Asia Pacific: Technology Recruiting Trends 2021

Asia Pacific: Technology Recruiting Trends 2021
Posting date:17 Feb 2021

Anticipated economic boom 

2020 may be behind us, but the impact of Covid-19 has left many countries now facing huge economic challenges and long roads to recovery - which may take years or even decades.

That said, economies and sectors which have been more resilient to the impacts and better able to withstand, or even benefit from the volatility, are now poised to rebound more quickly than others.

The Asia Pacific region is one such example. In fact, the region looks set to resume its trajectory as a global growth hotspot in 2021. According to the IMF World Economic Outlook, the region will grow by 6.9% this year. By comparison, 2021 global growth is projected at 5.2 percent.

So, why is Asia Pacific set to bounce back to economic health more quickly?

Multi-speed recovery 

The first thing to say is that although the region is starting to recover, it is happening at multiple speeds. The outlook varies by country depending on Covid-19 infection rates, containment measures and the scale and effectiveness of policy implementation.

Economic activity is beginning to revive, starting with China. China’s growth has recently received a boost from infrastructure, real estate investment and a surge in exports, mainly of medical and protective equipment, as well as work-from-home-related electronics.

The economic contraction in the rest of Asia also appears to have bottomed out and it’s the economies with the lowest infection rates that are seeing the biggest pickups in activity.

A focus on Hong Kong & Singapore 

Digital Transformation and the Digital Economy

Organisations across Hong Kong and Singapore have reacted to the pandemic and its ensuing challenges, with unprecedented speed. The pandemic has forced innovation, new ways of working and triggered digital transformations that would have previously taken years to implement.

However, it is not only the speed of technology adoption but also the scale, that is having such a positive impact on these economies. To remain competitive and customer centric, most businesses are rapidly transforming and importantly their consumers are receptive and ready for the change. We are seeing this across a range of industry sectors including Financial Services, Retail and E-Commerce, Government, Telecommunications and Healthcare.

In fact, digital transformation initiatives are now so widespread across all industries that the tech talent market is growing and fast becoming more competitive. There is an increasing need, not just for technical skills, but for senior professionals, who can facilitate transformative change alongside the complexities of remote project delivery.

So, who’s hiring tech professionals this year?

Enterprise hiring  

Due to Covid-19, many global organisations with headquarters outside of Asia (mostly in the US or Europe) have put their proactive growth plans in Asia on hold, in order to concentrate on their home markets. Consequently, hiring within many of these businesses has significantly slowed, if not completely frozen.

Positively however, local enterprises with headquarters in Hong Kong or Singapore or international businesses with existing Asian headquarters have ramped up their hiring of tech talent dramatically. Some of these businesses are now building out entire new divisions or business units from the leadership level, right down to the team of engineers to accelerate new product build or rapid digitisation.

As such, we are finding that VP or Director level and below, within engineering, is in highest demand - whereas requirements for the most senior top-level technical executives has decreased somewhat for now.

The Singapore government continues to incentivise international businesses to open innovation centres in Singapore which will further drive demand for specialist niche talent in areas such as Artificial Intelligence, 5g, Innovation and Design & Engineering. The likes of Dyson, Rakuten, Goldman Sachs and Twitter are examples of companies with such innovation hubs.

Furthermore, some of China's biggest technology firms have expanded their operations to Singapore, a direct result of the rising tensions between the US and China in 2020. Tencent and Alibaba both moved their Asian headquarters to the city state and TikTok owner ByteDance is reported to be investing billions of dollars.

Considered neutral territory, with an advanced financial and legal system, Singapore has good ties to both the US and China. Now it's firmly on the radar of Chinese technology companies and increased demand for tech talent will surely follow.

The number of global firms with offices in Hong Kong has fallen for the first time in eleven years, particularly within the financial sector due to concerns over the City’s political situation. According to the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore survey, 23% of companies with offices in Hong Kong were considering a move, with nine out of 10 looking to move Singapore.

Concerns around data privacy saw the tech giant Tik Tok, for example, withdraw from Hong Kong. The fear is that other technology firms may also follow, relocating their cloud and data systems to different hubs across Asia.

Yet despite all of these concerns, there is no evidence of the ‘mass exodus’ which was suggested could happen. In fact, Hong Kong’s IPO market is expecting to hit a considerable high according to PwC, with a predicted 170 IPOs in 2021, which could mean regaining its top position for most funds raised among global fundraising markets.

Start-ups

In recent years, technology start-ups have become more attractive to local candidates who have been allured by the ability to make an impact, the fast pace and the possibilities of stock options. That said, many start-ups in 2020 lost the investor funding they were reliant on and froze all hiring very soon after the pandemic first hit. The outlook this year is optimistic however, and hiring is once again on the rise.

Unsurprisingly, many candidates are showing a preference for start-ups and greenfield initiatives which are backed or spun off from well-established enterprises or with committed institutional funding. These types of options are becoming increasingly more common with venture projects being set up across the region from the likes of Standard Chartered with SC Ventures, BCG Digital Ventures, Temasek and their spin off tech businesses. Another example is HSBC, who have fully subsided at least two start-ups in Hong Kong who specialise in building and decentralising online trading platforms, utilising blockchain technology. 

