A record number of companies in Hong Kong are turning to contractors to fill skill gaps in their workforce, according to recruitment expert Hays.
With salaries and benefits for flexible workers often being on par with those of permanent employees, contracting can be a win-win situation for both individuals and businesses.
At the same time, the opportunities that contracting offers can help individuals accelerate their careers through the increased exposure brings to different industries and roles.
86% of Hong Kong companies employed temporary or contract staff in 2020, according to the 2020 Hays Asia Salary Guide
The group expects this trend to continue as the number of digital banks and start-ups operating in the city rises, while incumbent companies in a range of industries are also focusing on their own digital strategies.
Jack Leung, Regional Director at Hays Hong Kong explains: “The rapid pace of digital transformation has created a need for highly qualified individuals who are also flexible.”
“As a result, recruiting talents to permanent positions is no longer the primary means by which companies fill their skill gaps, with more organisations becoming increasingly open to flexible recruitment solutions.”
Hays has identified a particularly strong demand for contractors in the areas of IT, fintech, banking and insurance, as well as risk and compliance and change management.
Sally Poon, Team Leader says: “Most of these roles are mid to senior level, and many of them fall within the areas of IT engineering, data analysis, project management, DevOps and cyber security.”
Specific technical skills that companies are looking for include experience in building data pipelines and cloud solutions, particularly on platforms such as AWS, Azure and Google Cloud. As more organisations focus on making the best use of their data to inform their business strategies, the demand for data scientists has risen as well.
Candidates with experience in programming languages, such as Python and R, as well as those who have worked in machine learning and natural language processing libraries are also highly sought after.
But Matt Hayes, Senior Department Manager cautions that requirements for such roles are not limited to technical experience, with more organisations placing an emphasis on soft skills like the ability to manage a team, strong communication skills and being able to explain technical matters to senior management in a way that is easy for them to understand.
Outside of the field of IT, talents in risk and compliance are also in demand, particularly from financial services firms as they keep pace with regulator changes, as well as business analysts and people in change management, who can help drive improvement projects.
Language skills are also important, with Chinese firms, particularly banks, looking for Mandarin speakers, as well as candidates with an understanding of the local work culture.
As companies recognise the benefits of using contract staff, they are prepared to offer increasingly enticing packages to secure them.
Sally reiterates: “Many organisations are ensuring that contracting employees are remunerated on par with permanent staff, while most also offer a completion bonus or gratuity.”
“Other benefits, such as paid annual leave, are also becoming increasingly common.”
In addition, there is a growing focus on ensuring temporary staff feel like a part of the organisation, which is achieved by including contractors in corporate activities or offering them training and career development opportunities.
Using contracting staff also has significant benefits for the companies themselves.
Not only does it help them to fill their skill gaps more quickly, but it also enables them to be more agile in responding to the changing needs of their business.
Matt says: “Being open to using contractors gives organisations access to a pool of highly specialised talent at very short notice, enabling them to adapt their workforce to the fluctuating needs of their business without the risk of a long-term commitment.”
Sally adds that as Hong Kong’s economy slows, using contractors can help companies control their costs, as they only need to pay these staff for the period for which they need them.
It also gives them a chance to assess temporary candidates to see if they would be suitable for permanent positions.
Many organisations are using recruitment agencies not only to identify potential candidates, but also to act as the legal employer of contracting staff, reducing the payroll and HR-related administration of taking on new people.
“At Hays we offer dedicated flexible recruitment solutions with stringent compliance standards to help companies find the highly skilled talent that they need,” Jack says.
“Hong Kong remains one of the world’s top financial centres and freest economies and is set to break new ground with the entry of its first-ever virtual banks. Continued economic uncertainty has also pushed other industries to digitally transform their businesses in an effort to curtail costs and boost productivity.”
As technological developments and digital transformations continue apace, Hays anticipates the demand for contractors in Hong Kong will only increase going forward.
“While the year ahead will continue to have its challenges, we expect to see an unprecedented number of positions and projects opening up in the year ahead offering exciting opportunities for flexible workers with the right skillsets,” Jack says.