Results from Morgan McKinley’s Asia Pacific region show the company experienced a record placement quarter in Q3 of 2017, despite the seasonal dip in jobs available. “From July through September we saw enthusiasm on the ground exceed seasonal hurdles. A record quarter during a slow season bodes well for the second half of the year,” said Richie Holliday, COO, Morgan McKinley Asia Pacific.
Mirroring Q3 2016, job numbers dipped by 9 per cent quarter-on-quarter, while job seekers increased by 18 per cent during the same time frame. Overall each of the countries witnessed more or less consistent swings, but the quarter was not without its surprises. Whereas in Q2 2017 Australia was an outlier with record highs and Singapore with record lows, Q3 saw Singapore rebound with remarkable force, defying expectations that it was heading toward a slump.
Though down by 3 per cent quarter-on-quarter, a 21 per cent year-on-year surge in contractor positions suggests a more fundamental shift happening in the region. Previously considered a less desirable form of employment, contractors are increasingly being embraced by Asia Pacific employers as ideal fits for an industry where agility and new ideas are rewarded.
In Q2 Singapore had been an outlier with its relatively low jobs numbers, but in Q3 it is an outlier for different reasons: it is the only country that experienced a quarter-on-quarter increase in jobs available. Throughout 2017 Singapore had exhibited all the hallmarks of an employment downturn, only to boom in Q3, with a 12 per cent quarter-on-quarter increase in jobs available, and an even more remarkable 30 per cent increase in job seekers. “To see such positive employment numbers out of Singapore is both surprising and reassuring,” said Holliday.
Q3’s expectation-defying figures suggest a delayed release of jobs that was stymied by the strict new visa regimen intended to localise the workforce. The restrictions on foreign workers spread anxiety throughout the country’s extensive ex-pat population and were expected to keep financial services job seeker figures depressed for the foreseeable future.
Though ex-pats continue to be hired in Singapore, systemic challenges remain. “Fears around the governmental drive to ensure a Singaporean core in each and every company may have led to the spike: with such worries likely pushing people to look for new positions in outsized numbers” said Holliday. The increase in jobs available, however, offers hope that the surprise spike in jobs-seekers is not an early indicator of recession, and supports the theory that Singapore may be reaping the benefits of its focus on attracting new industry, such as fintech, and fresh, innovative revenues streams to the island. “I would discourage people from celebrating just yet, but it’s a welcome source of optimism after a difficult six months,” said Holliday.
Employment in Japan
Japan saw uncharacteristically remarkable swings on candidates in Q3. On the jobs front, they experienced a slight 5 per cent quarter-on-quarter decrease, but Job seeker numbers, on the other hand, rose by 18 per cent. “These are punchy moves by Japan market standards,” said Holliday.
Sentiment on the ground indicates that the younger generation of Japanese professionals are eschewing the traditional conservatism of Japan’s workforce. “Millennials in Japan are no different to millennials elsewhere, they understand the need to be nimble, and are much more open to changing jobs than previous generations,” said Holliday.
Also many financial services workers in Japan receive their 2016 bonuses in Q2 (some as late as July) meaning a portion of the job seeker upswing can be attributed to the registration of interest by those job seekers, post payment.
Employment in Mainland China
China saw a 21 per cent quarter-on-quarter decline in both jobs available and professionals seeking new opportunities. “The rate of deceleration in China is manageable,” said Holliday. “But financial services and banking remains an area in which Chinese ambitions outpace the reality on the ground,”
A perceived failure by China to meet the deregulation needs of the financial services sector has created a culture of caution, and sometimes even distrust, between the industry and the country. This lack of trust has led many Western companies to hold off on setting up shop here, thus dampening China’s aspirations of becoming the region’s fiscal hub. The lack of growth has also kept China from registering on the radar of international professionals, who might otherwise seek to live and work in the country.
Recognising this barrier to growth, the Chinese government has made an historic change to give foreign asset managers access to Personal Financial Management (PFM) licenses. “It’s inevitable that this move will increase interest in asset management in China, and our clients are rushing to acquire PFM licenses,” said Holliday.
Employment in Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s 8 per cent decrease in jobs, quarter-on-quarter, and 4 per cent increase in job seekers, quarter-on-quarter, were consistent with the region’s overall Q3 performance trends. Sentiment on the ground suggests that the slight increase in job seekers is propelled by ex-pat professionals already on the ground in Hong Kong, many of whom are anxious about being squeezed out of the employment market, due to increased localisation of the workforce.
As international institutions have struggled to establish a strong foothold in Hong Kong, hiring managers are increasingly insisting on local talent to help them carve out a market share. “Much has changed in the last decade. Hong Kong today is a tough jobs market for anyone not fluent in Cantonese or Mandarin,” said Holliday. Accordingly, visas have also become harder to acquire without the requisite language skills.
Employment in Australia
Echoing Q3 2016, Australia saw a 22 per cent decrease in jobs available. Australia is a regional exception in that its fiscal year ends in Q2 and begins in Q3. Though from a global standpoint the first quarter of the fiscal year is commonly associated with increased hiring, Australia tends to see a rush to sign off on positions at the end of the fiscal year, making the decrease par for the course. “Sydney’s hiring rush happened in Q2 when we saw a 26 per cent spike. Q3 is a return to the country’s generally static jobs numbers,” said Holliday.
Contrary to Q3 2016 when Australia saw a significant upswing in job seekers, however, Q3 2017 experienced a 26 per cent decrease in job seekers. “Australia’s new restrictive visa regulations are in place making it a near certainty that we will see an impact on hiring, as the laws actively discourage international professionals from pursuing careers there,” said Holliday.
The gig economy train is barreling through the Asia Pacific region, with a 21 per cent year-on-year increase, and a flat 3 per cent decrease, quarter-on-quarter. “Increasingly, our clients are coming to us for help placing people in monthly, weekly, and even hourly positions,” said Holliday.
Though the shift toward contractor hiring is commonplace across Europe and the United States, it has been slower to emerge in Asia, but signs point toward the region catching up. It isn’t only employers racing toward contractor-based staffing; professionals likewise are seeking opportunities that allow them to explore and grow within their fields at a more rapid rate. “Morgan McKinley’s contractor management service is the fastest growing branch within our APAC offices,” said Holliday, who anticipates further expansion.
Despite ongoing global uncertainty, the Asia Pacific region remains a success story. “Twenty years ago there was practically no market for pension and wealth management, or insurance products in a vast number of APAC countries. Today is a completely different story,” said Holliday. Two back to back decades of wealth creation in the region have generated an atmosphere conducive to a robust financial services sector that is expected to continue maturing and expanding.
As countries across the region face varying degrees of pressure to localise their businesses and workforces, professionals with local knowledge, including the relevant language skills, have a significant leg up on their competition. Those interested in capitalising on the growth of the contractor space in particular will increasingly find a wealth of opportunities.