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HR’s Best Laid Plans

Impact On Hr Talent Market

by Brian Hardiman

2020 – Year in Review

Everything that could be written about how COVID-19 changed the world has already been written, so I’m going to look at how 2020 impacted the HR profession which in one word was profound.

Whilst it has been the toughest, most emotionally confronting and all-consuming year professionally for HR leaders in APAC, as they dust themselves off (or for some pick themselves up!) and look forward to 2021 many will do so with a renewed energy. This will be the year that establishes that the waiting has finally ended. The fabled ‘seat at the table’ is theirs, it’s now a question of how they are going to use it.

The Best Laid Plans…….

At the start of 2020 there was a lot of excitement around a stronger economy across Asia allowing great investment in talent, and an explosion in the HR Tech scene with new start-up’s and apparent game changing products being launched. Personalised benefits were trending and glitzy new offices were being launched.

Then everything stopped. Plans were discarded and all that mattered was crisis management. It is said out of crisis comes opportunity and 2020 was a year when many in the HR profession had to quickly learn or upskill in a variety of areas including;

-How to move an entire workforce to remote working almost overnight

-Health & Safety became a priority even for companies outside of heavy industries

-Wellness rightfully came to the fore

-Talent acquisition were repurposed into new projects

-Coaching and counselling became a daily task

However, as a recent study conducted by People Collider & Thrive HR Exchange discovered, in 2020, when not ‘learning through doing’ most HR professionals focused their professional development in their ‘comfort zones’ of Human Resources and Leadership, meaning only strengthening their existing area of expertise.

The question is in a time of unprecedented change and digital transformation are HR professionals equipping themselves effectively not for the future but the here and now?

Demand from leading employers are for tech & digitally savvy HR practitioners whose ‘comfort zones’ are in areas such as data analytics and new technologies, so it is incumbent upon those with ambition to invest in their own development in order to equip themselves now with the tools needed to be an effective value-creating partner to the business.*

In Singapore there were additional talent challenges for HR to overcome through an increased drive for companies to strengthen their Singapore Core which meant a raising of salary thresholds for foreign workers to qualify for EP & S Passes.

There was also an increase in TAFEP investigations to ensure companies remained compliant which all increased the pressure on local talent hiring resulting in shortages of talent in some key functions such as Technology in particular.

Impact on the APAC HR Talent Market

As a reflection of the importance of the role of HR throughout this crisis, there was no overall reduction in HR headcount across the region. We still saw companies have significant challenges when trying to recruit as it was difficult for them to identify and attract the right talent. A key reason for this was the fact that most HR professionals were too focused on supporting their business through the challenging times, displaying true commitment and loyalty rather than looking for an easier option elsewhere which meant applications and openness to work was greatly reduced.

Of course, the worst affected industries such as Hospitality, Travel, Leisure, Airlines, F&B and Retail had inevitable redundancies, and we all hope to see a bounce-back in 2021 with the HR professionals affected securing new roles. We are already seeing an uptick in job postings from companies in these sectors which is a positive sign.

There were instances of HR headcount growth stories from companies operating in industries that thrived during 2020 including Amazon, Baidu, Huawei, ByteDance, Accenture, Deloitte, Tata, including a rise in the number of HR professionals who moved into a role as a ‘Freelancer’, no doubt to tide them through until the market picked up across the board. 

Perhaps surprisingly there was a growth of job titles related to recruitment with there now being more Search Consultants, Senior TA Specialists, TA Specialists and TA Managers than there were before the pandemic.

So what’s next?  Predictions for 2021

* The companies who decide quickly on what their ‘new normal’ will look like in relation to their working model, whether that’s back to the office, work from home, work from anywhere or a hybrid model, and market that effectively as part of their EVP, will be one step ahead in the upcoming battle for talent in the second half of 2021.

After their experiences in 2020, talent will be attracted to companies that focus on employee well-being rather than salary.

* As confidence in the strength of the market in Singapore grows we will see a rise in resignations of HR leaders who have been operating beyond maximum capacity for nearly a year, to focus on their own well-being or take on a new challenge elsewhere which will drive hiring activity across all areas of HR

Those companies that reduced the size of their junior to mid-level Talent Acquisition specialists will quickly rehire but will take a cautious approach and look for more flexibility with their headcount, by using Fixed Term Contracts rather than Permanent hires.

* A shift in expectation from the business as to what the HR team will deliver, moving beyond operational support into true strategic partnership and leading a significant change agenda. This will affect what skills and experiences employers are looking for when hiring HR professionals.

* Growth in demand for HR professionals who are digitally savvy, understand the positive impact of technology and can drive change & transformation.

* An increase in talent moving internally from other functions into HR in order to bridge skill gaps in the short term and deliver on urgent projects, particularly related to digital transformation, data analytics project management and workforce planning.

And Finally…..

For every HR professional reading this, please take some time to personally reflect on what you have gone through in 2020, what you have contributed and what you have accomplished.

You have been integral in navigating your people through a perfect storm and we are now, in APAC at least, starting to see the sun through the clouds and (slightly!) calmer waters ahead. Give yourself a huge pat on the back and give your colleagues the same. It’s important to recognise the positive contribution you have made to other people’s lives last year, but take some time for you as well to rest, recharge and get ready to go again!

2021 is going to be another big year for HR and a year when there is great opportunity to make a real impact on a business who are ready to listen and be guided by you. Make sure this years ‘Best Laid Plans’ are ambitious and be prepared to take advantage of this position for positive change.

Good Luck!

If you would like to discuss the contents of this article, talk through the plans for your HR team in 2021 or discuss the talent market in general then please reach out to Brian Hardiman: 

Brian Hardiman
Head of HR Practice at Volt - International

*If you are interested in attending a workshop for Human Resources on Technology and Data with People Collider, please email your interest to