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Asia’s digital technology hiring landscape in 2021

Article, Lilia Guan , CIO Tech Team

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FIs remain vigilant towards remote working risks and take pre-emptive steps to mitigate them.
During 2020 Asia’s traditional revenue streams were hampered, resulting in salary and recruitment slowdowns, and a new working normal was imposed. As businesses turned to the latest technological advancements in order to counterbalance the effects of the pandemic, employees sought to augment salaries as working-from-home eroded their work-life balance.

According to the recently released 2021 Hays Asia Salary Guide, the observations of working professionals and employers across Asia, covering China, Hong Kong SAR, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore, unearthing one of the key components that will define business and recruitment in 2021 – digitalisation.

While trends were universal, differing circumstances meant that the area’s key regions experienced contrasting challenges, and predictions on how 2021 will pan out across the region varies.

Digitalisation and transformation growth in 2021

China has seen a nationwide seismic shift in how digital technology is being implemented, one that is set to change the face of the entire sector in 2021. As companies across all areas of industry transition into the internet and digital space, there is a pronounced blurring of the lines between what does and does not constitute a ‘digital’ company.

There is scope for great upheaval in the year to come, setting fertile ground for a digital boom. As a result, the digital technology sphere will continue to be one of exponential growth, as it has done over recent years. Much of this is driven by the digitalisation of a number of industries, including digital healthcare, e-commerce, AI, gaming, and all related sub-sectors.

This growth will drive salary increases similar to 2020, with the likes of support engineers, data scientists and those in AI seeing wage augmentations of around 30 per cent.

Competition for software engineers and operational ‘videoisation’

As companies increasingly apply data in how sales strategies and business decisions are brought to fruition, they must develop their own data teams, which will necessitate the recruitment of software engineers in order to actualise data-led forecasts.

The shallowness of the talent pool means that competition for experienced candidates will be fierce as companies strive to build data teams. With this situation expected to persist for the next three years, professionals in this area will likely see a continued demand for their skill sets.
Overall, despite the pandemicinstigated challenges faced in other sectors, the digital technology industry will retain buoyancy in the year to come. In fact, as employers redefine how their workers operate worldwide, there is set to be a growing demand in the large screen video sector due to the ‘videoisation’ of operations that should encourage efficiency.

2020 inter-company communication led to greater efficiency in Hong Kong SAR

In recent years, companies in Hong Kong SAR have put appreciable resources into the upgrading of digital channels in order to connect with clients and facilitate cross-cooperation, creating a one-stop digital solution by way of applications and online services.

However, in 2021 this trend will shift appreciably, as digital transformation discovers a new objective: moving away from covering the front end of the business mode alone, and to instead travel through the middle and back functions.

This aligning of platforms marks a transition from simply reaching clients, instead allowing all aspects of the company to both witness and instruct operations, so that all areas can easily access client information, seamlessly combining data, and thus improve business practices and digitally bridge the gap between the front and back ends of the business.

As a result, there will be greater emphasis on hiring enterprise and digital channel architects than ever before. In this unusual, unpredictable future, there also remains a requirement for solid infrastructure professionals to keep systems and businesses running, which means that there remains an ongoing trend for traditional infrastructure roles, such as desktop support. Unfortunately, there is a disparity between the salary increments that these strategically important candidates hope for and what companies are willing to pay, though there will be a high demand in the year to come.

Transferrable devOps experience to be crucial in finace

While macroeconomic pressures mean that many salaries have remained steady leading candidates to temper expectations, as banking is increasingly subject to technological disruptions, those in devOps roles can expect impressive increments.

Candidates transferring from e-commerce and the like will be in high demand, though due to the regulatory constraints that surround finance, individuals who can marry their dynamic devOps skills with regulatory knowledge will be rewarded above all.

Cybersecurity concerns in Japan

Understanding that falling victim to malicious cyberattacks, or even internal accidental data leaks, can have a hugely detrimental effect on reputations, companies in Japan are looking to shore up potential breaches, meaning that security is set to be the key digital issue in 2021.

