Hays CEO sees digitalization as jobs catalyst

Posted on 11 March 2019

Source: China Daily

Recruiter says technology is creating new types of employment while making old types of work disappear or become less relevant

Alistair Cox, a practiced corporate recruiter and chief executive officer of London-headquartered Hays PLC, one of the world's biggest job recruitment and human resources companies, believes that the right job transforms a person's life and the right person can transform an organization.

A fan of jasmine tea and a man who has worked for aerospace, oil services and consultancy businesses covering a number of sectors including energy, consumer goods and manufacturing, the 57-year-old business executive has found that job creation and job development in China are among the fastest in the world, but the skills people are looking for are common in different economies.

The company, which came to China in 2007, currently operates in five locations - Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou in Guangdong province, Suzhou in Jiangsu province and most recently in Shenzhen in Guangdong. With more than 50 years of history in the people business, Hays has 11,000 consultants worldwide and 260 offices located in 33 different countries and regions.

Recently, Cox spoke to China Daily about business opportunities in China, trends in the human resources sector, and his management philosophy and style.

What are the latest trends in China's job market?

With China moving away from being an export-driven economy and stimulating domestic consumption, having strong sales and marketing teams is becoming increasingly important for companies. There are lots of job opportunities in those areas. Many industries - this is a worldwide phenomenon, but it is definitely evident here in China - are also becoming increasingly automated, which is creating technical and engineering jobs. There is an increasing focus on R&D STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and math.

How do you view the power of digitalization in China? How is this affecting or changing China's job market and your industry?

I would say technology has the ability to change the way we do our jobs, but it won't mean that people don't have jobs.

Digitalization is changing things in a number of ways. We are seeing some sorts of jobs disappear or evolve over time, but at the same time the creation of new types of work. AI machine learning and automation are eliminating some traditional roles. For example, if you look at traditional finance functions today and compare them with the roles five or 10 years ago, they are quite different. We will continue to see this trend of new types of jobs being created and old types of jobs disappearing or becoming less relevant.

Which sectors in China are growing and which sectors are declining?

First of all, anything to do with the digitalization of the world. That's a big market, including e-commerce, artificial intelligence, data science and data analytics. To support all of that, technology skills and programmers are in huge demand. The whole technology space is massive. The digitalization of existing industries, which is partly technology enabled is a huge market place as well.

Life science, as people are living longer, the healthcare industry is booming. China's success in driving reform within the healthcare industry to deliver a higher quality of life to its citizens has led to an explosion in associated industries. There is huge demand for new treatments, new drugs and new medical devices. Companies in this sector are looking for talent with the skills to develop drugs and to further clinical operations, especially those with research and development experience overseas.

Looking at the supply chain sector, given rapid infrastructural improvements in China, and as the world and China are incredibly interconnected, there are lots of skills required around supply chains to make them more seamless, more frictionless, lower cost, and to develop production and sales.

Supporting all of that is the banking and financial sector, including things like private equity and venture capital. That's a booming sector as well as capital is like oiling the machine to make it work smoothly.

Do you have any expansion plans in China in 2019 or in the next few years?

The Chinese market driven by its strong economy has been a good employment market for a recruiter such as Hays for a number of years now. And that has continued. Our business in China is growing significantly year-on-year, so it is a very vibrant job market here.

One of the things Hays does that I'm most proud about is that we help people develop their own lives and livelihoods by developing their careers. And every year we help about half a million people globally find their next job.

How do you help your clients to attract overseas talents to work in China?

We have massive databases of people. So we can quickly know if we have anybody who's got the required skill set and the appetite to move overseas to China for this particular job. And I think that's one of the advantages of working with Hays. You're not just working with us here in Beijing or here in China. You've got access to our entire world network, and all our talents and relationships worldwide.

We can also help organizations think through what they are offering potential employees to attract them as we understand them better. Traditionally, that would be money. But today, particularly for younger people, there are other things as important as money. They also look at career progression, what the company does and if the company has a purpose that they have an affinity with.

How do you identify talents?

One thing I value very much, among other professional and interpersonal skills, is open-mindedness. I want my people to be open minded, to be able to try new things, and when things don't work out, learn from that and do better next time around. I'd rather have people like that instead of those unwilling to adapt and change as the world around them changes. I think that's a recipe for disaster in the long term.

Do you see any new business opportunities emerging in the countries and regions involved in the Belt and Road Initiative?

Yes, indeed. The Belt and Road Initiative is the primary driver for a wide array of talent requirements. For example, we have seen the influx of banks from Singapore, Malaysia and Russia, all eager to take advantage of potential profit, looking to expand through astute hires of candidates in critical sectors. The BRI will not only greatly benefit the Eurasian economies but also China, particularly engineering procurement companies and steel production companies, and it is with these kinds of organizations that Asian banks want to develop greater business connections, and with that, opportunities.

We have branches and operate in nearly 20 countries and regions related to the BRI, many of them are important investment destinations for Chinese firms. We are excited to support the growth of our partners in these countries and regions by supporting them in finding the right talent.

What's your management style like? How do you motivate your international teams?

In terms of leadership, it starts with putting the right team together. If you get the right people together, then amazing things can happen. In terms of my own style, it starts with the people, because if you can find the right people and develop the right vision and ambition together for the business, then you're off to a very good start. You need to allocate those people to the right areas of the business, and then give them freedom to get on with it.

After recruiting the team, my job becomes one of supporting that team, giving them the environment for them to develop and grow, and supporting them whether it's through brainstorming ideas or challenging them.

How do you handle hardships and setbacks?

I think as a leader, you have to be resilient. You have to be honest enough to face the brutal facts of what is going on and be open enough to tell people the truth. Trying to tell people something is good when it's obviously bad is actually an insult to their intelligence.

So you need to be open and honest with them. Then everybody sees the same facts and has the same understanding of how things are. Because if you do that you massively improve your chance of fixing it, trying to deny something is a problem means you will never fix it. 

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