Conservative job market expected in most sectors in 2021

PETALING JAYA: About half (50%) of employers plan to implement a headcount/hiring freeze in 2021 as part of their response to Covid-19, according to the Robert Walters Salary Survey 2021.

It is not all bad news however as a large percentage of employers surveyed are also planning to train/upskill their staff (53%) and increase their investment in technology, apps and tools (42%) this year, indicating a continued emphasis on employee and workplace process development.

From an employment perspective in Malaysia, 2020 has seen a slow and conservative hiring market in Malaysia, which is expected to continue into 2021, at least for the first half of the year as businesses adapt to the repercussions of Covid-19 including the latest movement restrictions with the movement control order (MCO).

To delve slightly deeper, accounting and finance, banking and financial services, engineering, human resources, legal and supply chain job markets are expected to generally remain conservative for the months to come, with a few bright spots in high-demand sectors including essential services, technology, pharmaceutical/healthcare, insurance, risk and compliance as well as renewable energy.

Conversely, sales and marketing positions are expected to see some recovery, especially in jobs pertaining to e-commerce, digital marketing and overall sales as companies look to consolidate and strengthen their income streams in light of the new normal brought on by Covid-19.

Lastly, the job market for roles in technology and transformation is set to continue to grow further as companies pay more attention to laying the foundations for their digital operations (e-commerce, remote working, big data, AI solutions) and protecting that framework (cybersecurity, training) in order to ensure business continuity in anticipation of current and anticipated socio-economic challenges.

As for the northern region, the recruitment market is a bit more dynamic for engineering, technology & transformation and sales in particular, driven by the proliferation of manufacturers of medical devices and electronics as well as IT shared services.

The overall conservative approach to recruitment in 2021 means that the hiring proposals that are available will be strictly scrutinised and many organisations may also opt to recruit internally for available roles in an effort to manage costs. On the ever-important topic of remuneration, job-movers can expect a lower than usual salary increment of 12-15% or even down to a direct match of their last drawn pay as companies attempt to manage cash-flow and employee headcount.

For currently employed candidates, it remains likely that wages remain stagnant across this cycle or with very moderate pay increases, with the exception of top performers who may still be able to draw good increments, bonuses and even promotions.

Reflecting on the overall findings of the Robert Walters Salary Survey 2021 in Malaysia, Robert Walters Malaysia and Philippines country head Kimberlyn Lu said the 2021 market will continue to be challenging for clients as well as candidates, whether they are existing job holders or job-seekers alike.

“Nevertheless, there are opportunities out there and candidates will need to be well-rounded, with not just technical skillsets and the necessary experience, but a strong understanding of how the digital sphere interacts with their industry and a propensity to adapt and learn the dynamics of an ever-changing marketplace in order to thrive.”

The insights into the Malaysian scene, largely mirror that of the region with the overall Southeast Asia remaining conservative as companies ride out 2020 and early 2021. On an operational level, this year will see the rewiring of professionals’ and organisational expectations towards work and work-life balance. As professionals adapt to remote working and managing remote teams, organisations will need to further evaluate the long-term impact of a remote working style, and determine unique approaches in areas such as having a virtual or hybrid workplace.

The Robert Walters Salary Survey 2021 was drawn from Robert Walters analysis of job placements and insights from their experienced pool of consultants across 31 key global markets.

This was also juxtaposed with candidate and client surveys from each market, with Malaysia contributing the perspectives of 650 candidates (employees) across varying levels and industries as well as about 180 of Robert Walters clients (employers).