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Industry Insights | 16 minute read

Spotlight on supply chain hiring in Asia

November 23, 2021

Introduction 

The business landscape in Asia has changed dramatically over the past 18 months. Snarls in supply chains and transportation are leading to rising prices and shortages in key economies. Global supply chains have seen major disruptions during this period. In addition, the effects of the global pandemic, natural disasters, international trade tensions and cyberattacks have caused further disruption to a lot of companies.  

Despite this, the APAC region is projected to remain the fastest-growing region in the world with 6.5% growth in 2021, according to forecasts from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  

Many companies have been looking at how they can build resilience in their supply chains. In this report, we explore supply chain hiring and industry trends in Asia, as well as candidates’ responses to the current market landscape. 

China 

China’s economy experienced a steady recovery during the second half of the year. The recovery was fueled by an increase in production and demand, while employment and prices have remained stable. Gross domestic product (GDP) in the first three quarters reached RMB82,313.1 billion, a year-on-year increase of 9.8%. This represented an average two-year growth of 5.2%, which was 0.1 percentage points lower than the average two-year growth of the first half of the year, according to the National Bureau of Statistics of China. China’s manufacturers continue to be pressured by growing labour and shipping costs and in recent times, had to cope with temporary power shortages in certain provinces. However, we have seen many manufacturers putting more investments in research and development, placing importance on local innovation. 

Hot skills in China 

Procurement excellence strategists 

These individuals are highly sought after because of their ability to drive improvements while providing transparent analysis of procurement data. We are seeing the most demand for these candidates from companies in the cosmetics, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and healthcare industries.  

Demand & supply planning management  

Professionals with experience in supply chain management are in demand because of the increasing need to mitigate risks with detailed scenario planning. This has become a focal point for many businesses because of the global supply chain crisis caused by the pandemic. At the same time, companies need such experience and skillsets to identify and quantify potential opportunities. These roles are proving especially popular in business-to-consumer companies (B2C), particularly where both online and offline channels are of equal importance.  

3PL and 4PL sales professionals and business development managers 

eCommerce is booming across many industries. Pent-up demand continues to be unleashed following the lifting of lockdown restrictions and consumers are more reliant on technology, so are doing a lot of things digitally – even more so after the lockdown period in 2020. 

Pharmaceutical manufacturing production/environmental health & safety (EHS)/quality engineers 

Pharmaceutical companies in China are rapidly boosting production locally. Many are in the process of setting up new plants and/or expanding product lines. As a result, quality and EHS expertise are in high demand.  

Procurement (logistics category)  

Demand for experience in this category has increased because logistics costs are now much higher due to the pandemic. This means organisations are taking a more strategic approach when it comes to the sourcing of suppliers. Many are being tasked with making cost savings despite the current crisis and this is especially so in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries 

Looking ahead 

  • Due to the pressure the manufacturing industry is experiencing, enhancing the use of technology, including AI, in operations and processes has become critical. We expect this increase in digital capability to rise into 2022.  
  • As skills shortages continue to impact China, recruiters are looking overseas to attract Chinese talent and are persuading them to return home. Some companies have become more open to talent from other industries rather than from their direct competitors or companies in related industries.  
  • Candidates who have worked in global multinationals, as well as domestic companies, are now most widely sought after, especially with domestic companies or multinationals that are hiring for their joint ventures. 
  • Skills shortages mean many companies are reskilling and are evaluating their compensation and benefits structure in a bid to retain talent.  
  • There is a greater focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG), especially in procurement. Procurement leaders must factor this in as they look to align with their consumers, who are increasingly choosing brands with strong ESG credentials.

Singapore 

The economic recovery is progressing well in Singapore. The Ministry of Trade & Industry’s advanced estimates suggest the Singapore economy grew by 6.5% year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, moderating from the 15.2% growth reported in the previous quarter. The Singapore economy is expected to continue to grow during the last quarter of the year.  

As more pandemic-related curbs get lifted, we will likely see the demand for goods and services pick up pace. The Monetary Authority of Singapore announced recently that it will allow the dollar’s nominal effective exchange rate to appreciate slightly. The stronger currency will put a ceiling over rising inflation as we see inflationary pressures building up around the economies. 

Hot skills in Singapore 

Experienced regional supply chain leaders 

Given the challenges faced in the supply chain functions, there is an increased demand for experienced supply chain leaders who can lead regional supply chain functions to build resilience. We continue to see a demand for supply and demand planning professionals as companies seek to improve their integrated business planning processes. 

Business to customer (B2C) and online to offline (O2O) 

There has been an increase in demand for candidates with experience in these sectors. Demand for supply chain integration analysts and data analysts is increasing too as artificial intelligence and digital technologies continue to be applied across the supply chain. 

