The Challenges of Recruiting in Asia

Is there a shortage or a surplus of engineers in China? Some sources report hundreds of recent engineering graduates being turned away from job fairs because all the open positions have been filled.

Yet, in another article, the author bemoans the lack of electrical engineers. Other confusing facts cloud the picture. Is India running out of English-speaking professionals to fill the outsourcing positions that have grown so rapidly over the past decade? Does the Philippines have the quality of English speakers American and British firms need?

Most of my recruiting colleagues in the United States can’t answer those questions. They struggle to build effective recruiting teams in Asia. They have a hard time finding competent recruiters and even more trouble finding high-quality candidates.

Many don’t even know where to begin when they are chartered with putting an Asian recruiting effort into place and are confused over figures and facts that often seem to contradict themselves, like those I have mentioned above.

Any new territory can be confusing and contradictory to those who do not have an inside view. Reports about the United States in European papers 200 years ago contained similar stories about skill shortages and glowing reports of opportunities that, in many cases, didn’t really exist. It requires the help of experts who are already there or at least the assistance of experienced guides to keep you on track.

Today in China, colleges and universities are turning out many hundreds of graduates, but many lack the level of skill that European and American firms expect. Some schools that are called colleges are, at best, technical schools and the graduates, at best, are technicians with hands-on knowledge but without the physics and math and other engineering subjects taught in the west. A recruiter has to be well-versed in each school, its curriculum, and reputation.

On the other hand, there is also a shortage of jobs for skilled people. While the economy of China is red hot and growing fast, it still can not produce enough jobs for everyone qualified.

That’s why it is both easy and hard for a firm outside the system to understand the paradoxes and nuances of this vast country. Finding a recruiter who knows this and can live successfully in the culture is certainly a challenge.

And, yes, India is facing a shortage of skilled people who are fluent in English. This primarily affects call centers, but actually has little effect on programming or other technical discipline where one or two English speakers can act as the spokespeople for the others.

Even though the demand is growing for English-speaking folks, many educated Indians are turning away from working for foreign firms. They are starting their own firms to supply India and China.

This further reduces the potential pool of candidates. The same applies to the Philippines and other countries with pools of English-speaking citizens.

Asian recruitment also encompasses Australia and New Zealand. In both countries, economies are vibrant and growing because of increased trade with China and the rest of Asia.

This has led to a huge talent shortage and increased competitive pressure to recruit better and faster. New Zealand, with just about four million citizens, suffers the most. Much of its talent goes off to Europe or Australia or elsewhere in Asia in search of greater opportunities and higher salaries.

Australia, with about 20 million people, has a similar problem; however, its larger size offers slightly more opportunity.

The number of European and American organizations that are recruiting in Asia, including Australia and New Zealand, has been steadily growing over the past decade. Every major organization has at least one recruiter in Asia and many smaller organizations have at least engaged a third-party recruitment firm or have outsourced their recruitment to a recruitment process outsourcing firm.

The markets are very competitive and only the best recruiters can really make a successful living. It is easy to make mistakes and hire the wrong recruiters as well as the wrong candidates.

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Nothing replaces prior experience and a philosophy of trial and error as you enter these markets. Very few organizations get it right the first time they try.

Yet, despite all this activity, most recruiters don’t have the time to learn and don’t have much real understanding of the Asian talent space, particularly in China and India. Whether this is caused by distance, culture, language, or cost, it is having a negative impact on many organizations.

They are not hiring the best people and they are not really engaged positively in the Asian talent communities. Some firms send a recruiter from home and put them into the role of leading a recruiting effort. This is a useful practice, as over time, they will learn how to function well and become effective.

However, during that process, they will need guides to help them and they will need an accelerated learning process. Many times exported American or European recruiters struggle to adjust to the Asian environment and, in the process, create issues that could have been avoided had they had some training and access to a few experts to help out.

Australasian Talent Conference

In an effort to begin raising the general level of knowledge and provide a forum for learning and discussion, I have joined with another firm in Australia to create the Australasian Talent Conference.

This conference will provide an overview to the Australasian talent marketplace and put you in touch with scores of other recruiters and HR professionals who are either based in Asia or have responsibility and interest in the Asian area.

You will meet people who can guide you in developing a better recruiting or development function in the region and you will hear from many experts in the area.

Each year the conference will be held in a different Asian country. The inaugural event will take place in beautiful Sydney, Australia, from March 20 to March 22.

The conference is open to human resource professional, trainers, leadership development experts, and recruiters from the United States, Europe, and Asia. We have assembled a powerful list of speakers and have invited a large number of Asia recruitment technology companies, service providers, and recruitment agencies to join us.

We will be looking at trends, case studies, best practices, and practical solutions to the issues every company faces in Asia.

If you are concerned about your firm’s ability to successfully compete for talent in any Asian country, this is the conference you should attend. Spread the word and help make this the best source of recruitment knowledge there is in Asia.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


3 Comments on “The Challenges of Recruiting in Asia

  1. Personally I think this is a great article and you have pointed out many of the truth on the state of recruitment in Asia. The talent is getting tighter and tighter not only in economic powerhouses like China and India. Business hubs like Singapore and Hong Kong are scrambling for every last expertise they can find, using a mixture of agencies, job boards, print ads etc. However, few managed to devise a strategy that is forward thinking and pre-emptive. Many are reactive towards the current ‘problem’ at hand and opting for instant painkillers.

    For companies outside Asia who need to build recruitment competencies in this part of the world, your best bet is to join hands with local experts whom have ‘been there, done that’. While the recruitment industry here is much diversified and it’s hard to qualify the right partner to work with, a number of industry players stand out from the rest.

    Ask around and you will get a few consistent answers. I am glad to be working for one of them.

    As for the conference, I am rather perplexed. The speaker line up seems to be very Australia- and New Zealand-focused. Save for one speaker from Singapore, what happened to the experts from India and China? How about industry leaders whom encompasses the entire Asia Pacific region?

  2. An article that discusses Asian recruiting with out mentioning the worlds 2nd largest economy Japan is sorely incomplete.

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