Financial institutions in Singapore should become more open to hiring candidates with transferable skills rather than attempting to find the perfect person for each role, says Singapore-based Lim Chai Leng, Senior Director of Banking and Financial Services at Randstad, the world’s largest recruitment and HR services company.
“As the pandemic further impacts the job seeking market in Singapore, resulting in more candidates than available jobs, it’s tempting as a hiring manager to hope for the ideal person to come along,” says Chai Leng. “But we’ve actually seen banks adjust their hiring criteria in recent months. In relationship manager roles, for example, many firms have adjusted their expectations on revenue KPIs when shortlisting candidates. Hiring managers are also looking for soft skills and personality traits that have potential to integrate well into the organisation culture, which will lead to a higher and sustainable performance,” she added.
In a challenging environment for hiring, it’s more important than ever for recruitment agencies to act as valued advisors to the businesses they partner with, says Chai Leng. “It’s not about just collecting resumes. At Randstad, we see our role as advising our clients about the latest job trends across the banking industry as a whole – we have the bird’s eye view. And one of the main things we’re telling clients now is to focus on transferable skills.”
Chai Leng says recruitment in Singapore banking is becoming less regimented by job function. What matters more is whether a candidate has the skills needed for the role rather than whether their current job title is similar to the one advertised. “The job description of a compliance professional today may not be the same as next year or the year after, so banks need to review the standard JD regularly and look at the core skills needed,” she explains. “With that in mind, candidates could potentially come from other backgrounds like audit and consultancy. These candidates that come from outside the financial services sector bring new perspectives and ways of working that may bridge the gap in the existing workforce.”
Randstad can help employers “stay ahead of the game” by advising which particular skills are transferable between roles. “Coding skills, for example, are becoming important to some banking operations roles,” says Chai Leng. “We can also share case studies of what other industry players are doing to overcome hiring challenges and find niche skills sets, so our clients are tuned into industry best practice.”
While Chai Leng believes banking professionals in Singapore have become slightly more risk-averse about changing jobs during the pandemic, she says Randstad is well placed to identify candidates who do want to make a move. In a recent survey by the global recruitment company, 46% of respondents in banking and financial services in Singapore said they are actively searching for a job this year.
“There’s still a significant number of people in Singapore’s banking scene who are proactively looking for work, and our role as recruiters is to help clients understand their needs and motivations. For example, when I talk to job seekers, some of them tell me that the banking industry is changing rapidly, so they want to explore opportunities to transfer and upgrade their skills to remain competitive,” says Chai Leng.
In the same Randstad’s survey, 84% of respondents said they intend to upskill or re-skill this year. Of these people, 58% want to be prepared for how automation and digitalisation will affect their jobs. Meanwhile, within the active job-seeker group, 24% would be willing to change their careers or the industry they work in, and 61% are open to trying professional contract or project-based jobs.
“It’s good news for banks that some candidates are becoming very flexible in their career goals, and that many banking professionals want to upskill,” says Chai Leng. “Banks in Singapore are increasingly looking to hire people, especially technology professionals, who are currently working outside of the finance sector, so they can bring specialist skills into their teams. This trend of cross-sector transfers is growing apace. Our clients are no longer always telling us ‘I need someone from banking’. As a large recruitment agency that operates across industries and functions, we have the resources, processes and know-hows to fulfil these mandates,” she adds.
As well as recruitment, Chai Leng says Randstad is well versed in advising clients on retention strategies, which have been fundamentally changed by COVID-19 and the shift to remote working at the outset of the pandemic. Although more banking professionals in Singapore have recently returned to the office, Chai Leng expects flexible working arrangements – allowing staff, for example, to work from home for a proportion of the week – to become a popular option for both employees and employers even after the pandemic is over.
This poses challenges for managers, who now need to be skilled at engaging with their teams both face-to-face and remotely. “In the office, it’s fairly easy to acknowledge an employee’s contributions. Managers and HR professionals at banks have to rethink how they can recognise employees’ contributions even when they’re working from home, because recognition is key to retention,” says Chai Leng.
The success of remote working also depends on the robustness of companies’ internal platforms. “Going forward, banks’ investment in enterprise technology – such as video conferencing and remote access to secured data for staff – will be a more important factor when candidates are deciding which firms to join and stay with over the long term,” says Chai Leng. “Large institutions might have an advantage here as they can scale up their tech more easily using their substantial existing resources,” she adds.
Alongside employee recognition and technology, the pandemic has also shone a light on the importance of mental health programmes as a retention tool for banks. “Banking has always been a stressful industry because of the pressure and long hours, but the pandemic has exacerbated these problems, so mental health has never been so talked about than it is now,” says Chai Leng. “Over the past few months banks have launched or improved their wellbeing initiatives – including counselling services, health coaches, food drops and virtual team lunches – and I think this extra focus on mental health is here to stay. It’s not something HR teams and line managers can dispense with after the pandemic.”
Chai Leng says the new hiring and retention challenges faced by banks in the COVID-19 era and beyond – from finding niche skills to formulating employee wellbeing policies – put an additional onus on recruitment firms to offer them forward-looking advice, shaped by the latest industry trends. “Randstad has the capability to really engage with our clients and help them navigate this new environment that we all find ourselves in.”