22 September 2022

Just when we thought the worst was over and major economies showed signs of recovery following the destruction of COVID-19 and its after-shocks, dark clouds hover over the horizon. Supply chains continue to be disrupted, which is impacting construction materials supplies and pushing up prices. Meanwhile, the conflict in Ukraine – and the subsequent energy supply shocks caused by sanctions and Russian gamesmanship – is threatening the growth outlook. Inflation is climbing at a rapid rate worldwide. 


Through these uncertain times, employers across the Asia-Pacific region and beyond have rationalised and transformed to survive, only to wake up to another challenge – where is the talent now? Talent acquisition is proving to be challenging for a variety of reasons and the situation looks to continue into 2023. For companies keen to acquire talent, future-proof the hiring process, and build out a stable candidate pool, getting ahead of unfolding developments is essential.

Skills shortages

As COVID-19 mutated, so did our jobs. The skills shortage we are experiencing is the result of changing post-pandemic work patterns, technological changes, the outward migration of skilled workers, an ageing workforce, longer life expectancy, and a lack of capacity to up-skill employees. It is a case of too few workers with the right skills and experience and too many unfilled positions.


A regional survey conducted early this year showed that two-thirds of the 90 markets surveyed were experiencing a skills shortage, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, and Perth. This is driving wage growth against the backdrop of rising underlying inflation, among other recruitment challenges.

High staff turnover

At the height of the pandemic, with businesses closing daily, retrenchment or reductions in salary and benefits, uncertainty ruled the day. Many of us were just thankful to have a job, let alone entertain the risk of moving to a new position at a different company. Many families also faced personal challenges, such as caring for sick family members or taking on extra childcare responsibilities while working from home. 


During this period, companies were forced to have employees work remotely. Many people feel less connected to and engaged with their companies. With increased remote operations, many organisations have neglected their workplace culture or have allowed previously frequent personal interactions and employee recognition to decline. As a result, employees’ sense of loyalty may have diminished.


After a year and half of vaccinations, (most) governments in Asia have decided to ease travel restrictions, turn the lights on at factories, and revive their economies. Employees living in survival mode and under extreme stress, now insist on change; and if their demands are not met, they are ready to make a move to obtain a more beneficial situation. People simply want to do something different in a new environment.

Exodus of talent

At the height of the pandemic, countries were extremely cautious in hiring foreign talent, as they could bring in the virus or take valuable jobs from their citizens. 


For expats already working in Asia, COVID-19 put an end to hassle-free entry and exit. The past two years have been a nightmare for many, with tight border controls forcing them to choose between visiting their families and friends and risking losing their jobs or to remain, sometimes alone, in the host country and live with the uncertainty. Mid- and lower-skilled foreign workers, in particular, have faced trouble getting approval to return from visits abroad. 


Some expatriates have left because they do not see new job opportunities here, while others find the COVID-19 restrictions too strict for their liking. 


This has been a problem for developed countries in Asia, such as Singapore, South Korea, and Japan that have industries heavily reliant on foreign hires. While they could, over time, plug some of the gaps, they will continue to want a fair share of foreigners in their workforces to maintain their global hub status.

What’s to be done?

Catch Jonathan next week, when he describes how Asian businesses can navigate talent acquisition and retention in the post-pandemic era. In the meantime, read more about AIMS International Singapore.

About the Author:

Jonathan Khoo

Managing Partner
Practice Member – Consumer, Industrial, Media & Technology
AIMS International Singapore
Jonathan Khoo

Prior to joining the executive search industry, Jonathan held several senior management roles at international conglomerates, including one of the largest semiconductor providers in the world, a global passenger transport company, and a major Fortune 500 technology company. 


Jonathan first started his executive search career as the Managing Director with one of Asia’s oldest executive search firms, in charge of Life Sciences, Industrial Engineering and Technology practice groups. Since then, he has built a solid track record of successfully filling leadership and professional positions across Asia.