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2018 sees increase in IT recruitment in Hong Kong, Morgan McKinley reveals

Morgan McKinley’s 2019 Hong Kong Salary Guide shows that 2018 was a very positive year for the job market as Hong Kong registered its lowest unemployment rate in many years – just 2.8% in quarter four. Indeed, new headcount was created in risk and compliance, IT, marketing and sales, alongside strong competition for talent and high fluidity in the labour market.


In contrast, job seekers in front-office, finance and accounting and operations roles had a tougher time. In light of the US-China trade dispute, many organisations in these sectors are remaining very cautious in their hiring plans for 2019.


The market for contractors remained buoyant in 2018 and the future looks bright for contingent professionals as this market is yet to reach maturation in Hong Kong. In parallel, Morgan McKinley saw an increasing number of companies embrace flexible working cultures and steadily become more open-minded in their hiring of candidates in response to a shortage of talent in fast-growing sectors.


Reina Cheng, managing director of Morgan McKinley in Hong Kong, said, “In areas of business such as front office, operations and finance, the offshoring trend has continued to negatively impact recruitment in Hong Kong.  However, in risk, compliance, IT, sales & marketing, we expect hiring to be very active in 2019 due to GDPR, the constant change in the technology and digital landscape. Languages and softer skills are becoming increasingly important across the board. We expect to see fierce competition for top talent in a number of sectors and disciplines in 2019.”


IT recruitment was very active in 2018 especially for start-ups and tech companies having hired more IT talent than other sectors. Although the market experienced a slight drop in roles within infrastructure hardware, 2018 saw increased demand for application analysts and software engineers, alongside Java developers and application support analysts. In the last 12 months, Morgan McKinley witnessed a growing need for DevOps professionals and a sharp increase in demand for cybersecurity experts in response to high-profile data leaks.  


Legislative changes like GDPR and a number of institutions recently stung by financial penalties continued to drive hiring in risk, compliance and legal disciplines alongside growth in sanctions, financial crime compliance (FCC), surveillance and fraud roles.


With a talent shortage placing a higher market value on skilled candidates, job hopping became a more common occurrence in these disciplines which saw a steady increase in salaries compared with two to three years ago. However, organisations are more in favour of hiring candidates with stable CVs, and the most substantial salary increases – around 40% for external moves – went to candidates that had stayed with their previous company between three and five years.


Junior to mid senior roles offshoring continues to impact BAU and operations functions, and the financial recruitment market remained on a generally downward trend in 2018. While senior front-office roles remain in Hong Kong, many organisations were cutting local headcount and moving more junior staff to other markets like Shanghai.


High-performing relationship managers (RMs) were highly sought after by retail, corporate, and particularly, private banks, and this trend is set to continue in large numbers. As Hong Kong’s talent pool remained shallow, it was a bullish market for RM talent. Hong Kong remained a language-driven market in 2018 where fluency in Mandarin has become an essential prerequisite for approximately 95% of front-office roles.


Finance and accounting job seekers went through a tougher year, with the number of vacancies decreasing by around 10% year-on-year despite rising demand for talent from non-governmental organisations and statutory authorities.


It was a particularly challenging period for senior-level candidates in this sector as international banks move their headquarters away from Hong Kong. In contrast, junior and mid-level candidates had more options than in previous years and hiring managers struggled to find high calibre talent to fill positions.


Positive growth across the retail, finance, tech, telecommunications, professional services and FMCG sectors spurred hiring in the marketing and sales sectors. Hong Kong’s low unemployment meant it remained a job seekers market, with professionals showing increased confidence.


In the e-commerce and FinTech sectors in particular, there was a notable growth in demand for online-focused marketing professionals, including digital marketing, data and analytics, English and simplified Chinese copywriting and content generation. Sales professionals with strong networks and those possessing “hunter” sales skills remained rare, and this talent continued to be the most sought-after by organisations in the market.


The emergence and growth of internet and mobile businesses, as well as start-ups, continues to drive a change in workplace culture across Hong Kong. Increased working hour flexibility and the opportunity to work from home are trends set to continue their upward trajectory. In 2018 organisations increasingly used flexible working hours, attractive perks and work-life balance as a strategy to attract the best talent.


Big data, artificial intelligence and cloud computing continued to be emerging technology trends changing the landscape in 2018, impacting the IT, marketing and accounting sectors in particular. Job seekers in these disciplines should continually upgrade their skills and invest in their own development to stay on top of the competition and remain relevant as innovation and emerging technologies vastly change the hiring landscape.


While permanent positions remain preferential to Hong Kong candidates, both job seekers and organisations became less resistant to contracting in 2018, viewing it as a potential opportunity to get into their prefered organisation or a means to address temporary workforce shortages such as covering staff on mat leaves, respectively. Overall, Hong Kong’s contracting market remained buoyant with a year-on-year increase of 20 per cent and the market yet to reach its maturation.


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