Despite continued headcount freezes and reductions, job vacancies and job placements at PageGroup have been rising steadily month on month since Q3 last year.

The new Michael Page Talent Trends 2021 report, which compiled the responses of over 5,500 businesses and 21,000 employees across APAC, revealed that while some employers were choosing to consolidate to protect the shape of their business in the short-term, many remain focused on attracting talented people to allow for future growth.

During an interview with the BBC Asia Business Report, Sharmini Wainwright, Senior Managing Director NSW at PageGroup said that optimism was returning to the region, with more than 42% of surveyed companies looking to increase their headcount in 2021.

“Mainland China saw the deepest cut in terms of the active number of jobs we were working on in the professional space. Interestingly, when we fast-forward a couple of months to the end of [last] year, Mainland China is now in the strongest position – and is the sharpest recovery we have seen,” Wainwright revealed.

“The recovery phase typically takes between three to five years but there is almost a nice climb that [businesses] are able to achieve every year.

“We focus on the professional space in terms of the labour market and what we expect is a new year’s turn, which means a lot of organisations naturally start to move towards optimism. Also, many of them have been very tight in the amount of resources that they have had – so one individual covering roles for other individuals, and that can only last for so long.”

Sharmini Wainwright, Senior Managing Director NSW at PageGroup interviewed on BBC Asia Business Report.

Anthony Thompson, Regional Managing Director, Asia Pacific at PageGroup, added that businesses across APAC were adapting their recruitment plans during the pandemic, rather than waiting it out and potentially missing out on key talent.

As a result of this strategy, hiring levels are picking up again.

“A reduced rate of hiring does not necessarily mean that businesses are shutting their doors to qualified talent altogether. At no point in 2020 did we see that,” Thompson explained.

“We saw very positive trends upward from Q2 to Q3, and Q4 versus Q3.

“We are not back to levels that we would consider to be ‘normal’ but it is getting closer and closer each month – operating at 85% to 90% in most cases.”

Thompson said that in some larger markets, such as Japan and China, PageGroup experienced growth in hiring activities toward the end of 2020, compared to 2019, which was highly encouraging.

“We expect the positive trends to gradually continue across the region as a whole,” he added.

“While it is clear that the impact of COVID-19 is not disappearing imminently, most companies in most markets have adapted. And rather than wait for the situation to be completely resolved, they have been making hiring decisions and executing business plans for the future.”

He said optimism certainly exists for APAC’s job market this year, as 42% of surveyed businesses revealed they were already looking to increase headcount.

Hiring trends in the Philippines

When it came to Filipino companies, Talent Trends 2021 found 35% were looking to increase headcount in 2021. This comes as several reports and economic data confirm that the Philippines is slowly making a comeback.

In 2020, the Philippines’ Gross Domestic Product contracted by 9.5% — the first contraction in 22 years and the worst drop in more than half a century. These results were driven by several factors. First, household spending, a key economic driver for the Philippines, fell by 5.7% in 2020 as millions of Filipinos lost their jobs and were, in turn, less inclined to spend. Large swaths of the country also struggled to contain Covid-19 effectively, with regions being under varying degrees of lockdown. In fact, at the time of writing, the Philippines had the second-highest number of Covid-19 cases in Southeast Asia (after Indonesia) at 660,000.

"The year 2020 will be remembered as the most difficult year in our lives," President Rodrigo Duterte's economic team said in a joint statement. “The road ahead remains challenging, but there is now light at the end of the tunnel."

With that said, confidence is returning to the Philippines. Despite the Covid-19 situation, key economic drivers, such as its fundamentals, competitive workforce, steady remittances, investment and job market, are still in place. In fact, in January 2021, the International Monetary Fund revised the Philippines’ growth projections to 6.6% in 2021 and 6.5% in 2022.

Philippines certainly has a lot to look forward to in the coming year. However, some analysts prefer the country to proceed with cautious optimism. For one, household spending will likely remain lacklustre as unemployment levels close in on five million. Inflation, too, will begin to rise and cut into the average Filipino’s purchasing power. Finally, even though the Duterte administration has taken resolute steps to fast-track its vaccination programme, as of March 2021, the country is still dealing with some of its highest Covid-19 daily case numbers yet. The road to recovery is certainly long for the Philippines, but the destination is at least in sight.

The Talent Trends 21 report provides insights into what businesses and employees experienced in 2020, practical learnings and what is expected in 2021 including salary expectations. Click the image below to download the full report.

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