Organisations in Asia need to adopt a five-pronged talent strategyÂ to contend with rising skills shortages.
By Michael Switow
A severe talent crunch is leaving key positions unfilledÂ across Asia-Pacific.
âHow do you get more people? How do you attract moreÂ applications?â asks Arun Vignes Radhakrishnan, TCSâÂ regional HR head for Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau.
Hong Kong is the third most difficult market in theÂ world to find skilled employees, according to researchÂ presented by Alexander Mann Solutions at the 2019Â HRO Today Forum APAC. Two-thirds of major employersÂ in Singapore are reporting talent shortages whilst inÂ China, the working population has shrunk for seven yearsÂ straight. By 2020, China is predicted to have a shortfall ofÂ nearly 230 million workers.
âIf we look at this skill shortage, traditional talentÂ acquisitionâgoing out and hiring on skills andÂ experienceâis not going to work. You canât find theÂ skills. They donât exist,â says Neil Jones, regional head ofÂ APAC at Alexander Mann Solutions.
This shortfall is leading talent acquisition experts toÂ embrace new strategies.
âThe modern thinking should be around hiring forÂ curiosity, potential, and adaptability to change,â saysÂ Jones, who is based in Singapore and has worked inÂ talent acquisition for more than two decades. TalentÂ acquisition leaders need to begin thinking aboutÂ âmanaging segments of work,â not just people, heÂ argues. A five-pronged total workforce strategy canÂ provide some insight: buy, build, borrow, partner, andÂ automate.
First Prong: Buy
Katie Ng, Hewlett-Packard Enterpriseâs Hong Kong headÂ of human resources, is asking her managers to adopt aÂ new mindset. Even if they can find someone with theÂ right experience, she encourages them to search forÂ candidates with the potential to become future leadersÂ instead.
âWe ask managers to hire for the future, not for now,âÂ she says. Her company, which spun off from Hewlett-Packard three years ago, offers cloud and financialÂ services. In one sense, itâs a new business, yet at theÂ same time, much of the staff has been working with theÂ company and its predecessor for years.
Then Build, Borrow, and Partner
Hiring âfor the futureâ and âfor curiosityâ necessitatesÂ that companies invest in building competencies internally.Â But traditional training and courses may not be the bestÂ way to proceed. Research released by Deloitte last yearÂ shows that when people are put into teams with peers inÂ a real-time environmentâwhat Deloitte calls âconnectedÂ learningââproductivity increases by nearly 40 per cent.
Determining who receives training can present its ownÂ set of challenges, particularly in markets like AustraliaÂ where more than one in 10 workers are independentÂ contractors.
âWe wrap our arms around the permanent workforceÂ and give them all the benefits and training, butÂ contractors and temp workers are also really critical toÂ achieving the goals of your business,â says Tara Knobel,Â Alexander Mannâs Melbourne-based APAC director ofÂ operations and solution design. âThatâs where we findÂ it very challenging. All these people contribute to theÂ total success of your organisation but are treated andÂ managed in very different ways.â
A closer relationship between procurement and HR teamsÂ may help address this disconnect. Jones sees these twoÂ departments working more closely together now thanÂ just a few years ago, though a lack of clear data stillÂ poses challenges.
âIt used to be marriage guidance counsel between HRÂ and procurement. Now we see much more alignment andÂ forward planning. But I still havenât seen a silver bullet ofÂ systems that gives you a uniform set of data for contractÂ and perm. Thatâs going to be essential to really crack thisÂ total talent problem,â he says.
âWe are seeing a hyper-acceleration of a digital agendaÂ and organisations that donât grasp it will be in trouble,âÂ Jones says. âOne in four companies have no plans forÂ digital transformation. Iâm pretty sure theyâre going theÂ same way as Blockbuster and Kodak.â
One of the biggest challenges faced by talent acquisitionÂ leaders when discussing digitalisation and new systems isÂ obtaining leadership support, particularly in firms whereÂ the leadership team is older.
âA lot of companies in Asia are being dragged kickingÂ and screaming rather than actually saying, âyes, this is theÂ way to go,ââ observes Independent Auditâs Asia DirectorÂ Phillip Baldwin. âIt always comes down to the leadership.Â Getting that total buy-in has got to come from the top.Â They often know theyâve got to digitise, but theyâre notÂ exactly sure what it is.â
Shirley Fong, Li & Fungâs vice president for HR, says thatÂ this uncertainty about new technology can lead CEOs toÂ embrace digitalisation in front of the board but slow itÂ down behind the scenes. But in other cases, leaders diveÂ in too fast.
âSometimes bigger companies bite more than they canÂ chew, so we tend to do a lot of these digital initiatives atÂ a very large scale,â observes Fongâs colleague, AssistantÂ HR Manager Sukriti Sabherwal. âYou donât have toÂ roll out the entire gamut of digital transformationÂ technologies that are available. Do a pilot.â