The current protests in Hong Kong are weighing in on the island’s job market, making it harder for recruiters to woo top talent to move to the city and prompting other workers already in Hong Kong to ask about opportunities elsewhere.

Eight recruiters – ranging across industries from financial services to human resources – told the South China Morning Post that some candidates say they do not want to move to Hong Kong because of protests that began in early June. They also say they have received inquiries from local workers wanting to move to work elsewhere, again due to the protests.

Some said client firms are delaying on hiring until the city’s unrest has settled. “I have definitely seen people not take roles because they or their partners from overseas have decided not to look at Hong Kong as an option, questioning its stability,” said a consultant who works for a Hong Kong-based legal recruitment firm. He said the shift in attitude has narrowed the pool of available talent.

Hong Kong is heading into its twelfth consecutive week of protests. What started in June as peaceful demonstrations against a proposed Extradition Bill has expanded into anger over social problems, including the police’s handling of the demonstrations.

“Absolutely I see a massive slowdown,” of candidate interest in roles and new jobs, said Elaine Khoo, founder of EL Recruit Limited, which hires for the human resources sector. During a day of intense protests in July, Khoo said she did not receive any replies for a job advertisement posted online, which, she noted, “has never happened in 12 years of recruitment”. People are concerned that the protests will impact the economic stability of the city, she said.

Candidates are also increasingly concerned about moving to Hong Kong from abroad, according to recruiters. A global recruitment company that hires for the banking and financial sector and asked not to be named said it has had two recent deals collapse after candidates decided not to move to Hong Kong. A third is looking close to falling through. Others are no longer interested in Hong Kong, particularly those from Singapore, it said.

Recruiters are also hearing from Hong Kong workers who want to work somewhere else, especially in Singapore. “It is a fair reflection to say it is getting to a position that people are saying if this is going to continue, and there isn’t a resolution, then maybe we should go [to Singapore],” said Tom Bury, managing director for Odin Partners, which recruits for investment banks and hedge funds. “The only thing that won’t change is that people need to be in Hong Kong for business in China.” He said a pattern has started to emerge over the past few weeks in which some candidates ask if Singapore would be an option, due to worries about safety for their families. “People are starting to mull over if this is going to continue, do I need to think about a contingency,” he said. If the unrest continues to the end of the year, and into bonus season for bankers at the beginning of next year, Bury expects to hear more requests to move.

A greater number of senior executives and expat workers are looking at moving abroad than usual, said Alex King, strategic partnership manager at Ambition, a global boutique recruitment business that covers industries including tech, banking and financial service and sales and marketing. Similar conversations have also happened in human resources, noted Khoo, and real estate, according to William Glover, managing director of real estate recruitment firm Macdonald and Company.

Meanwhile, some firms are holding back on hiring as they await a resolution to the protests and a return to stability in the city. Roles have been put on hold “in isolated incidences” as things like development projects are paused, and the release of flats for sale has slowed “until there are better conditions,” said Glover. The protests are bringing a global slowdown from the US-China trade war and Brexit “into a sharper focus,” he said.

Similarly, since the unrest began, Khoo has had two companies “indefinitely” push back the starting date of new roles, due to uncertainty about the safety of their employees, and another candidate was made redundant and given six months compensation pay before even starting. “Roles being pushed back is not common,” she said. “These three months, they have been pushed to indefinite”.



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