The challenges of recruiting in emerging markets

Emerging markets are facing severe labour shortages, but countries are not closing the skills gap fast enough.

About the author

Adele Png

As Takeda Pharmaceutical Company's Head of Talent Acquisition for Emerging Markets, Adele Png has the responsibility of strengthening talent acquisition across the company's five diverse geographic areas: Asia-Pacific, Russia/The Commonwealth of Independent States, China, Latin America and Near East, Middle East and Africa.

A study by OECD revealed that by 2035, there would be a global shortage of six million healthcare workers globally, of which one-third would be in the emerging markets. Similar trends can be seen in other knowledge industries in emerging markets.

Why do emerging markets have this shortage, and how can organisations prepare themselves for the burgeoning war for talent?

Firstly, let’s explore why recruiting in emerging markets is often a challenge. Let’s have a look at some of the contributing factors.

Emerging markets is a diverse region

Emerging markets encompass a vastly diverse mix of countries, languages, cultures, time zones, governments, laws, economic state. No market is exactly alike; this makes it difficult for recruiting functions to scale. For example, if I were building a centralised recruiting function that covers 35 global emerging markets, it would be challenging for the recruiters in one location to understand the local market for all countries and be able to speak the diverse languages in these markets.

Experienced talent is scarce

Experienced talent pools tend to be thin as emerging countries have young economies, so finding candidates that have equivalent technical knowledge and years of experience, in comparison to candidates from more developed markets; would be more difficult.

Specifically to the healthcare industry, if you did a search on Linked In (a popular global talent networking site) on the size of talent pool for Clinical Scientists in Europe, or US versus the emerging countries; you would find the pool in the emerging markets much smaller.

Inconsistent government spending on education and structural unemployment

In the emerging markets, you will also see differences in government and private spending on quality education. These factors contribute to an inconsistent quality of education and caliber of talent.

Structural unemployment exists, and schools in emerging markets have churned out plenty of graduates, but these graduates’ skills do not match business requirements because schools have not caught up with industry needs.

Nationalisation policies and hiring quotas discourage import of foreign talent

In some countries, governments have implemented nationalisation policies and hiring quotas that discourage import of foreign talent. Whilst this practice will put pressure on businesses to develop local talent, it still will not resolve the challenge of talent shortages in professional functions, at least, in the short term.

In my view, developing local talent can be seen as a healthy practice, but needs to be balanced off, with cultivating diversity and import of new ideas and knowledge transfer from foreign talent.

Corporates need to pay more attention to the development of local leadership

In the journey of developing local talent, there is insufficient attention paid to the development of local leadership talent, as some organisations have a tendency to focus on the short-term quick fixes of bringing in senior foreign talent, instead of thinking and investing longer term in developing local leaders.

Access to internet and foreign job sites

Access to the internet is not consistent in emerging markets. According to a study by Pew Research Center in 2016, South Korea’s internet penetration is 94%; compare this with South Africa at 42% and Indonesia at 30%.

Some governments have even taken a further step of prohibiting usage of foreign job sites. Both these factors discourage candidate use of internet to find jobs, and make it harder for recruiters to reach and identify talent in that country.

Brain drain in some emerging countries

On the other extreme, you will see countries who embrace free movement of local talent, thus enabling their indigenous talent pools to migrate from emerging markets to developed countries to chase their dreams of a better future for themselves. This is leading to a brain drain in emerging countries for qualified talent. An example would be Mexico, and the Philippines.

Candidate expectations are high

In a tight labour market, it’s little wonder that local candidates know that their skills are in high demand, and not surprisingly, they will have higher expectations and aspirations. In some markets, it’s not uncommon for candidates to expect 20-50% salary increases because they know they can command it.

So what can organisations do to improve their chances of winning that war for talent in Emerging Markets?

Here are some ideas:

·         Develop a recruiting model that can scale, yet be adaptable to local needs


·         Build Sourcing capability for critical talent pipelines


·         Invest in Recruiting Technology


·         Invest in training Recruiters, HR Business Partners and Hiring managers on recruiting skills


·         Build referral programmes and referral networks


·         Build internal programmes that promote internal mobility across the organisation


·         Build a strong and authentic Employer Brand to attract talent


·         Build local young talent and influence top local schools on future skills needs


·         Explore talent pools with transferable skills and consider alternative sources of talent


·         Invest in a strong talent management function to on-board, train and develop employees


·         Hire and develop managers that empower, engage and put people first

Recruiting in emerging markets, in my view, is the best rite of passage for any Talent Acquisition professional. It really tests the abilities of the recruiter and drives creativity, innovation, and persistence to overcome the challenges, but is so rich with diversity, culture, and learning. This is so fascinating!

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