Flexibility pays off

The
region’s employers must ensure that visas and documentation are in order, and
that the cultural, gender and age mix will not offend existing workers. Ed
Peters reports

Recruitment
practitioners in Asia Pacific have to be as flexible as the region’s officials
who are charged with enforcing employment regulations. Just because something
is enshrined in law, it doesn’t mean that is what takes place day by day. But
by the same token, it is vital for HR directors to read the small print to make
sure they are aware of the pitfalls of hiring – and firing.

Generally,
the more sophisticated the base, the more straightforward the recruitment
practices. Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia are prime examples where
legalities prevail and Web-based recruitment is as much a part of office life
as using the telephone. Travel to somewhere like Indonesia though, and it’s a
very different story. "Most top jobs in foreign companies are run by
expatriates with titles like president, director or technical adviser,"
said Michael Low, an independent recruitment consultant based in Jakarta.
"Theoretically, technical advisers are not allowed to get involved in
day-to-day operations, but that’s not the case in practice. There are a lot of
people around who have worked here doing just that for more than a decade –
some much longer."

As
in all AP countries, expat staff require a work visa, but Indonesian company
law restricts the number that can be employed. Expats make up around 1% of
Nestle’s workforce in the archipelago, while Coca-Cola employs a mere dozen out
of 9,000 staff. Internal HR departments for larger corporations will handle the
annual visa application, but smaller companies usually turn to specialist
agencies, charging about US$3,000 per time. A visa is essential, as working for
a single day without one can lead to expulsion, with a knock-on effect on
company finances and reputation.

"When
it comes to internal recruiting, it is politically correct – and this is a
politically charged country – to employ indigenous Indonesians, as opposed to
any of the ethnic minorities," says Low. "And when it comes to
termination, you have to tread warily too. Someone who has been with the
company for five years is entitled to 14 months’ salary if he or she is laid
off, and even if they are being fired for wrongdoing or resign of their own
accord they get two months’ pay. Some will ask for more money as a matter of
course – you don’t always go by the book. It’s best to use discretion and
probably easier to pay somebody off – wages are very low compared to Western
standards – than to get involved in a long wrangle."

One
way in which recruitment practices in AP differ vastly from the rest of the
world is that there are few equal opportunity issues, and it is not unusual for
advertisements to specify age and gender and request a recent photo.

But
HR recruiters do need to be aware of the need to run background checks, as
totally inventing CVs – as opposed to merely tweaking them – is by no means
uncommon, especially in mainland China. Alan Wah-tong, an American-born Chinese
now working as HR director for construction company Wylie International in
Beijing, comments, "There was a furore earlier this year when it was
discovered that Hong Kong’s Pacific Century Cyber Works tycoon Richard Li had
been claiming he graduated in computer engineering from Stanford University,
when he had done no such thing.

"That’s
nothing compared to the resumes I’ve seen come across my desk. It’s essential
not just to background check but to double background check on qualifications.
It’s not too difficult to forge a diploma, or for the applicant to persuade a
friend to act as a bogus referee. Foreign companies pay well and are
prestigious, so people will do anything to get through the door. Or the person you
are interviewing could be from a rival corporation, trying to get on the inside
to learn your business secrets. China, and some parts of Asia, are still pretty
raw in this regard."

Finally,
employers need to take cultural sensitivity into account. Malaysia, for
example, is made up of three races – Malay, Chinese and Indian – all of whom
can be clannish. Hong Kongese may have close relatives just across the boundary
with China, but still look down on mainlanders. And there is a strict
north/south divide in Thailand, with people from the provinces bordering Lao
regarded as near neanderthals by Bangkok residents. Employers in all three
countries should ensure that new employees will fit in culturally, rather than
simply looking at their qualifications and experience.

Tips
for recruiting in Asia Pacific


Check local employment laws and heed them.


Remember that even if it’s written in stone, there is probably an alternative
version on another stone.


Run thorough background checks on potential new employees for sensitive
positions.


Maintain a cultural weather eye when considering new hires to avoid possible
future problems.


In some AP countries foreign companies are regarded as money boxes, and
therefore an easy and obvious target.

Comments are closed.