Why Australia's not part of Asia when it comes to HR

When it comes to business, Australians are often encouraged to think of themselves as part of the Asia-Pacific, and many global businesses take the same approach. They choose just one centre for the whole of the region - sometimes Sydney or Melbourne, but more often Hong Kong or Singapore - and in it they place almost all senior decision makers, including the highest ranking HR professionals.  

I’ve placed people around the world and all I can say is that I think these global businesses are getting it wrong. When it comes to human resources, the shape of our industry and its professionals have little in common with our neighbours. Here are just some of the reasons why. 

1. Australia has a glut of HR talent
I think the single defining characteristic of Australia’s HR professional market - and Sydney’s in particular - is the amount of talent going around, especially at the senior level. And I’m not just saying that to you to butter you up. It’s the truth. I have had the fortune to place candidates all over the world and the Australian HR employment market is what we recruiters call exceptionally ‘candidate rich’.  In other words, if you need a senior HR role filled, a good recruiter can usually help you find an HR professional who’s qualified, talented and the right organisational fit. 

And that’s because...

2. There aren’t enough good HR roles in Australia
There simply aren’t enough senior HR roles in Australia for the number of excellent senior HR professionals we have. It’s sad but true and it’s compounded by the fact that our economy is being integrated into the Asia Pacific region. That’s because, instead of having their most senior HR people in Sydney or Melbourne many leading multinationals are trying to turn centres like Singapore and Hong Kong into ‘HR Centres of Excellence’. And, when they do, it usually comes at the expense of top level HR jobs in our market.

3. HR professionals get paid more elsewhere in the region
The flipside of this is that, if you are a good senior HR professional there are a lot of excellent roles in Asia. Unlike here, there’s something of an oversupply of senior jobs. But there’s also a shortage of quality local talent. So in centres like Singapore and Hong Kong, expats from Australia, Europe and North America are still way over-represented in the upper-echelons of HR. This might eventuality change (the Sinagporean government is doing everything it can to develop local HR talent) but, for the moment, the foreign Head of HR remains a constant.

4. The lifestyle here is very hard to give up
So if there are high paid jobs just waiting for senior HR people in South-East Asia it makes sense to up sticks and head there now, right? Well, yes and no. The simple reality here is that the life here is unbeatable. It’s still reasonably relaxed, the education system is good, the climate congenial and then there’s things like the beaches, the vineyards and the great outdoors. You can’t get this anywhere else at all in the region, with the possible exception of NZ. And most people need a lot of money before they’re willing to give up that quality of life. 

5. That means there’s a career ceiling
Yep, the quality of local talent, the lack of high-end HR roles and the attractiveness of Australia as a place to live mean that there’s a definite ceiling for HR professionals. You probably wouldn't have noticed it when you were an HR Officer or HR Advisor, but you sure will when you’ve been a senior HR Manager for a few years and you’re scratching your head looking at what to do next… It may be a long wait before you get the opportunity to take that next career step.

6. People stay in their roles longer
Because there are fewer opportunities at the very top, that also means that people stay in their jobs longer. I’ve noticed the average senior HR professional in Australia stays in their role for about three-to-five years before moving on. In other regional cities with more opportunity, it seems that just a couple of years is more the norm. So Australia’s HR professionals often ends up with deep rather than broad experience. However, having one person in a role for too long can lead to stagnation both for the business and for the HR professional themselves, so one of the major challenges business often face is moving good people on. 

My advice for companies and candidates

And, with that in mind, I thought it was time to give my opinion.

For international businesses I’d say this… In Australia, there are so many quality candidates champing at the bit for the opportunity, that I think it makes far more sense to base your top Asia-Pacific-based HR roles here. In today’s increasingly flexible workplace, the time zone difference is not an issue and the remoteness can be overcome with a little bit of a travel budget and a willingness to master virtual meetings.

And, for candidates, I’d say that while the employment market for HR professionals here isn’t perfect, it’s still possible to have a satisfying and lucrative career without leaving our shores. But to do so, you’ll certainly need the right strategy… oh, and a good recruiter.

Matthew Mayoh is a HR Recruitment specialist operating in the Sydney market.

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