We have also seen tech professionals become far more open to considering opportunities in well-funded and fast growth start-ups in the Crypto currency and blockchain industries where the funding has been high and the technology is (often) more advanced than in large corporate institutions.

As leading global financial centres, the rapid expansion of Fintech and Insurtech companies, often backed by large banks, in Hong Kong and Singapore will continue. As will the growth and increased prevalence of challenger banks, established by prevailing technology businesses including Grab, SEA and Alibaba.

As a result, we will no doubt see increased demand for Leadership hiring, Data Science, Data Engineering, Mobile Engineering and Full Stack development roles for tech start-ups in 2021. 

Local investment & skills shortages

There is clearly a growing prevalence of investment and therefore the potential for increased hiring in home-grown businesses. For example, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), recently announced the much-anticipated list of winners for their FinTech Awards. Winners were awarded subsidies and selected on their solutions that address the challenges faced by the financial industry due to the pandemic and climate change.

This focus on home grown start-up investment goes hand in hand with the strong sentiment change towards foreign labour and the heavy push on hiring local talent, particularly in Singapore.

There are numerous government funded incentives which encourage employers to take on local tech talent as well as training programmes and schemes which urge individuals to learn in-demand tech skills. However, this drive to ensure the balance of expat and local is leading to significant tech talent shortages in many areas.

In a bid to overcome these skills shortages and to ensure employers still have access to top international tech talent and consulting expertise, the Singapore government has issued a new work permit called Tech.Pass. Its aim is to attract highly accomplished technology entrepreneurs, experts and business leaders, however it does nothing to help ease the lower-level tech talent shortages. 

Contract versus permanent hiring 

Global organisations such as banks and insurance firms are now relying far more heavily on contractors to carry out critical projects and technical initiatives than they were a year ago.

Before the pandemic, the number of contingent workers employed by companies in Asia was around 26%. That number is expected to rise significantly post pandemic. We’ve definitely seen this shift as employers have increasingly sought fast, cost effective, high quality solutions with reduced risk – an imperative in these uncertain times.

There has been an increase in lower-level contract roles available in the market due to skill shortages at the hands-on technical level. However, these are difficult to fill and although professionals are more open to contract roles in Hong Kong - local candidates in Singapore prefer to take on more secure permanent work as job security remains a top priority.

As such, candidate salary expectations have increased, and they typically push for a 15-20% increase on base salary when considering new permanent opportunities.

Employers too have become more risk adverse due to pandemic / market conditions. Decision-making for permanent hires has become far more stringent with a focus on quality and cultural fit, with more layers of approval throughout the recruitment process. However, candidates are quickly becoming disillusioned where the process has more than four or five stages and employers risk missing out on hard-to-find tech talent. 

Technology skills in demand  

So, what are the top tech trends for Hong Kong and Singapore this year? And what expertise, roles and skills do employers need and want?

The top technological trends which will drive digital transformation in 2021 include cloud-based services, artificial intelligence & automation, internet of things, cryptocurrency and blockchain.

However, the use of cloud systems looks set to remain the most prevalent trend, even as day-to-day life begins to open up again. As we have quickly transitioned to remote working, online shopping, digital healthcare and more, skills in cloud-based services such as AWS, Google Cloud and Azure, have and will continue to be of critical importance. Technology professionals that have the skills to seamlessly deploy cloud-based services will be required to ensure business continuity and productivity. This shift towards more cloud-based services is also increasing the need for cyber security expertise as the number of cyber hacks are dramatically increasing around the world.

Technical skills in demand and where talent shortages prevail include software engineering, front-end mobile engineering, 5G network engineering, DevOps/SRE, blockchain expertise, cryptocurrency expertise, data & analytics and solution architects. Tech professionals with any of these skills and expertise will be highly sought after this year.

Finally, while finding the right balance between technical and soft skills will always be essential, employers are going further in these times of uncertainty, to ensure that digital transformation and digital native companies are a success.

Companies are increasingly assessing and hiring professionals with the right competencies and mindset for change. These desired capabilities include communication skills, emotional intelligence, resilience and adaptability. 

Top tech jobs 2021

 1.   Full Stack Engineers
 2.   Data Scientists / Engineers
 3.   Software Development Leaders
 4.   Mobile Development Leaders
 5.   Cloud Architects / Engineers
 6.   Machine Learning / AI Specialists
 7.   DevOps Specialists
 8.   Blockchain Developers / Architects
 9.   Cryptocurrency Developers / Architects
10.  Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) Experts

How can we help?

If you are job searching in these difficult times, and potentially interviewing from home, there are lots of things we can help you with to prepare. We have plenty of career advice guides we can share with you. Everything from CV tips, to developing your personal online brand and video interviewing advice

If you would like any of our career advice guides, or want to speak with a Digital Transformation / Technology recruiting expert in Asia, please do not hesitate to get in touch