Asia-Pacific workforce advisory leader for EY, Stephen Koss, tells Human Resources how companies with a strategy to invest in tech talent will not only boost their business but drive economic recovery in Asia. Robert Blain reports
1. What are some of the unique challenges of tech talent recruitment Hong Kong faces that other Asian jurisdictions, such as Singapore, may not?
Hong Kong arguably has a traditionally smaller talent pool than some other markets, particularly in the technology sector, which poses a challenge for recruitment. There are also unique challenges the talent themselves may face in Hong Kong, such as expensive housing and language barriers.
However, despite these considerations, the desirability of Hong Kong as a destination for expat talent has helped expand the talent pool considerably.
Compared to Hong Kong, Singapore has an easier time with technology talent as they can easily tap into the large adjacent economies of Malaysia, and also reach back to other countries like India and the Philippines to help secure talent. Hong Kong has not been as able to do this due to the inherent language challenges which have drawn a line with Mainland China.
2. In terms of tech talent in the gig economy: Does this typically mean office-based contracts of three, six or 12 months duration?
In Asia, ‘gig working’ is seen as a more short-term contracting market, as opposed to a task and outcome-based approach where work is bid for on a marketplace platform. For many, this strategy of short-term contracting is used to help overcome talent issues, but increasingly CIO’s are thinking more strategically about their workforces.
They are thinking of which parts should they build and sustain, and which parts should they source to other third parties. The balance they are trying to achieve is service delivery, and control while managing risk.
For many firms with large populations of contract workers, CIO’s are becoming more concerned about the ongoing risk this may present. We are seeing more strategic workforce decision making in tech which is CIO led and is fundamentally shifting the workforce composition.
3. Gig economy workers in Hong Kong often have poor protection/benefits (such as food delivery drivers). How can gig economy tech talent avoid this? What can HR do to make their companies more appealing to tech talent?
Gig economies are challenged by providing poor protection for workers. Gig economy for tech talent will not inherently fix this but companies do have an opportunity to enhance protections and benefits for talent in the gig economy.
With tech talent, there is a huge opportunity for skilling and reskilling which would both create a stronger value proposition for employers, while also improving the situation for gig workers. This is because unlike some forms of gig working, tech skills both change over time and can degrade overtime as well.
“The onboarding experience is a critical moment for employees forming lasting views of their new employer. For many, carefully reviewing the onboarding experience during the pandemic is an important step to ensure turnover rates don’t spike in the coming months.”
4. What are some of the challenges of recruiting talent that have arisen over the past 12-15 months with the onset of the pandemic?
The pandemic has raised many challenges for recruitment over the past 12-15 months, such as the inability to meet others in person, adapting to the rapid adoption of online platforms, and structural changes to long-standing company processes. Early in the pandemic, many tech staff had a propensity to stay in their role due to the inherent uncertainty of the market.
As the pandemic continued, there were natural disruptions to the ability to source talent in the usual ways and, depending on the approach adopted by employers, many were not provided with a normal employee experience through the earlier stages of the pandemic.
The onboarding experience is a ‘critical moment’ for employees where they are forming lasting views of their new employer. For many, carefully reviewing the onboarding experience during the pandemic will be an important step to help ensure that turnover rates do not spike in the coming months.
5. What are some of the recruitment trends you see for tech talent in Asia post pandemic?
Firstly, I foresee that the competition for talent will be heating up as many who have stayed put during the pandemic are now open to searching for new jobs, and companies are embarking on both a backlog and new transformation agenda.
“The employee experience has become fused with the digital experience Companies that take a strong learning approach with their digital talent will fare better and will help with reskilling – making them more attractive to prospective employees.”
Secondly, the focus on employee experience has become fused with the digital experience which will become increasingly important for tech talent going forward. Companies that take a strong learning approach with their digital talent will fare better and will help with reskilling, making them more attractive to prospective employees.
Additionally, flexibility is now becoming an expectation. How companies bring this to life for employees has the potential to become a real differentiator in competitive markets.
Lastly, the current movement towards remote working can help broaden talent pools for new markets, and the focus on upskilling and reskilling will continue to drive strategic talent acquisition decisions.
6. What role can digital technologies play in boosting the talent acquisition process in Hong Kong and the rest of Asia?
Digital technologies are being used increasingly by companies to facilitate the recruitment process. Some firms are using digital technologies more strategically to understand which skills are increasing in demand and declining in the market, and how available they are.
This type of approach can be used to help make better decision making around which skills to build internally and which to acquire in the talent market along with the reskilling activities needed
7. There is a wealth of tech talent just over the border in mainland China. Should Hong Kong employers be targeting them? If so, what are the challenges to recruiting them?
In some cases, Hong Kong employers are already targeting tech talent over the border as some have established innovation centres in places like Shenzhen. These can be useful to establish their employment brand in markets with good access to tech talent. These markets are extremely competitive as the desirability of some of China’s top talent makes them a magnet for more talent.
Companies in Hong Kong will need to look broader to attract tech talent – including to the mainland. But the competitive landscape and the language challenges mean that this must be part of a longer-term strategy to build new talent pools through branding, sourcing the right skills, and creating a compelling proposition for people. Looking to China to solve talent issues is not a quick fix.
“The real threat from technology is that organisations over focus on it – losing sight of the fact that their people will continue to be the primary source of competitive advantage.”
8. With regard to your quote above, how can HR in particular and companies in general avoid the pitfall of over-focusing on tech?
The pitfall of over-focusing is that companies with a heavy focus on technology run the risk of forgetting about the investment required in people. In today’s world, companies are needing to not just do more, but to innovate and transform, responding to new market forces.
The ability to meet these challenges is enhanced through technology, which can help with various challenges like sustained productivity. However, these types of challenges are ultimately human in nature. We see that some firms are quicker to make decisions on technology as these changes can result in faster implementation and a clearer outcome.
People investments can take longer to implement and often are put in place without clear measures or guaranteed outcomes, making the decision to invest more difficult.
One way companies can avoid these pitfalls is to start with people first by adding clarity on what changes are expected from them, how they will respond, and how they will know when it has worked. This will largely be measured by the behaviours observed once the change has been implemented.
This idea of ‘humans at the centre’ is the same concept used in customer domains to deeply understand behaviour, motivation, and design considerations. This means that designs are created within the realm of demand and will be supported by a change in consumer behaviour.
Companies and HR practitioners can implement strategies and changes as a starting point – and not as an afterthought with ‘humans at the centre’ – by considering how people will be impacted and what is desired in terms of the behaviour.
From there, companies and HR leaders can work outward to the changes required in technology, business processes, and workspace, and most importantly, the leadership.
9. There’s an increased focus on ESG (environment, social, governance) issues. Are companies with strong ESG credentials more attractive to tech talent, or is this just some airy-fairy notion?
This is a hard question to answer because the assumption behind this is that all tech talent will find these types of companies more attractive. Individuals are unique so this ESG element may appeal to many but may not influence all recruitment decisions.
Therefore, the role of talent acquisition is to continually broaden the pool to make their organisation more attractive. We know that many individuals do value companies with strong ESG and purpose, so talent acquisition professionals should make sure this is featured in their employer branding and promoted to broaden the talent pool.
Some companies who have a focus on ESG are not maximising the value of this through the talent acquisition processes because, while they have a good ESG, they are not featuring this through the recruitment process.