Andy Bentote is managing director of northern and eastern China for Michael Page International, a global recruitment consultancy. With more than 16 years of experience in recruitment, Bentote first joined Michael Page in the UK under its graduate trainee scheme. Moving up the ranks, he held several management positions and was previously regional director for Michael Page engineering and supply chain before taking on his new position in China in 2009. Bentote spoke with China Economic Review about the strong state of China’s job market and the challenges this may pose for companies looking to attract top talent.
Q: How would you describe China’s job market right now?
A: Certainly in terms of the number of jobs that are available and the growth that companies are looking to achieve, it’s very strong. In the first quarter, job vacancies were up 40% from the fourth quarter of 2010, and 61% of companies said they were planning on significantly increasing their staff numbers. I expect the second quarter to be even busier, as there aren’t any major public holidays then. From a global perspective, there are issues due to the terrible earthquake and tsunami in Japan, unrest in the Middle East, as well as the slower pace of the recovery in Europe and the US. But generally, China hasn’t been affected – and in fact, it’s just getting stronger. Internally, there are potential issues with wage increases, inflation and food prices rising, but from everything we’ve seen in the first quarter, it’s very active.
Q: Why do you think China hasn’t been affected by these global issues?
A: I think you have to look at Asia as a whole region, which is clearly strong. While economic conditions are looking pretty tough in the rest of the world, companies are putting more effort and investment here. China is clearly a key player on the continent. The country’s domestic demand is so huge, and companies are still trying to catch up with that demand.
Q: Given all the job opportunities coming into the market, how high has turnover been so far in 2011?
A: I wouldn’t say turnover has been high; it certainly isn’t like 2009. But companies are being forced to pay as much attention to hiring as they do to retaining staff. I think there has been a push to improve employee training and coaching, and to offer employees better career development opportunities. As always, salaries and packages are a big consideration – there is increasing demand for higher basic salaries and more performance-related packages, bonuses and share options in order to hold onto people.
Q: How have candidates’ expectations of their employers changed?
A: What’s changed a little bit is, if you look at the situation pre-financial crisis, generally candidates were focused on money and getting a higher salary. It was very common for people to move jobs quickly to get a pay rise. But then, those who moved around a lot suddenly found it increasingly difficult to find a job. I think candidates still see salary as a priority, but there’s more of an emphasis on ‘Where’s this job going to take me? What kind of coaching am I going to get?’
Q: Who are the most sought after candidates this year?
A: In terms of candidates for marketing positions, there is high demand for people who have China experience and are able to come up with new and innovative ways of communicating with the Chinese population. We also have a lot of companies who are investing in front-line sales staff in order to win more business, particularly in professional services. There is a need for good merchandisers, people who have experience in sourcing and presenting products to the Chinese market. In finance and accounting, there is strong demand for people who not only have analytical skills, but commercial and business acumen. Banking is one of the areas where there is the biggest shortage of people: There is a big push in this sector, but China just doesn’t have a long history of banking.
Q: What advice would you give to managers and employers who are looking to attract top talent in China?
A: There’s a big push in this market just to take staff from competitors. We try to encourage companies to look more broadly at skill sets and personal characteristics that are important for a particular job. If you can look at individuals with transferable skills, more options become available. Secondly, employers should work on selling the company and selling the role. What history does your company have in helping people develop themselves? Where will this role go? The last person in this job – what are they doing now? Thirdly, with regards to the recruitment process – something we’re obviously involved in – companies have to be thorough, detailed and pretty fast. If you have a recruitment process that lasts too long, then you risk losing candidates because someone else might have snapped them up.
Q: What are Michael Page’s plans in China and Asia in the near future?
A: We recently expanded to India and Malaysia, and we also opened a new office in Guangzhou. We’re still interested in expanding and looking at other countries in the region. From an Asia perspective, this enables us to provide a much broader service. In addition, in China we’re expanding the disciplines we recruit for, and ultimately we’ll be increasing the number of offices and locations as well.