The IT job market showed plenty of movement last year with 65% of enterprises surveyed by Computerworld Hong Kong showing clear intentions to hire IT staff at the start of 2012. The same enterprises were surveyed in January this year, and the number has dropped: only 29% now predict more IT hiring for the year ahead.

For 2013, a majority of IT executives (59%) expect to maintain their current levels of staffing. The percentage is more than double that of 2012, when only 20% IT leaders expected a static headcount. Expectation of staff cuts slightly increased from 3% last year to 4% in 2013.

The word from the ground follows the same theme. Lu Szu-Jen, senior VP of IT at Sa Sa International Holdings, expects more hiring this year with a possible addition of five positions to the current 40-strong IT team in Hong Kong. These additions will be in the area of mobile device technologies as well as multimedia and social media expertise.

"Last year was a very active period of hiring both at Sa Sa and within the IT industry," said Lu. "Peers indicated they faced increased turnover of staff as well as rising difficulty in hiring new staff--demands were becoming unreasonable."

She predicted a less active market this year, but that doesn't mean it's easier to find the right people and skills. "Finding qualified people is always difficult, but we are seeing more candidates coming from overseas and adding to the talent pool," she said. "In particular, there is a rise in mainland Chinese looking to relocate to Hong Kong to develop their careers--and many have shown themselves to be very capable."

Top talent still rare

For the CIO at one of Hong Kong's largest employers of IT staff, he expects continuing demand for qualified subject matter experts. This Hong Kong institution is currently looking for talent in the areas of database development and management, project management, business process analysts, and architects. The CIO also agreed that finding the right people in the current market remains challenging.

At CLP, director of IT Andre Blumberg is proud of the low single digit turnover at his IT department despite relatively high turnover within the industry. But he also expects some hiring this year as determined by business demand. "We seek to bring in new skills for emerging technologies--mobility, analytics, datacenter energy efficiency, enterprise architecture, and cybersecurity," said Blumberg.

In terms of skills in demand, analytics seems the one area that everyone is targeting these days. According to EMC's general manager in Hong Kong, Gabriel Leung, "big data analytics is clearly the biggest area and skill in demand right now in our market."

The emergence of the big data trend and the all-consuming hunger by businesses for more data--and, most importantly, deep analysis of that volume of data--have spawned a huge demand for analytics expertise.

According to the Robert Walters Salary Survey 2013, the demand for more sophisticated business intelligence capability motivates many firms--in particular luxury retail companies--to hire candidates with skill in analytics and business reporting tools. The report shows that the shift towards online commerce, as well as a need for e-commerce professionals in the retail and retail banking sectors, has also driven this demand.

Prioritize skills mix

EMC sees this as a major challenge to source and develop big data expertise and analytics specialists. "If IT is to seriously contribute to business value," said Leung, "then we view development of people to meet this big data challenge as a major opportunity."

Past recruitment of IT professionals was focused on the group of skills that Leung calls "STEM": science, technical, engineering, and math. "Ten to 15 years ago, if you had these skill sets, you had a job lined up," said the EMC GM. "But with the current expectation on IT to deliver real business value, these skills in isolation won't suffice."

There's a clear recognition that all IT professionals must seek ways to improve their skill sets as well as developing their understanding of business operations. "Adding quantitative analysis skills to all staff is something we hope to do with our current people in order to add new capabilities to our team," said Leung. "Science, technology, engineering and math will not meet the big data analyst skill set."

Currently, few universities in Hong Kong promote these skill sets as part of current programs, but Leung expects that to change soon as companies like EMC seek to develop partnerships with educational institutions across greater China.

Get friendly with data

Clearly there is a big push for IT professionals to add to their traditional skill set. For years, observers have emphasized the need for better communication skills, collaborative capabilities, and business savvy, but now we can add a critical understanding of data.

"To deliver value you must be curious, skeptical, and continually question how things are done," Leung emphasized. "But today you must also welcome data. Do not be afraid of data, be comfortable managing and analyzing data, find new ways of doing things."

Blumberg at CLP agreed with the belief that technology skills alone are no longer sufficient. "We regularly seek good business analysts, project managers, and experienced change managers," he said., "Soft skills, customer-centricity, innovation and a drive for excellence are key traits we expect in our recruits."

Leung expects EMC to hire an additional 15% staff this year as the company projects double-digit growth.

Other technology vendors paint a similar positive outlook as the industry seeks to build up the supply-side capability of IT here in Hong Kong.

According to Cally Chan, managing director, HP Hong Kong, key technology trends such as mobility, cloud, big data and security, means that companies require new talent and professionals to implement new tools to take full advantage of these IT megatrends.

She added that both pre-sales and post-sales delivery are key areas for potential hiring. In terms of technology, she predicted infrastructure architecture design, network management, cloud computing and security to be in high demand at HP in 2013.

Vendors still hiring

At Microsoft, the outlook is also bullish on hiring in the coming year. "We will recruit approximately an additional 15% of our workforce this year, which includes increasing headcount as well replenishing our natural attrition," said Joelle Woo, marketing and operations director, Microsoft Hong Kong.

She said that the demand will be for sales professionals and technical experts in Microsoft's cloud services and unified communication and collaboration products such as Office 365 and SharePoint.

Another observation from both Woo and HP's Chan: recruitment today is utilizing a wider range of channels. Direct-sourcing--using social media, public job boards, business connections and internal referrals--is the primary channel for recruitment, said Woo. Interestingly, she noted that recruitment agencies will be engaged less often and utilized on a case-by-case basis.

HP is taking advantage of resources like the professional social network LinkedIn. Internal referrals are also an effective channel for discovery of new talent, as employees are often the best ambassadors for HP, said Chan.

It's clear that the supply side is more active in recruitment right now. The Robert Walters Salary Survey for 2013 indicates that there are notable job levels in the pre-sales divisions of companies within telecommunications, IT consultancy sectors as well as vendors and systems integrators. Hiring is active as many new companies move to Hong Kong in expansion efforts towards China and the Asia Pacific region.

Contractors in fashion

Business analysts and project managers are in high demand according to Robert Walters, with candidates aware of the demand for such talent and asking for 20-25% salary increases when moving jobs.

EMC's Leung concurs as his business has seen a big shift to services--up to 40% of EMC's global revenues is services-based, which has created severe demand for project management and professional services talent. "One banking project last year required seven or eight new hires--all project managers and delivery experts," he said.

Leung added that one emerging trend is to hire executives that have either been cut from banks, or those approaching retirement or looking for non-permanent positions. These individuals are ideal as they have the skill sets and experience, and are happy with project work.

Robert Walters also noted in its survey that contract hiring is on the rise with an increased reliance on IT contractors--specifically for project management and business analysts. While contract positions were typically reserved for junior support and developer roles, companies are now open to senior contract hires with niche technology skills and industry knowledge.