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In a tighter labor market, perseverance could pay off

A worsening economic outlook invariably impacts the jobs market. Tim Nelson, president of global recruitment firm Futurestep Asia Pacific, talks about how companies and employees are learning to cope with change.

Against a backdrop of global economic uncertainties, how is the Chinese labor market faring?

The recruitment business in China is our fastest growing global market. There is incredible appetite for managers for multinational companies, private companies and state-owned companies. With relatively high growth in Asia and China and low growth in Europe, many companies have shifted their growth strategy to Asia, and the largest part of that is in China. To do this, there is huge pressure to find talent - both moving international executives to China and hiring locals at the professional managerial levels. Top talent is quickly snapped up in the China market.

How are companies adapting to the economic slowdown in terms of people they want to recruit?

The human resources industry has a bit of lag. When an economy slows down, you stop hiring people. Then, when an economy warms up, you find yourself lacking people. We notice that the economic slowdown in China is quite short-lived compared with the Western world, where you are seeing a longer-term dip.

Companies are placing greater importance on "internal mobility" - that is, moving staff from one unit to another to fill needs instead of hiring someone new.

At the professional level, based on our experience, many companies still have a lot of open positions. But because of the slowdown, maybe that number is 30 instead of 70. Many companies have positions that are challenging to fill, such as specialists for research and development, good sales people, engineers with good English mastery and good team leaders. Companies are especially seeking those with soft skills, such as leadership and communications.

We recently conducted a survey and found that the top three common qualities companies all over the world are looking for, in addition to technical skills, are decision-making, action orientation, and customer focus.

Do Chinese companies have a different focus from foreign ones when recruiting talent?

In China, one thing we conclude to be very important and one thing that needs to be stressed during the first year employment, is perseverance. In other words, a person needs to be hardworking and determined. We find that a higher percentage of employers in China really value perseverance. The market is changing, so you have to make great efforts to keep up with it.

In the Western world, action orientation probably comes at the top of commonly sought qualities. In the US, they talked about the "can-do" attitude. They are very result-oriented and strive for the bottom line. In China companies want results and performance, and they also want perseverance.

There are other countries that value retaining personnel. Our research shows that people are typically more successful in their second and third years on a job.

What do employers need to do to ensure the success of their employees?

One interesting point is the peer-boss relationship. Not only in China, but also in many other countries, you get opportunities for promotion during internal transfer between units. If you are a good performer, you make a positive impact during the first year and have good relationships with your boss and peers, you are more likely to be presented with new opportunities, even in a slowing market. The other thing personnel managers worldwide are seeking is flexibility. Jobs change. The job needed today may not be the job that's needed tomorrow. Employees need to be flexible. Job descriptions nowadays are only a guideline, and you may be asked to do different things, including filling a gap in another department.

One way to build relationships and impress your boss is to work with a lot of people with a flexible mindset.

Is the economic slowdown likely to dim creativity among young people as they become more concerned about job security? Will many of them seek a safer haven in the public sector?

I think young people are ambitious, optimistic and full of new ideas. Their optimism has been nurtured by the size of the market. If you persevere and work hard, then you will be successful.

For many people, working as civil servants offers stability and security. These are family values that many people hold dear. I noticed in Australia, when times are tough, people tend to seek a job in the public sector. When times are good, they jump out into more entrepreneurship. In China, I think family values may be more important.

It's about choice. One thing we are seeing is the rise of Chinese entrepreneurs. There seem to be opportunities for new start-up businesses in sectors like design and technology. The younger generation is very good at technology. I think there are people who prefer to set up their own companies rather than work for others.

As Chinese consumption grows, sectors such as design, research and development will focus more on what China wants. That drives technology and creates jobs for people with passion and innovative ideas.


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