Global Spotlight on Hong Kong

Hong Kong is both a strategic hub and gateway to Mainland China, as well as being a competitive and growing marketplace

September 2013 | By Sam Burne James

Hong Kong is both a strategic hub and gateway to Mainland China, as well as being a competitive and growing marketplace

In July, white-collar recruiter Selby Jennings told it was readying to ramp up its operations in Hong Kong.

Martin Andres, head of sales and trading for Asia, explained this was not only because the market itself appeared attractive and lively, but also because “if we want to go into China… it makes sense to have a fully-staffed office on the ground [in Hong Kong]”.

It’s hard, not least as Hong Kong’s official name is ‘Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China’, not to think of the country in terms of its titanic neighbour.

However, the two markets are very different, comments Steffi Fan, the head of talent acquisition for consumer electronics firm Philips for Greater China* (see box, below): “In Mainland China we have big volume and most of the hiring demands are focused on sales, marketing and also function positions but if you look at Hong Kong, most of the demand is for very senior positions.”

She continues: “We would look to hire local people in Mainland China but actually in Hong Kong it’s open for all kinds of talent… Hong Kong is more open and multi-language.”

With potential candidates for those senior roles in Hong Kong coming from all over the world, Fan says the challenge is “how can we define the sourcing channels for these needs… also what is our strategy to attract people from the other markets not just Hong Kong? That requires recruiters to do more proactive search, to find international hiring channels”.

For Andres at Selby Jennings, the challenge in Hong Kong is that this is a small, competitive, relatively mature market.

“Singapore’s saturated, but it’s more the IT and oil & gas sectors,” he explains. “In Hong Kong, it’s more the financial markets [that are crowded]; we will probably have more competition in Hong Kong than we did in Singapore.”

Small and crowded yes, but one that “remains very robust” for recruiters PageGroup, according to regional managing director for Greater China Anthony Thompson. “We continue to experience year-on-year growth across almost all positive metrics in Hong Kong,” he notes, also calling the market “immature relative to markets such as the UK and Australia”, suggesting the potential for growth and more recruitment businesses in the country.

Hong Kong acts as a “regional hub”, for both recruiters and corporates, Thompson adds. “Many senior roles with regional responsibility continue to reside in Hong Kong,” he says, making it a nerve centre of the region, an important strategic location.

Martin Gooden, the director of Asia at rec-to-rec firm Global Solutions, tells Recruiter that for his firm “the advantage of hiring in Hong Kong is that most people who recruit in Hong Kong also recruit across North Asia”.

Another plus point, he says, is that the firm “has an incredibly advantageous tax situation” for both businesses and individuals.

And Gooden, who himself recruits across Asia, points out another recruiting-specific trend in the market. “One thing I’ve noted… is the amount of casual coffees; people will meet for a casual coffee and that will be a first interview or have a chat before the formal interview, and people are very flexible about that.

“Thinking of my placements in the last six months, I think all of them have started in a coffee shop.”

Selby Jennings could do well to check none of their prospective Hong Kong consultants have a low caffeine tolerance, Recruiter might suggest.

* ‘Greater China’ refers to ‘Mainland’ China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan/Chinese Taipei. See also ‘Global Spotlight on China’, Recruiter, July 2013.

Key indicators

China receives 54% of Hong Kong’s exports and accounts for 46% of imports. It is the world’s 12th-biggest exporter and 10th-biggest importer, despite its small population (7.2m).

(Source: CIA World Factbook)

Hong Kong is behind only Macau, Monaco and Singapore as one of the world’s most densely populated states, with 6,400 people per km2.

Hong Kong is the world’s third most competitive market to do business in 2013, according to business school IMD. It is down from first place last year, having been overtaken by the US and Switzerland.

Sam Burne James

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