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Why 2014 Could be the Right Time to Move Out East

So we’re officially well into 2014 and the period of the year set aside for resolutions, fresh starts and, for some, a career rethink. Most western IT pros currently staring at their CV with one eye on a move elsewhere will likely be thinking of somewhere fairly close to home. Fewer still may have thought about a possible life and career-changing move to Asia. So what exactly are the opportunities on the other side of the world?

Luckily enough, most of the major global recruiters release their regional 2014 forecasts in or around January so it’s a rather good time to take stock of what’s out there. Recruitment firm Michael Page’s Technology Salary and Employment Forecast for China looks pretty encouraging. Of the hundreds of employers it surveyed in the Middle Kingdom, 42% said current hiring activity is “stronger” or “slightly stronger” than last year, while 47% said it was at least “steady”. Over a quarter said they expect skills shortages to arise this year and well they might, given the vast sums of state and private money being ploughed into ambitious IT projects.

FMCG, automotive, pharmaceuticals, consumer electronics and banking (Shanghai only) are industries most in need of IT pros, with cloud, mobile and e-commerce key areas of focus, the report said. Those with Big Data, coding (Java, C# and .Net), ERP, cloud and iOS/Android developer skills will be most in demand along with that perennial favourite, info-security.

No place for language laggards

Things might look pretty promising from that viewpoint, as does an expectation from two-thirds of respondents that salaries will increase 6-10% in the next 12 months, but here’s the bad news.

It’s true that there are plenty of Chinese firms growing at a rapid rate who want to “internationalise” and need foreigners to help them do that. There are also those MNCs which, while trying to localise in China, can’t find the local talent to fill senior, managerial and above, IT positions. These two scenarios offer expats the best chance of success. But even here, local language skills, experience of living and working in China, or ideally both, will be required for all but the most senior positions.

In the more international hubs of Singapore and Hong Kong native language and cultural skills are less important. However, in China the quality of local IT talent is high and growing every year. Ex-pat IT pros will have to aim for the more senior, strategic and managerial roles if they want to get away with not speaking the language and be shortlisted for interview.

In Hong Kong, 33% of respondents to Michael Page’s Salary and Employment Forecast  said hiring activity would be stronger or slightly stronger for 2014, with the commercial sector rather than financial services accounting for most hires. Most said average salaries would increase by 1-5% over the year with roles in demand including sysadmins, project managers, business analysts and ERP specialists.

Over in Singapore, confidence levels in the growth of the local technology industry have shot up from 66% last year to 92% this, according to a new report from staffing services firm Robert Half. Regional director Stella Tang told me that expat IT pros with skills in security, application development, business analysis and software development, as well as cloud and mobile solutions, will be highly sought after.

“Never underestimate the attraction of problem solvers,” she said. “A track record of fixing problems and improving processes will find they are in high demand. In the senior positions that most expats are seeking, you are expected to do more than just execute well. You need to be able to innovate and show how your abilities add to the company's productivity and its bottom line.”

It pays to manage expectations

Apart from the working culture and your skills set, of course, there’s also the very real issue of whether it’s going to make financial sense to move. My impression from speaking to recruiters and foreign IT pros over the past two years is that the days of the lucrative expat package are well and truly over. Most jobseekers will be expected to move to their target location first and then begin networking and applying for roles rather than trying to do it all remotely from back home. Even those relocating to Asia within their current organisation – which probably comprises the majority – are no longer guaranteed a cushy deal involving subsidised travel, housing, living allowance and so on.

It pays therefore to take some time out to calculate exactly what your take home pay will be – factoring in the lower tax rates of Singapore and HK – and extras such as transport, schooling and rent. In its latest report, HR consultancy ECA International warned that Beijing is now Asia’s second most expensive city to live in, after Tokyo, with Hong Kong in eighth and Singapore in ninth.Both Michael Page Singapore director, Michael Nette, and HK director, Christopher Aukland, stress the importance of being flexible on salary expectations and role.

“Moving country/markets/roles and trying to get a promotion at the same time is unlikely. Be realistic, get a foot in the door and look at long term potential,” Aukland adds.

There are, of course, huge upsides to taking that leap and moving to work in Asia. The life and work experience are invaluable and will certainly set you in good stead for the rest of your career – especially as more and more organisations from the East expand their operations into Europe and the US. But it pays to do your research, go into it with no illusions and knuckle down. It could be a bumpy ride.

 

John Anderson has been writing about technology and all things Asia for over a decade. From his perch in the Far East he keeps a keen eye on the global significance of emerging trends in the region.

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John Anderson

John Anderson has been writing about technology and all things Asia for over a decade, having started out on some of the UK's best known best-known IT trade titles. From his perch in the Far East he keeps a keen eye on the global significance of emerging trends in the region. 

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