Singapore headhunters expect hiring freeze in 2016

Bosses still positive, but impact of economic and business slowdown will hit home in time

While recent stock market gyrations and uncertain economic prospects have not hurt hiring sentiment severely, HR experts say some clients have cut back on expansion plans and other companies are turning to contract staff.
While recent stock market gyrations and uncertain economic prospects have not hurt hiring sentiment severely, HR experts say some clients have cut back on expansion plans and other companies are turning to contract staff. ST FILE PHOTO

SINGAPORE - Job hiring has so far been only modestly affected by the recent stock market turmoil and China's economic slowdown, Singapore headhunters say.

But they predict hiring could be halted completely in the second half of next year (2016) as the full impact of these factors flows through, leaving employers far more cautious.

Recruitment agency ScienTec Consulting told The Straits Times: "Overall, due to the volatile global market, we feel that there will be a possible slowdown in hiring in certain sectors and the impact will only be felt in the second half of 2016."

Ms Karen Tok, ScienTec Consulting's chief executive, added that its junior recruitment and executive search divisions foresee the slowdown. She added that hiring will be affected by the global business slowdown, a mix of competition from emerging technologies, and online businesses.

The firm has not seen major changes in hiring patterns or heard of any hiring freeze or expansion delay in the last six months, compared with the same period a year ago.

Recruitment firm Randstad also has yet to see a direct correlation between the volatility in markets and hiring sentiment but other firms note a slight difference.

The volatile markets have had a negative effect on hiring strategies in general, said Mr Mervin Chui, ZW HR Consulting's managing director. "It has been decidedly more difficult to get new headcount approval and employers are also generally more cautious."

He noted that the life sciences, chemical and the aerospace sectors are where prospective employers are ultra-cautious, and "have either been extremely selective or have held off on hiring completely".

Mr Chui also said that there has been a noticeable drop in clients following through on expansion plans not just to Singapore, but to South-east Asia, too.

Hiring managers are definitely taking longer to make recruitment decisions, noted Mr Toby Fowlston, managing director of Robert Walters South-east Asia. It sees "restricted job markets in certain industries" like investment banking.

But he is not surprised because there already has been downsizing and offshoring, with a number of banks moving to cheaper locations.

Mrs Lay-Hoon Johnson, associate director of financial services and governance at Michael Page, concurred: "Restructuring is very common in the banking scene which is often times driven by cost considerations."

However, Mr Fowlston notes a positive job market "especially within the technology market as companies continue to focus on their online and digital content". He said that more companies are starting to consider contract staff, especially where they do not have approval to hire permanent staff.

Activity on professional networking website LinkedIn has also been robust in the last six months, especially in healthcare and pharmaceuticals, and media and entertainment.

Ms Feon Ang, senior director of talent solutions for LinkedIn in Asia-Pacific and Japan, also noted "a healthy double-digit growth" in the volume of jobs posted by companies over the last six months, compared with last year.

She said: "This is a positive sign showing that perhaps businesses in Singapore are continuing to invest to acquire talent to stay competitive, regardless of market conditions."

Mr Max Loh, Asean and Singapore managing partner at consulting firm EY, agreed: "In the current economic climate, businesses seek out best practices and advice on effective organisational structure, operational excellence and risk management."

That has created opportunities for professional services firms, he added. "EY has been seeing continued demand for business advice, and has been aggressively hiring in Singapore and Asean in existing and new areas of expertise."

KPMG in Singapore also has increased headcount across each of the audit, tax and advisory areas of business, particularly at a more senior level, by more than 14 per cent over the past year, it noted.

Mr Quek Shu Ping, its head of people, performance and culture, said the company had anticipated the growing needs of its client base in Singapore and the Asean region.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2015, with the headline Singapore headhunters expect hiring freeze in 2016. Subscribe