Recruitment momentum regains speed

by Grace Chan

Alexa Chow, managing director
Centaline Human Resources Consultants Limited
Photo: Johnny Kwok

Opportunities abound for mid-level professionals in the manufacturing and merchandising sectors

Slowly but steadily, the good times are coming back for experienced executives and professionals. In the manufacturing and merchandising sectors, competent professionals with three to five years' experience who are able to fill middle level roles such as merchandisers, factory operations officers, quality control officers, production and material control officers as well as engineers, are now the most sought-after individuals, and the trend is expected to continue into the second quarter.

With fewer orders and tougher competition, most trading firms are out of resources to train up junior staff. "Companies prefer paying a premium to hire experienced professionals," says Alexa Chow, managing director, Centaline Human Resources Consultants Limited.

Due to an average pay cut of 10 to 20 per cent during the economic downturn, people moving to a new position can now expect a 10 per cent increase in salary. Merchandisers with three to five years' experience, for instance, are now offered monthly salaries between HK$13,000 and HK$18,000.

Surging demand

Compared to the preceding quarter, there was a 30 per cent growth in job openings for both sectors in the first quarter of this year, Ms Chow notes. She adds, "Considering that the number of vacancies in these two sectors plummeted by 70 per cent last year, resulting from the shrinking consumer markets in the US and Europe, the current situation is merely a rebound from the trough."

While many trading companies had downsized their operations and frozen their headcounts last year, they are currently limited to hiring replacement staff. "Mid-level professionals are short in supply, not because of the strong recruitment drive, but since many of them have left the profession after being laid off," she says.

Skill specialisation is highly valued in the manufacturing and merchandising field, posing a major challenge for employers to source the right candidates. "Technical skills and experience required are non-transferrable across different product categories," Ms Chow reveals.

She also sees stricter job requirements from employers. "Merchandising firms that used to hire Form Five graduates now look for university graduates or at least diploma holders in the relevant discipline," she says. "Fluency in both English and Putonghua is a must as it is part of the daily routine to have discourse with clients from different markets."

International vision

According to Ms Chow, employers now attach greater importance to global business acumen and the ability to respond quickly to fast-changing market trends.

Despite China's increasing supply of cheaper manpower in the field, local professionals with international exposure and relevant experience remain in an advantageous position compared with their mainland counterparts. "Employers from the garment industry, for example, still favour local designers whose international flair and flexibility are their edge," Ms Chow underscores.

However, fresh graduates are still welcome for entry level positions such as assistant merchandisers, assistant mechanics or electronics engineers and starting salaries are in the range of HK$7,000 and HK$8,000 for small- and medium-sized firms and HK$9,000 for major trading companies.

With a bigger pool of fresh graduates available in China, employers now have more choice in junior staff since cost control remains a major concern. As competition is high among graduates, to find a job they need to maximise their value and competitiveness by taking job ownership, working hard and improving their language proficiency.

Ms Chow advises local graduates, who aspire for a career in the manufacturing and merchandising field, to grasp every internship or training opportunity at mainland companies. "Local exporters that used to rely on the US and Europe markets are now building their own brands and tapping into the China domestic market," she remarks. "The earlier local graduates are exposed to the mainland business environment, the more skills and knowledge they will be armed with to compete with their cross-border peers in the long run."

Depending on individual candidates' competencies and performance as well as the scale of the companies they work for, Ms Chow mentions it normally takes eight to 10 years for fresh graduates to take up managerial roles. "An assistant merchandiser can expect to be promoted as a merchandiser in a year, followed by successive promotions every two to three years from senior merchandiser to manager," she says.

Under the assumption that trading activities mainly rely on the global economy, particularly the US and Europe markets, Ms Chow believes it will take another year for the recruitment market to return to the pre-financial tsunami level.

"Following the recruitment momentum after Lunar New Year, another 20 per cent growth in job openings is foreseeable in this quarter," she says. "Candidates wanting to job hop should grasp this opportunity," Ms Chow concludes.

Employment outlook

  • Growing demand for middle level professionals
  • International exposure sets local professionals apart
  • Local graduates should seize mainland opportunities
  • Job vacancies to grow by 20 per cent in the second quarter

Taken from Career Times 16 April 2010, B4

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