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June 2009 Market Update: Life Returns to HR Hiring in Several Markets

“We noticed a dramatic turnaround in the number of hires made in the month of May”, said Matthew Chapman, Managing Director of The Chapman Consulting Group. “Based on HR movements within our alumni, four times the number of HR practitioners switched jobs within the Asia Pacific Japan region during the month of May versus the previous month of April”, said Chapman. “We are awaiting data for the month of June, but we feel this trend may have continued”.

The life sciences sector showed the most buoyancy in HR hiring, followed by the technology sector. Several financial services institutions also ramped up their HR hiring for critical HR positions. Professional services firms however remained flat with HR hiring. The effects of an uptick in HR hiring weren’t just felt in the established markets of Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia, but also in the rapidly developing markets of China, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and Indonesia. Geographically speaking, Japan was the only market that remained relatively flat across all sectors.

So Why the Improvement?

During the last part of 2008 and certainly the first quarter of 2009, many organisations were in ‘headcount freeze’ mode, and the only HR positions bring filled were those deemed to be ‘critical’ by global business heads in Europe and North America. These positions included those made available as a result of a vital HR decision-maker leaving without an internal successor; or an HR position for a business unit with high growth prospects despite the downturn; or to backfill for an international HR Leader being repatriated home to global headquarters to reduce costs; or in rarer cases where anexisting HR team remained ‘stretched’ in terms of capability.

Many decision-makers in organisations with critical to-fill HR positions simply did not have the green light from global headquarters to get headcount with approval. However those with longer-term visions for their companies’ future HR structures continued interviewing candidates from October 2008 and into the second quarter of 2009, on the expectation that as soon as headcount restrictions were lifted they would be able to make fast hires. This appears what to have happened in May. Relationships had been fostered throughout the slower hiring period, allowing for relative ease of transition into newly approved roles. With world economic activity still looking gloomy but not necessarily appearing to worsen across Asia Pacific, headcount restrictions for essential positions appear to be continuing to lift.

“HR Hiring decisions in the month of May appear to have been made fast”, said Chapman. “Decision-makers in companies suddenly finding themselves with flexibility to go ahead and hire were able to fast-track the process. Moreover the individuals looking to move, who had been previously faced with few options in the market for the previous six or seven months, weren’t thinking twice on accepting offers that were presented to them”.

And Will this Continue?

No one knows if the events of May and June are set to continue. “What we have a seen is a positive window of opportunity open for HR hiring and movements”, said Chapman. “Should further corporate collapses or negative economic publicity be broadcast, we may see the hiring freezes resume. The market continues to be unpredictable right across the Asia Pacific Japan region and we would expect companies to remain conservative on their HR hiring for some time yet”, mentioned Chapman.

“There is no doubt in the developing markets across Asia that there is still a thirst for high quality, international HR talent”, said Chapman. “This thirst will continue to counter-balance negative economic activity, as many Regional HR and Global HR Leaders view it as critical to upgrade and further develop their key HR talent in markets like China, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam”. ​

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