SEA Hiring Trends in 2021

All around the world, people have been looking forward to 2021. If only to put 2020 well behind them. Many countries will take years or even decades to fully recover from the devastation of COVID-19; whilst others are poised to rebound strongly from the crisis and help shape a new global economic order and embrace new hiring trends.


South East Asia, for example, now looks set to resume its trajectory as a global growth hotspot. In fact, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have both projected a strong rebound for Southeast Asia’s economies in 2021, ranging from 4.7 percent from the ADB, to 6.2 percent according to the IMF World Economic Outlook. In comparison, the IMF estimates that advanced economies including the US and UK will grow 4.8 percent in 2021.

But what will this mean for those looking for work across a range of industry sectors in the South East Asian region? Or for employers looking to hire top talent to capitalise on the anticipated economic boom? It’s complicated. But the good news is there’s now real light at the end of the tunnel.


For starters, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen workplaces and employee roles severely disrupted. Changed forever, in fact. Working from home or working remotely is now a new norm, as organisations responded to the pandemic’s challenges by embarking on digital transformations that would have typically taken months, if not years, to implement. As a result, digital skills and technology workers are now in high demand throughout the ASEAN region as rapid technology transformation takes place across a range of industries, with that process set to become a catalyst for future growth throughout the region.

For instance, one of the key thrusts of an ASEAN work group which is currently coming up with a COVID-19 recovery strategy for the region as a whole involves a wholehearted embrace of the digital transformation that COVID-19 has already brought to telecommuting and health management.  Technology-driven hospitality automation will also be crucial to that industry’s recovery plans.


With social distancing rules likely to remain even after lockdown restrictions are lifted, hotels, tour operators and transport companies will need to find ways to minimize contact between guests and staff. Hence, contactless technology from digital keys to taps with sensors will be a baseline for many businesses. Other industry sectors that are poised for rapid growth in the ASEAN region include manufacturing, where a shift in activity from China to SEA will create new opportunities for experienced manufacturing leaders across several sectors. For example, lower labour costs have motivated a massive shift towards Vietnam in the textiles, auto, ICT, and consumer goods sectors, including electronics giants such as Foxconn and Samsung.

Electronics, too, looks set to become and even bigger part of the region’s economy. Much of the world’s consumer electronics such as tvs, radios, computers, tablets, mobile phones already come from the Asean region, including more than 80% of the world’s hard drives, and electrical and electronics manufacture directly employs more than 2.5 million workers in SEA.

Rising labour costs in China, supply chain issues and geopolitical tensions have further stimulated the growth of the S-E Asian electronics sector; whilst low labour costs continue to attract foreign direct investments (FDIs) from multinational companies. Other sectors expected to boom in South East Asia from 2021 include, chemicals, engineering and construction, and healthcare consumables such as surgical gloves, facemasks etc.

And whilst international travel is still a way off, regional tourism looks set to become an important growth sector once again – sooner rather than later. Its importance for the recovery of Southeast Asia’s tourism and travel sector cannot be underestimated. For example, in 2018, ASEAN tourism represented 45.2% of the total number of visitors to countries in the region, China followed on the second place with 12.4% and the European Union on a third place with 8.5%.


At the other end of the employee/employer equation, those hiring in 2021 will need to hone their employer brand in a post pandemic world, with less focus less on office perks and look-at-me foyers and more on how employers support their communities – be it customers or employees – during times of crisis. A recent Linked In study titled “The Future of Recruiting – Asia Pacific” predicted that an employer’s brand will, from 2021, hinge very much on empathy and actions.

Horrible as it was for so many, the year 2020 was one where brands and organisations all over the world spoke out against injustices, whether it was expressing gratitude for front-line workers during the health crisis, or showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Organisations that offered real and heart-felt reflections on the world around them stood out, and that trend looks set to continue in our changed world.


If you’d like more information about hiring trends or workforce recruitment and management in South East Asia in 2021 do not hesitate to CXC Global Talent team on