As economies continue to tread a tightrope between recovery and pandemic-related developments a year on, bright spots emerge even as companies remain cautious in ramping up their workforce. The uncertainty has accelerated the urgency to build a resilient and digital-ready workforce to support transformed businesses. Professionals able to bring niche skillsets especially in areas of technology, soft skillsets that support remote working and adaptability, and international experience will be in high demand and buck the trend of a general slowdown in salary increments across industries. To attract and retain top talent, especially in growth sectors such as technology and supply chain, companies are looking to rehaul traditional work styles and emphasise work-life balance, and adjust their talent management strategy. These are key insights from the 22nd edition of specialist professional recruitment firm Robert Walters’ global Salary Survey 2021, an authoritative analysis and benchmark of salary trends.
The overall outlook for Southeast Asia remains conservative as companies ride out a challenging 2020 as the unexpected pandemic saw travel restrictions, nationwide lockdowns and an overnight shift in consumer spending habits disrupt markets. While physical retail and aviation sectors were most impacted in 2020, technology, supply chain, pharmaceutical, insurance and renewable energy sectors saw an uptick in hiring activities, and 2021 will see the demand for these sectors continue. Particularly in the tech space, besides a rapidly-growing e-commerce field, new emerging areas such as edtech, healthtech, fintech, digital banking and virtual banking are expected to be key growth areas in the region. Consequently, professionals with niche skillsets in AI, machine learning, automation, compliance, tech project management and cybersecurity will be highly sought-after.
A cautious outlook in 2020 saw wage freezes across industries, especially in people-oriented industries. This year, there will be fewer salary increments for professionals who change jobs – even for those in the emerging markets. Jobseekers in growth sectors and with in-demand and niche skillsets however can expect a premium of up to 20% salary increments when moving to their next role in 2021.
On a broader level,
2021 will see a rewiring of companies and professionals’ expectations towards work and work-life
balance. As professionals adapt to remote working and managing remote teams,
organisations will need to further evaluate the long-term
impact of a remote working
style, and determine
unique approaches in areas such as having
a virtual or hybrid workplace. As more overseas-based professionals
(glocal talent) return to reunite with their families amidst the pandemic,
there will be increasing demand by forward-thinking employers to tap on their
“The hiring outlook for this year will be heavily shaped by the distribution of a widely available and effective vaccine, and a return to more optimistic territory is more likely to emerge from the second half of the year. There are bright spots in the current uncertain times, as growth sectors emerge and companies look to strengthen business reliance with digital streams. Hiring managers are advised to adjust their mindsets to build a resilient workforce and attract top talent – by proactively pipelining talent, developing talent from within, and rethinking traditional job descriptions,” said Monty Sujanani, Country Manager, Singapore, Robert Walters.
With Phase 3 of Singapore’s re-opening plans expected to last for a prolonged period, overall hiring activity is expected to remain cautious, with more companies and professionals being receptive to contract hiring. The four key growth areas of 2020 – technology, logistics, e-commerce, and healthcare, will see continued higher hiring activities this year for both permanent and contract roles.
The “low supply, high demand” situation will deepen for tech professionals with highly specialised technical skillsets, especially in new emerging areas such as in AI and machine learning. As businesses seek out talent who can help them move from a physical to an online presence, professionals with skillsets in tech fields such as data, cybersecurity, digital and e-commerce will be in demand. The awarding of digital banking licences, sustained surge in Fintech firms and online banking businesses establishing a base in Singapore will add to relatively higher hiring activity for professionals skilled in governance, compliance and risk sectors, especially in dealing with financial crime, in 2021.
In 2020, we saw an uptick in contract hiring in sales & marketing, particularly in digital marketing, e-commerce and analytical roles. The technology sector showed a similar trend, with a demand for Cyber security, Developers, DevOps and Project Management professionals. On the contrary, there were lesser contract recruitment needs for positions in the Finance, HR and Business Support functions as companies focused their resources on operations and took drastic cost-cutting measures. These trends are expected to continue in 2021, with hiring activity for contractors gradually rising as the economy and COVID-19 situation stabilises.
The drive to hire Singaporean talent will continue this year, and overseas-based Singaporeans with international work experience will remain sought-after, especially if they possess in-demand and niche skillsets. Companies will continue to compete for talent who are not only technically skilled, but show soft-skills competencies such as being resilient, adaptable, flexible, forward-thinking, and able to manage and engage remote teams.
“After acclimatising to 2020, companies now need to start being proactive – to see beyond the current pandemic situation and take some risks in 2021. One way to start is by pipelining suitable and desired talent and setting up talent development programmes. Be transparent and maximise the engagement opportunity with professional hires, especially those in niche spaces. Lastly, hire and invest for potential, as that 100% perfect hire might not exist in the market,” said Sujanani.
Factors such as cost management and an uncertain business environment will see companies maintain salaries similar to 2020’s, which had remained stable overall. Salary premiums of 10-20% can be expected for niche markets which face a limited supply of relevant professionals.
Hiring managers looking to recruit and retain talent in 2021 should invest in the growth and engagement of their existing talent as well, by providing opportunities to learn new skills, especially those that are highly relevant to digital transformation, such as data analytics. There is greater urgency in prioritising employee mental wellbeing in the workplace and companies can incorporate welfare benefits such as counselling sessions or mental health workshops. Companies looking to tap on niche skillsets that are non-existent in the local talent pool can consider innovative solutions such as Robert Walters Singapore’s Balik Kampung programme, which helps to attract Singaporeans abroad back.
Candidates are advised to seize the opportunity and take up courses, especially those in in-demand skillsets, as the government continues to offer support for upgrading. Webinars that discuss topics on the current market trends, such as the latest hiring trends across various industries as well as career advice from industry leaders, can also help candidates better equip themselves to meet future job requirements.