Rachele Ferri: Trends in the Asian Talent Market

Universum is a global employer branding and talent attraction company present in 12 locations on 5 continents. Headquartered in Stockholm, the company has regional HQs in New York, Basel and Singapore.

Their unique strength lies in the feedback they garner from more than 500,000 students and professionals worldwide, which gives them the expertise to publish 150 career publications in 10 countries, as well as service 1,200 clients including a sizeable number of Fortune 100 companies.

RACHELE FERRI, Global Sr. VP of Talent Strategy & Employer Branding, Universum, spoke with Bhavani Prakash of Green Collar Asia about the Asian Talent Market, and in the particular trends in student perceptions in the region towards prospective employers.

Rachele Ferri

GCA: Why is it so important for you as a company to work with students on campuses, especially through your surveys? Why should companies bother about student perceptions?

Rachele Ferri: Universum’s goal is to help organizations become more attractive employers and attract, recruit and retain their ideal talent. In order to do this, they have to understand their target audience, and make sure they have an employer value proposition in place that is attractive, resonates and is successfully communicated.

In today’s war for talent, perception is reality. If students are unaware of a company’s employer offerings or feel that the employer brand image is not attractive enough they will look elsewhere, and in an economy that demands increasing numbers of talented hires, this can be a real problem.

If companies do not understand what their brand perception is and their target group wants they may as well go to campus blindfolded. They will spend time and money communicating things that are not attractive, disappoint new hires when expectations are not met, have messages that are not distinct from competitors or create a negative influence as current and past employees interns communicate with perspective candidates.

Successful employers are the ones who have attractive reputation and image, people and culture, appealing job characteristics and competitive remuneration and advancement opportunities.

Universum gathers information from talent all over the world every year on their employment related drivers, career goals and ideal employers and through our IDEAL Employer Surveys and our other solutions we can provide top organizations with the information they need to be successful.

GCA:  What are the significant hiring trends in Asia Pacific? What are the challenges and opportunities you forsee from your surveys with respect to attracting talent?

Rachele Ferri: Asia today is the hottest region in regards to talent. National and multinational companies in investment and growth mode are increasing the pressure on the talent market. Over the next 3 years employers are expecting significant recruitment growth across APAC, but many are not prepared and more than 1/3 of them do not feel they have strong enough recruiting presence in the region.

With hiring the right talent now being the primary source of competitive advantage and the shortage of more skilled and multicultural talent, the competition is fierce. Companies are competing not only with their industry competitors but with other industries as well.

This is why it is more important now than ever for employers to have steady pipelines of top university talent wanting to join their organization.

Universum’s Survey of Key Hiring Trends in APAC: 

Over the next 3 years, employers are expecting significant recruitment growth in Asia Pacific, but many of them are not prepared and view those same markets as most challenging.

• China, India, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Singapore will experience the largest recruitment growth over the next 3 years

• Asia Pacific will be the most challenging region with respect to sourcing ideal talents

• 1/3 of employers do not have strong recruiting presence in those markets at this time

GCA: You’ve noticed some interesting phenomena, such as the rise of ‘local’ firms and the demand for Asian students studying abroad. Could you elaborate upon this?

Rachele Ferri: MNCs face tough local competition from local players. Students in Asia associate MNCs with poor work life balance, no job security and a competitive work environment, while local companies are associated with market success, secure employment and a friendly atmosphere.

A comparison of the Top 20 IDEAL Employers in China has clearly shown that domestic companies are winning in attractiveness. In 2005 only 25% of the top 20 IDEAL Employers among business students were domestic, now local employers make up 55 % of the list.  In Hong Kong, this trend is especially visible among engineers.

On the other hand, there is an explosive growth in Asian nationals studying abroad, so global sourcing is becoming crucial.  Over 60% of global employers say they recruit international students for roles in their home market, particularly from the UK or the US for markets like China, India and Southeast Asia.

As can be expected, the competition for this talent is strong, and companies often do not know how to identify them or bring them back. On western campuses there is still limited information on opportunities back in Asia and the perception that a first job in the west is more prestigious is still strong.

Successfully being able to recruit Asian nationals studying abroad for opportunities back home will represent the new competitive advantage, and the work Universum does to help organizations in this area has increased dramatically in the last two years alone.

GCA: What kind of skilled talent groups are particularly difficult for companies in Asia to attract? 

Rachele Ferri: It is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit the right talent across Asian countries. 80% of employers say that finding the right people is or will be a problem. There is a low supply of qualified candidates and especially a lack of managerial talent and people with specialized knowledge, i.e., Engineering and IT students, who are in high demand in all industries including Financial Services.

GCA: What kind of skills are companies looking for in new hires? What are the skills that new hires lack the most? 

Rachele Ferri: Asian talent, although known to have strong technical skills, often lacks the soft skills necessary to be successful in a global environment.  Some of the most desired skills are Communication, Leadership, Adaptability, Cultural Agility and Creativity.

And then there is the search for the right cultural fit. Employers understand that the candidates who are a better cultural fit are the ones who are most likely to stay, and with a 2 year average tenure attrition rate is 20-30% across the region, up to 50% in China retention is key. 81% of global employers perceive finding talent who fit their corporate culture as very important as this can offset the high pressure on salaries and vast opportunities for talent to increase compensation through job-hopping.


GCA: What do Asian students want in their ideal employer? 

Rachele Ferri: Generational trends seen in Asian students and young professionals heavily influence their employer selection. The new Millennial Generation has very specific career goals and expectations when they are considering their future employer.

Some of the most important career goals to students in Asia are work-life, security and stability, having an international career. In true Millennial nature, we expect other career goals will become increasingly more important in the coming years, such as being dedicated to a cause or feel that they are serving the greater good.

When choosing their future employer Asian students look for very specific attributes. Engineering students, for example, want challenging work, good prospects for high future earnings, a creative and dynamic work environment, professional training and development and corporate social responsibility.

But these attributes are stronger in some markets than in others, which is why for an employer to be successful across the region, it is imperative that they consider the preference of their target groups in individual markets, and localize their Employer Value Proposition to make sure it really resonates in each country.

Universum’s Survey of Asian Student Preferences

 The Appeal of Local Players

• The differences in employer brand image between international employers and state-owned companies are huge. State-owned companies are highly associated with secure employment and good work/life balance, whereas international companies are highly associated with an international career, challenging and varied work as well as attractive and innovative products.

CSR and international career opportunities

• After losing importance during the financial crisis, corporate social responsibility is back as an important attribute when choosing employers. Students in Asia (especially HK and Singapore) prefer to work at a company with high level of CSR and strive to serve a greater good in their
future career.

• Opportunities to be relocated abroad have also grown in importance for Asian students since last year, together with having an international

Investing in the future

• Like their counterparts in the West, Asian Students are gravitating towards employers that will help them acquire the professional training and development needed to excel in their careers and make them more employable in the future recruitment market.


About the Interviewer:

Bhavani Prakash
 is Founder of Green Collar Asia, a thought-leadership portal on developments in the green jobs sector, where macro-level trends, as well as insights from green professionals and entrepreneurs are brought together.

She is a recruiter, speaker, trainer and writer in the environment/sustainability sector. She has an MBA from Indian Institute of Management Calcutta and an M.Sc in Financial Economics from University of London. She is also a certified EQ Coach with Six Seconds.org

Connect with Green Collar Asia on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter.  Bhavani Prakash may be contacted via bp[at]greencollarasia.com or through LinkedIn.


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