Logistics 

We have seen an increase in the number of eCommerce start-up companies and companies in eCommerce sectors expanding their presence and reach in the region. This has led to an increase in hiring for good supply chain professionals with experience in the eCommerce sector. There is also a growing need for logistics professionals with expertise in last-mile delivery solutions and supply chain analytics. 

 Trade and customs  

Trade and customs will become increasingly important for many companies as a result of ongoing trade tensions and their potential impact on trade and supply chain flows. 

Procurement and strategic sourcing  

Companies are continuing to place great importance on cost efficiency. There are also efforts to reduce exposure to single-source suppliers and other supply chain risks by diversifying where they buy materials. There is an increased focus on improving overall raw materials supplier performance and category management strategies to enable maximum cost savings. With the rise in technology spend across most companies, there is an increase in hiring for procurement professionals with good experience in managing technology spend. 

Process improvement 

 As organisations continue their efforts to drive process improvements in the supply chain and operations, demand for process improvement professionals with proven track records in reducing costs is set to increase even more. 

Project management 

Project managers and continuous improvement and solution implementation professionals with relevant certifications such as Project Management Professional, LEAN/Six Sigma and Kaizen, are very much in demand. Candidates who have global transformation experience in the local market will have more job opportunities. 

3PL and 4PL Sales and Business Development professionals  

Singapore is a regional or global headquarters for many major logistics service providers. This creates a vibrant ecosystem of leading shippers and third-party logistics providers (3PLs) in Singapore. We see an increase in hiring among 3PL and 4PL providers for strong sales and business development professionals. 

Looking ahead 

  • The IMF recently downgraded the 2021 growth forecast for Asia by more than 1% to 6.5%. The downgrade was largely driven by a spike in COVID-19 cases, which caused a lot of disruption in some areas of the region. The threat of new variants and a resurgence in COVID-19 infections could impact the pace of the recovery.  
  • Higher commodity prices and shipping costs, coupled with the continued disruption of global supply chains, are amplifying concerns over persistent inflation.
  • More organisations are recognizing the importance of optimising their supply chains to ensure resilience.  
  • There has been an increase in investments in digital capabilities in supply-chain intensive industries and we expect this to continue into the new year.
  • Companies are continuing to place greater importance on cost efficiencies. They are also trying to reduce their exposure to single-source suppliers while increasing their focus on improving overall raw materials supplier performance.  
  • There will be a greater focus on data analytics in providing insights to improve supply chain management over the coming months.
  • There is a greater focus on ESG, especially in procurement.

Key industries that are hiring for supply chain roles 

The industries with the most hiring activity for supply chain roles right now include:

  • FMCG
  • eCommerce
  • Healthcare, including pharmaceutical manufacturing, medical devices and health services 
  • Biotech/biopharmaceutical
  • Industrial manufacturing
  • Logistics (particularly 3PL and 4PL)
  • Specialty chemicals

The future workplace will rely on soft skills 

As technology, globalisation and demographic shifts continue to shape how businesses compete, the importance of soft skills will grow. Increased automation and artificial intelligence will result in a greater proportion of jobs relying on soft skills. Tasks that require hard skills are continuing to decline, making soft skills key differentiators in the workplace 

Soft skills that employers highly value 

  • Leadership and persuasiveness
  • Strong communication and interpersonal skills  
  • Strong business partnering skills
  • Agility and adaptability
  • Willingness to embrace change
  • Digital savviness
  • Good problem-solving skills and creativity
  • Cross-functional collaboration
  • Ability to perform under pressure
  • Global view with local working experience

Recruiting for talent: What do candidates look for in a company? 

As we continue to see a competitive employment landscape across Asia, companies need to ensure they have robust talent attraction and retention strategies in place. Candidates are craving stability after such a turbulent 18 months, so employers must invest time in sharing their long-term plans and strategies to candidates and employees while positioning themselves as employers of choice. 

 

47% of workers in Asia are likely to consider changing employers (versus the 41% global average), according to research from Microsoft. 

Candidates are considering several key elements when assessing a career move: 

  • Career growth and development opportunities
  • Organisation leadership and culture  
  • Flexible working
  • The financial stability of potential employers
  • Financial rewards and relevant employee benefits

66% of leaders say their company is considering redesigning office space for hybrid work

73% of employees want flexible remote work options to stay

67% of employees want more in-person work or collaboration post-pandemic 

Source: Microsoft 

Economies in Asia are still facing severe challenges from fresh waves of COVID-19 infections and weakness in service consumption. One thing that remains certain though, is the spotlight is firmly on supply chains in the region as companies seek to build resilience. We will continue to see a good demand for supply chain talent in the region. 

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About Yvonne Goh

Yvonne is one of our managing directors in Singapore. She specialises in senior mandates with a focus on finance and accounting, sales and marketing and general management across Southeast Asia. Yvonne has more than 20 years of executive search experience, with a background in senior finance recruitment at an...

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