Exhausted nurses leaving their profession in the Philippines.[1] Restaurants cutting back opening hours because they don’t have enough skilled chefs or managers[2] in Australia – while mining sites can’t get enough drivers to make the most of record iron ore prices.[3] And across southeast Asia, it’s taking more than three months to fill open tech roles.[4]

Around the world, organizations are grappling with an unprecedented talent shortage as economies recover and pent-up consumer demand explodes. Globally, 70% of employers report challenges hiring in high-demand areas, such as logistics, manufacturing, IT, sales and marketing.[5] For example, worldwide retail eCommerce sales grew 27.6% in 2020[6], but the supply chain sector struggles to attract young talent across the APAC region.[7]

Almost one-third of Asia Pacific companies say talent shortages will impact their business growth according to a March Korn Ferry survey. It’s the third biggest external factor, after the global economic slowdown and COVID developments. And according to World Bank forecasts[8], the Asia Pacific region should be at pre-pandemic levels of growth by Q3 2021.

To keep up with this new growth, organizations need to start thinking differently about how they hire – for the short- and long-term. Because finding the right people may prove challenging, especially for roles already facing a talent crunch. In September 2020, Korn Ferry analysis showed candidates were thin on the ground for IT, data science and analytics, engineering and sales /marketing roles.[9]

35% of Asia Pacific companies say talent shortages will impact their business growth. Click To Tweet

The reasons for this talent shortage vary. For example, Singapore and Australia both rely on skilled migrant workers. Until borders reopen, those countries will need to find an alternative to overseas hiring.

In industries yet to return to business as usual, such as international education and tourism, talent may have moved on to new roles in other sectors. And in some countries, the work on offer no longer feels safe – the risk of working may feel greater than the reward.

Solving the talent shortage

Although short-term hiring gaps may be top of mind, it’s still important to hire for future needs now and build your pipeline. To attract the right candidates from a smaller pool amidst stiff competition, you need greater agility and speed in the hiring process – and flexible rewards that can adapt to what that talent is seeking.

Build your hiring agility

Agile hiring strategies can help you deal with short-term gaps while also meeting future needs by upskilling current employees. Our research shows many companies are hiring for roles today that did not exist a year ago – indicating learning agility may be an increasingly important capability to look for in candidates.

With remote working still a reality for many, technology is playing an increasingly important role in the hiring process. It can also help you make faster, smarter hiring decisions.

For example, AI tools can plug into Applicant Tracking Systems to streamline pre-screening based on objective criteria, such as Korn Ferry Success Profiles. This can also reduce the impact of unconscious bias – potentially identifying talent you may not otherwise consider.

App-based online interview scheduling, remote onboarding using chatbot enabled online support, and virtual coaching can also help improve efficiency – and the experience – for new employees.

Make them an offer they can’t refuse

Think beyond pay when it comes to packaging up an offer. Employees are also looking for the intangibles when deciding on an offer – such as more tailored career paths, interesting projects, flexible work schedules and training opportunities. And let’s not forget the role of purpose – most people are motivated by doing meaningful work. They also want to know their employer is serious about addressing safety concerns.

Remote work is already proving a powerful motivator for some talent – and it lets you tap into a bigger talent pool. Many employees value the flexibility to work from home, along with a greater sense of control over their time. Needless to say, there will be a greater plurality of contracting arrangements, and managing this requires conscious planning and structures.

Besides evolving work arrangements, total rewards programs also need to be re-visited to re-align with fast-changing business priorities. Although many organisations acknowledged the pandemic had a considerable impact on their strategic priorities, our studies have revealed less than half of these organisations are reviewing their total rewards strategy[10]. This is a significant alignment risk to the business – to assume that what worked pre-COVID will work in the new talent landscape. Companies’ reward practices are not catching up with new realities, with most organisations still referring to best practices of the past. Just like how organisations deliberate over the strategy to capture new markets and clients, they will also now need to define their multi-pronged go-to-market strategy for top talent.

Learn more about talent scarcity and what organisations can do in the Korn Ferry Digital Talent Survey 2020.


[1] Solving the mystery of the ‘worker shortage’, World Economic Forum, 28 May 2021
[5] ManpowerGroup research of 42,000 employers in 43 countries, 2021
[9] Korn Ferry Digital Talent Survey 2020
[10] APAC Spot Survey March-April 2021
Speak to our experts

About the contributors

Vinod Mohan is the Head of Professional Search. Based in Singapore, Vinod has over a decade of experience in the executive search and the talent sector and 6 years specific to the APAC market. Vinod's areas of expertise include talent management, sourcing strategies, market mapping, "High Po" search solutions and project and managed search. Vinod has successfully delivered "high impact" talent solutions to a diverse range of sectors including Aviation, Oil & Gas, the broader Industrial practice, Consumer and Healthcare across geographies.



Mary Chua, Senior Client Partner and Rewards & Benefits Practice Leader for APAC, Korn Ferry, based out of the firm’s Kuala Lumpur office. She has over 20 years of consulting and corporate experience in APAC and Europe. Mary specialised in M&A and total rewards and has extensive experience delivering large scale organisational and total reward transformation programs for both GLCs and multinationals in the region. She has experience in multiple industries including Banking, Insurance, Telecommunications, and Diversified Conglomerates.

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