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How have the recent political and economic events in Hong Kong changed the hiring landscape?

24 Feb 8:00 by Paris Herard
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This has become one of the first questions clients and candidates ask me during a meeting or interview. More than seven months of political unrest along with the recent coronavirus outbreak have changed Hong Kong’s hiring and recruitment landscape. No one can deny it. But the real question that I will do my best to answer is, how? Have companies stopped hiring? Which sectors are the most impacted for Data roles? Should candidates start to look for a job overseas?

2019: what’s happened so far

As some of you already know, I spent most of my career in Europe, hiring for different positions. Yet in August 2019, when I arrived at Argyll Scott, I was a bit shocked by how far behind some companies were when it came to using data. It is safe to say that most of the multinational firms in Hong Kong have only really started a massive modernisation of their data infrastructure over the last couple of years.

The end of 2017 and 2018 were pivotal, as companies started to hire their first data scientists and data engineers. But 2019 was all about investing more in these teams, as they were built to represent the future, in terms of revenue and economic growth for the company.

Have the recent political events stopped that trend? The answer isn’t as black and white. Yes, some companies have been slowing down their hiring process for Data roles, some multinationals have even frozen their headcount entirely, as they opt to wait or invest in other Asian offices like Singapore. However, globally speaking, companies continue to see data scientist/data engineer/data analyst teams as a way of changing their entire business and bringing innovation to stay competitive.

Which sectors and types of companies are impacted the most?

Once again, the answer has to be divided. Coming to the hasty conclusion that data hiring rose in Financial Services but dropped in Retail would be an over-generalisation. I have seen some well-established international banks freeze their headcounts or only offering contract roles, while some Supply Chain/Logistic/Retail firms are doubling their data team size.

Hence, the impact of change is not totally about the sector – it is more about the vision that general management has towards data. In a nutshell, it is more about their will to modernise their infrastructure, their customer approach and their ability to believe in advanced analytics and data science in order to operate a change.

Oh, by the way, being able to convince the business and operate this change was the topic of my first Meetup, back in November. Because yes, every company wants to be more data-driven and adopt more big data technologies but only a few have a pragmatic and realistic vision.

When it comes to company structure, I guess everybody knows the truth already. Start-ups are indeed more innovative, more agile and can be more fun. They have the room and the will to use the latest cutting-edge data technologies to offer good products. But candidates with experience at start-ups are often looked down on by traditional HR from multinationals. Moreover, the most senior jobs (salary/responsibility wise) in Data Science and Data Analysis in Hong Kong are not for the very technical profiles, they are for the managers who represent a bridge between the technical team and the business.

What do we predict for 2020?

You don’t need to be an expert to know that companies in Hong Kong are hiring less right now. We have noticed a marked decrease in the number of roles in the market since the end of November. Usually, we would expect the market to return to normal after Chinese New Year, but unfortunately, we’re facing the coronavirus right now.

It would be a lie to say that there has been no impact on the market. Even if the SARS outbreak 17 years ago has helped Hong Kong better prepare for similar events, we’ve still found ourselves in a state of panic when the coronavirus hit. Some candidates and clients have to deal with a new way of working (working from home policy) before even considering hiring new staff or changing to a new job.

However, the situation is not that bad everywhere! As previously mentioned, some managers have a will to bring change to the business and their company. Modernisation cannot wait. Therefore, they are still hiring, and they have adapted their recruitment process to accommodate, such as video calls like Skype. Final round interviews are still best face-to-face amid the fear to go outside, although it’s generally for good news afterwards (when you receive the offer!)

Conclusion

There is no doubt that the hiring landscape has changed in Hong Kong over the last six months; bankers are going to Singapore, restaurants are closing, airlines and hospitality sectors have suffered. But luckily, you are working in a sector where your expertise and skills are in high demand and sometimes in short supply. You have the luxury to be picky and to choose the right company project which will suit your expectations.

My only advice if you are open to new opportunities is to be patient and take the time to talk to different hiring managers to discover which project is the best for you.

If you would like to have a confidential conversation about your options, I’d love to chat. Please reach out to me at phearard@argyllscott.com.hk.