Desperately seeking talent

by Christy Liu

Alexa Chow
managing director
Centaline Human Resources Consultants Limited
Photo: Edde Ngan

Traders and manufacturers in pursuit of merchandisers and logistic professionals

The recruitment and retention of quality people is currently a key challenge for trading and manufacturing companies as the serious shortage of industry professionals intensifies and fierce competition from the mainland and other Asian countries prevails.

Alexa Chow, managing director, Centaline Human Resources Consultants Limited says that the hottest job openings for Hong Kong talents in the trading industry are currently related to merchandising. Positions in the industry usually require experience and in the manufacturing sector today logistic professionals, engineers and purchasers with a proven track record are in popular demand.

Specifically in the trading industry, companies are continuously seeking quality merchandisers to fill vacancies. Ms Chow stresses that demand now seriously exceeds supply for experienced and qualified merchandisers in the field. "Presently, only two out of 10 positions can be filled," she notes.

Supplying the goods

Employers favour candidates with merchandising experience as well as relevant exposure, and ideally a recognised degree. However, finding suitable people with appropriate qualifications, relevant experience and the right personality is a tough task. As a result, viable alternatives including hiring fresh graduates and considering people from related fields is one solution to tackle the problem, says Ms Chow.

However, most of the trading companies in Hong Kong are small and medium enterprises. Budget restrictions in smaller companies often make training and educating fresh graduates problematic. "It makes more sense to employ fresh graduates, from the Institute of Textile and Clothing at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University for example, who have already received the relevant training on campus," she explains.

Having said this, Ms Chow points out that today's employers in trading and manufacturing do attach great importance to qualifications. In the past, a Form Five or Form Seven education could satisfy employers' requirements, but the industry has become increasingly sophisticated and merchandisers are now required to communicate with people from different countries. This includes discourse with clients in English and Mandarin for Chinese suppliers.

In addition to academic requirements and language proficiency, the industry also needs merchandisers with diverse professional skills including local and regional acumen. Also important is personality and the ability to respond rapidly to the ever-changing market.

International perspective

In the manufacturing industry, there is a huge demand for logistic managers. Thanks to burgeoning trade in China, multi-national companies (MNCs) are seeking quality logistics managers to help with existing business development and future expansion.

Ms Chow says, "At present, there is an acute demand for management-level logistic professionals with academic qualifications, language skills and IT knowledge."

The logistic business relies on technological advances. "Logistic companies, especially MNCs, therefore seek to hire IT proficient teams as it is vital to use a reliable and efficient logistic control system to maintain smooth operations. As a result, the competition for IT savvy talent has become more intense in the industry in recent years," says Ms Chow.

She explains that MNCs normally offer a comprehensive training programme in order to support aspiring individuals aiming towards management positions. In addition to IT skills, MNCs also look for people with strong numerical skills, flexibility and an open mind.

According to Ms Chow, an elevated salary is essential to attract high-calibre candidates, but she remarks that companies now offer staff substantial commission or bonuses in order to retain quality people.

This year marks the end of restrictions on China's garment industry and the competitive mainland market has impacted Hong Kong's trading and manufacturing companies. In addition, more ports have been opened to allow direct shipment of products from China to overseas countries. Faced with these challenges, Hong Kong companies are currently seeking ways to cut costs. Such budgeting includes hiring local Chinese people to fill junior positions. Before long, this group will become a fiercely competitive force and junior people in the merchandising and logistic field will face serious competition in the near future, Ms Chow predicts.

Pressing trends

  • Employers increasingly favour candidates with experience and exposure
  • Hiring fresh graduates a viable alternative
  • Mainland juniors expected to grow more competitive

Taken from Career Times 28 March 2008
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