a fintech-driven sector, banks should consider expanding their change management teams. This may involve working with professional consultancy firms, helping them to make changes in culture and practices.

Virtual banks and fintech companies are also providing challenges for the technology industry, says Riley King, Senior Manager, Hays Hong Kong SAR, as many professionals are excited to join these organisations over established technology businesses.

He says that while businesses can attract candidates through improved compensation, looking internationally for talent and taking steps to widen candidate pools can also be effective.

“Organisations can address the supply problem by being more open to hiring staff from other countries. Companies that are not able to do so, due to language requirements, can increase the chance of being able to fill their vacancies by focusing on transferable skills rather than insisting on the perfect candidate.”

Ready for homecoming?

One pool of talent that many organisations in the region are open to is workers who were born locally but have since moved away. The 2019 Hays Asia Overseas Returnees Report indicates that 82 per cent of employers are willing to hire a returnee in the next year.

The research found that China’s overseas returnees, or those who had education or work experience abroad, are more likely to get a better salary than local candidates when compared with the regional average. In fact, 61 per cent of Chinese organisations said they would be willing to pay returnees a premium salary, compared with 57 per cent across Asia.

Known colloquially as ‘sea turtles’ (due to their migratory behaviour), the report states that “those who have had an education or experience working abroad are perceived as the answer to the modernisation of the Chinese economy and are highly regarded for being able to transfer knowledge from more mature markets, such as those of the West”.

However, overseas returnees do not have an optimistic outlook on their salaries for their first job back on the mainland. While 47 per cent expect a salary equivalent to their wages overseas, one-third (33 per cent) are willing to take or have taken a lower salary.

Meanwhile the reverse is true in Hong Kong SAR. The research found that 61 per cent of potential returnees said they would expect an increase. However, 58 per cent of employers were only willing to pay the same salary as they would for local talent.

Yet better income is not the key reason why talent is returning home. The report found that being close to family is of “paramount importance” to professionals.

Stallard says that building overseas strategies that link businesses to talent in other countries is key.

“Our GlobalLink team at Hays helps us find returnees working in the UK, for example, to bring back to the region,” he explains.

“A lot of companies are also working hard to find returnees and forming partnerships with overseas universities to pick up younger talent. Employer brand has never been more important and organisations must show prospective candidates why they’re unique compared to their competitors.”

Meeting expectations

Despite a growing need to find new talent, many employers are failing to match the expectations in some areas. While candidates and businesses were aligned for the most part on the platforms they use, 30 per cent of jobseekers search for jobs on search engines such as Google, Baidu and Yahoo. Just three per cent of businesses are posting on these platforms.

Stallard says that the companies having the most hiring success are doing so by connecting with partners outside their organisation.

“Furthermore, we’ve also seen an increase in companies asking us to recruit 40 or 50 roles for them versus using 40 to 50 agencies to find as many candidates as possible. The top companies are looking for strategic recruitment partners with a global reach, allowing them to tap into the very best talent globally.”

He concludes that, most importantly, organisations must remain prepared for future developments. “More opportunities will come to the GBA. Businesses must be ready to take full advantage of them.” 

A wealth of opportunities
Our experts discuss what they think the biggest opportunity is for organisations in the Greater Bay Area that wish to attract new talent

“There’s a huge opportunity to showcase the economic stability of the area. Globally, there are many regions facing challenges, but GBA looks very good. In fact, GDP for the area grew by seven per cent in 2018, accounting for 13 per cent of

China’s total economy. This allows people to excel in their career, earn well and fast-track their professional growth.”

Dean Stallard, Managing Director, Hays Greater Bay Area

“Organisations tend to be more open-minded to international candidates than before, as some companies are looking to transfer their manufacturing from South China to South East Asia. They can communicate that candidates with diverse and international backgrounds and multi-language skills have advantages in securing senior supply chain jobs.”

Cece Tang, Team Manager, Hays Guangzhou

“The increased investment and attention given to the GBA can serve to attract the best talent and brightest minds, encouraging them to consider working in the region. The fact that the GBA is where a lot of future technological advancements will happen is a selling point in itself to convince people to consider relocating to or staying in the region.”

Riley King, Senior Manager, Hays Hong Kong SAR

“We believe front office bankers, such as relationship managers, will have great opportunity across the GBA area due to the rapid expansion and demand in business. They are also the revenue centre and by hiring them, banks and institutions can bring in extra income.”

Wisely Wong, Senior Manager, Hays Hong Kong SAR