Demand for Web Skills Booming, HK Survey Says

HONG KONG (05/16/2000) - A recently released survey conducted by the Software Industry Information Center (SIIC) of the Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC) indicates that Web-related skills are the IT skills most sought after by Hong Kong independent software vendors (ISVs).

Conducted in December 1999, the SIIC survey interviewed 238 local and international software developers, distributors and resellers in Hong Kong.

The companies responded to questions concerning their current manpower status and requirements for the coming year.

So, just how hot are Web-related skills? According to the SIIC survey, roughly 70 percent of the 238 companies interviewed said they are looking for staff with Web-related skills. SIIC officials expect demand for Web design and Web-based application programming to grow by at least 30 percent over the coming 12 months.

Although the demand for Web-based skills stands out significantly as the most demanded skill set, at least 47 percent of respondent companies said they are looking for staff familiar with application programming, database management, IT product sales and marketing, as well as network administration, the report said.

The SIIC report predicts 15 percent growth in the overall number of IT jobs at ISVs in Hong Kong this year. In terms of specific skill requirements, openings for staff experienced with Web design are expected to grow 36 percent, followed by Web-based application programming (30 percent) and general application programming (25 percent).

In addition to the types of skills that ISVs are looking for, the SIIC report studied the median monthly salary for IT-related jobs in 1999. The survey found that the average salary increased between 6 percent and 12 percent last year.

However, due to the shortage of IT workers in the local market, professional recruiters said this raise may not accurately reflect the compensation being offered to experienced IT staffers, particularly those with e-commerce-related skills.

"The hiring side of the IT manpower market has become very active again since the start of the new year. For technical people who are engaged in the e-commerce field, the raise has reached 25 to 30 percent over last year," said Vincent Tsui, director of CountryTech, a local recruitment agency.

"For other IT skills, the annual increment ranges just from 5 to 15 percent," said Tsui.

Robin Sears, Asia-Pacific president of Futurestep, a subsidiary of recruiting firm Korn/Ferry International, agreed.

"The activity of the IT job market has returned to the 1996 level. The raise has reached 20 percent for many IT sales posts. But for other, more IT-traditional jobs, like PC sales, the raise is quite flat," Sears said.

The turnover rate for last year stands at a relatively high 16 percent, according to the SIIC survey. About half of the respondent companies said their employees stayed with them for less than two years, the survey added.

The SIIC survey found that 34 percent of IT professionals who changed jobs last year left their former companies over dissatisfaction with their remuneration packages. In addition, the same number of people said they decided to change jobs because they were not happy with their career-development prospects.

Offering ever more attractive remuneration packages is not necessarily the best way to retain staff, said Natalie Wan, the SIIC consultant responsible for conducting the survey.

"If (companies rely on raising salaries to retain staff), they will obviously end up in a vicious cycle where companies have to fight for limited IT talent with a hefty price. In this case, the employers never win," Wan said.

Despite the tendency of many companies, especially start-ups, to offer stock options in lieu of higher wages to attract employees, only 18 percent of the companies interviewed in the SIIC survey said they have made such an offer part of their staff remuneration packages. Stock options can be used by ISVs to attract and retain staff, said Wan.

Dr. W.C. Keung, branch director of the HKPC, said another way to improve staff retention includes the use of intangible benefits, including training, career-development opportunities and adopting an open management style.

As a result of the shortage of skilled IT workers in Hong Kong, Keung said more and more ISVs are turning to Mainland China either by establishing development offices or outsourcing work to Mainland software developers.

The SIIC survey estimated that Hong Kong ISVs employ a total of 15,000 employees, with an average staff size of 21. A majority of these companies (51 percent) employ less than 10 people.

Excluding support staff, such as accounting, administration and personnel departments, which comprises about one third of the total working population in the local software industry, most IT workers are in sales and marketing (26 percent), followed by technical support (21 percent), project management/consultancy (19 percent), application programming (13 percent) and systems analysis (10 percent).

SIDEBAR

IT staff shortage worsens, says SIIC

Almost all local employers, including traditional IT vendors, Internet start-ups and other user organizations that Computerworld Hong Kong talked to, said they have problems recruiting and retaining IT staff.

Employers said the problems include the lack of relevant academic qualification, skills and experience, largely due to rapid changes in the nature of skill sets required by the market. For the employers themselves, they are plagued with problems such as the inability to offer remuneration packages and career-development prospects that meet candidates' expectations. These issues hold particularly true for smaller employers.

Natalie Wan, a consultant at the Hong Kong Productivity Council's Software Industry Information Center, quoted research conducted by the Trade Development Council in 1998 that said the supply of skilled IT workers was roughly half of the number required in the market. That situation has only gotten worse over the last two years, said Wan.

"The supply of fresh IT graduates from local universities and colleges has been pretty stable at 4,000 per annum over the past years. With the growing emphasis on the use of IT and the springing up of hundreds of start-ups which are trying to vie for skilled IT workers with traditional companies, the (staff shortage) problems can only be worse," said Wan.

- By Winnie Lai

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