As a result, the coming year will see a rapid rise in demand for candidates across a broad spectrum of professionals in the area.

This is most prominent in the cybersecurity sector, where hands-on, technical candidates are required to secure structures and systems, and positions such as pre-sales engineer and security engineer can expect to receive salary increases of five to 10 per cent.

To further cement systems safeguards, there will also be a requirement for information security candidates, especially those who have the capacity and scope to execute the procedural ‘big picture’ that will ensure that the losing of data is more difficult, and the protection of data is easier, as well as educating employees about the policies that ensure that these practices are upheld.

AI to be used for consumer monitoring

Due to the pandemic, companies throughout Japan have seen dramatic shifts in how they operate. This means that organisations are having to rapidly realign their IT structures and undergo digital transformation. In 2021, they will turn to consultancy firms that can put in place digitalised systems and projects. And reflecting both the uncertainty of the current climate and how consumer lifestyles have altered, big data and AI will come to the fore, as companies seek to monitor and analyse consumer purchasing habits.

Unfortunately, due to the language restrictions that regularly hamper this sector, they are finding the availability of preferred domestic candidates limited and as such may be compelled to outsource in order to fulfil headcount targets.

In Malaysia devOps will be in demand

There is to be significant focus on Malaysia’s emerging technology space in 2021, with a pronounced emphasis on design areas. With companies implementing new tech products and building platforms by which consumers can access products from, the concepts of user experience and user interface have come to the forefront, creating the necessity for candidates in relevant product manager and digital transformation roles.

In addition, companies will be looking to move systems into the cloud. Previously, the use of private cloud systems had been restricted by stringent government regulations, though following the lifting of such constraints there will be a substantial uptrend in all related sectors.

This is especially notable in cybersecurity, as organisations look to protect customer data from potential attacks that can be devastating for company reputations, and devops professionals will also be in higher than ever demand.

Tech allowances will be used to remunerate new employees

As companies increasingly incorporate data functions into business decisions and grow these increasingly important chapters of operations, talent who can analyse or crunch data will continue to be required over the coming year.

All of this fluctuation will lead to substantial salary turbulence, leading companies to seek out creative salary packages with an emphasis upon remunerating highly certified talent with technical allowances.

This technique not only circumnavigates wage restrictions but can also be highly advantageous for onboarded employees in the right position. Roles that will be best rewarded can be found in the market-retrenched technical areas of coding and algorithm within e-commerce and in the digital webspace, as well as in the more niche areas of emerging technologies.

Singapore candidates to upskill to find lucrative midcareer changes

As Singapore transitions towards the ‘new normal’ of remote working, EdTech and online operations, companies will compete fiercely for digital technology talent.

This scramble for candidates will be magnified by a lessening of international expertise – restricted due to the pandemic and the desire of the Ministry of Manpower to protect local employees – sparking an interest in domestic recruitment, with the public sector leading the way.

However, while Singapore’s homegrown tech talent has progressed significantly in recent years, the pool of experienced candidates remains shallow, particularly at mid and senior levels.

As a result, there is a public sector push to create positions and inspire candidates into the specialism, training new graduates, developing traineeships and encouraging mid-career transitions. Domestic talent will be in great demand

Another element driving candidate demand is in Singapore being an ideal location for Chinese tech giants such as Tencent and Alibaba – both geographically, and in its renown as an innovation hub – and their expansion into Southeast Asia will precipitate the creation of numerous roles, including front and back end developers, data scientists, devops engineers and more.

This domestic technical talent demand means that candidates may have multiple offers, leading to inflated wage demands that are incompatible with employer expectations.

In order to mitigate for this salary pressure, companies will offer specialist allowances for experienced and technically certified individuals. In the software space, as global smartphone users are projected to top 3.8 billion in 2021, companies will accelerate into the digital sector, creating a demand for software engineers. However, companies seeking developers, data engineers and data scientists with AI and data algorithm skills will find that the market is tragically short.