The Asia talent conundrum

Jon-paul Pritchard explains that the rapid rise of Asian economies means that corporations have to stop, think, and assess before determining their long-term staffing structures  


As the balance of economic power begins to shift east and amid increased economic instability coming out of the US and Europe, many global businesses are turning towards the Asian markets to make up larger and larger shares of their global budgets.

Unlike in years gone by where Asia was viewed by many as more of a distribution market, the recent global conditions are forcing companies to go through the process of creating Asia-centric strategies and development plans. This shift is having a knock-on effect in many different aspects, not least manpower requirements.The “hot subject” for organisations looking to build sustainable Asian operations is “talent”; with firms asking the question: does it exist and how do we get it?

There is no hard and fast answer to this question because it really does depend on the roles you’re looking to fill. But, in the main, top executive talent is in short supply. There are many reasons for this ranging from Asian Education systems to the maturity of the business environment. But the most obvious is that many of the “traditional” corporate skill-sets have only existed in the region for a relatively short period of time.  This means talent pipelines are well stocked at the mid management level, which is great for future succession planning but not so conducive to immediate commercial impact.

Buying or grooming?

There are a number of ways to view this issue and a number of avenues open to you in terms of a solution; Buying talent, grooming talent, poaching talent, importing talent, or repatriating talent. Often organisations employ a mixture of all the above however these solutions will depend on a number of key factors including; where the business is in terms of its evolution in Asia, your business proposition in the region, the type of individual you’re looking for (Game Changer versus a Safe Pair of Hands), and the level of investment you are willing to put in.

Anecdotally there is an increasing employer mentality that they can simply “buy” talent by increasing starting salaries, this puts a premium on highly skilled local candidates as well as the western experienced and educated Asian repatriate.

It is clear that, as the market tightens, incentives and pay can only do so much, paying more is not a sustainable strategy for the long term and therefore must be used in tandem with internal development and succession planning techniques. One of the benefits to come out of the current talent issues arebusinesses realising a need to provide extra training and development to their existing staff in order to drive more cohesive succession.

An interesting area that many of our clients are now exploring is to increase their focus on their candidate / talent pipeline; market and talent mapping is allowing many organisations to review the competitor landscape before making growth or expansion decisions. Availability of talent is an important factor for success and should form part of business or expansion planning.

Like your products, talent is affected by standard market forces of supply and demand so it is critical that you do adequate due diligence before committing to a course of action. The first thing we usually advise clients to do is look inwards and analyse their current business in the market as well as look to short, medium, and long term goals.

The majority of the time these simple factors will drive the type of hire they will make and will often allow the organisation to map future evolution based on available talent.

With many candidates beginning to realise they sit in the box seat when it comes to salary negotiation, a large section of the market are making moves for money rather than traditional career growth.

We often encourage clients to pay close attention to the softer cultural and environmental aspects of the individual, rather than just hiring based on skill-set and experience. Getting the “right fit” will help to slow attrition rates and will often add significant competitive advantage and stability to the organisation. Another way to slow attrition and maximise success of new hires is to be realistic about the type of individual you wish to hire and the current position of the business in the market.

All businesses would love to hire the top one per cent of talent but with many of these individuals comes a certain level of expectation; if your business isn’t up to their desired standard then they may become easy targets to be poached. I would never recommend an organisation to settle for the best of a bad bunch, but by being realistic, putting in adequate planning, and reviewing current market insights you will get it right more often than not.


Jon-paul Pritchard is director of Boomerang Asia in Singapore
Jon-paul joined Boomerang Asia bringing with him significant experience from both industry and specialised executive search. With a strong knowledge of Commercial Management, Emerging Markets, and Strategic Business Development, he made the move from industry to consultancy and has become a trusted partner for a significant number of global firms. Prior to his move to Boomerang, Jon-paul managed an industry leading specialist consulting firm in Singapore and has developed a strong reputation in both Europe and Asia. Away from the office, Jon-paul is a keen footballer and a frustrated golfer

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