Global Talent Arms Race Intensifies in Asia: How Should You Be Prepared?

The future of work has recently accelerated with a few key trends: the increasing economic influence of Asia, the rise in the next generation of big tech companies in APAC, resulting in a large demand for global talent. What will tomorrow bring, and how can talent like you get ready?

By Joyce Zhang Gray | 9 Sep 2020

A few years ago, my Harvard classmate and I co-founded Alariss Global with the dual mission of equipping the next generation of global leaders for the jobs of the future, and to help tech companies in emerging markets acquire high-skilled talent that would help them reach the next stage of growth. It has become apparent that now, more than ever, this global talent is in high demand, especially in Asia.

Asia and other emerging markets are increasingly at the epicenter of the future of work. According to McKinsey Global Institute, Asia accounted for approximately one-third of global GDP in 2000 but is now on track to top fifty percent of global GDP by 2040. Companies are also quick to adopt new technology and leap-frogging conventional workplaces by leveraging talent all over the world. Human capital is the most important and scarcest resource in the world with a huge shortage in certain key areas. A 2020 Harvard Business Review article noted that 75% of employers in the emerging markets reported lack of talent as their greatest bottleneck to growth.

Alariss Global Fellows, based in Asia, North America, and Latin America, collaborated and worked together virtually. Check out some of their projects in our Spotlight Series on LinkedIn.

Under the backdrop of political and social turbulence in the western world and high rates of unemployment, Asia with its high economic growth provides an increasingly attractive option. Besides traditional sectors like financial services in Hong Kong and Singapore, Asia is increasingly shifting its focus to grooming the next generation of big tech companies. These are no longer exclusive to Silicon Valley, as start-ups like ByteDance, Go-Jek, and Grab join the unicorn ranks. Singapore itself is placing tremendous emphasis on transforming into a Smart Nation and investing in deep-tech and fintech. The Singaporean tech ecosystem provides attractive options for many aspiring entrepreneurs and skilled workers.

Many returnees (sometimes called SEA Turtles, a play on words of the Chinese word 海归) see the region’s growth as an opportunity for greater professional advancement than they might find elsewhere. While some overseas Singaporeans used to favor roles in investment banking or consulting after graduation, our data shows a growing popularity among returnees to pursue jobs in tech. The tech industry in general and startups in particular provide an opportunity for higher impact, greater autonomy, and accelerated professional growth. 

Returnees come back for various reasons, and increasingly, in addition to wanting to be closer to family, it is because they find that Singapore and Southeast Asia offers fertile ground for growing an international career. In the Alariss Global Podcast Episode 4 “From Silicon Valley to Singapore: An Entrepreneur’s Trailblazing Journey”, we featured Derek Wong, an American who moved to Singapore to join Antler’s accelerator program and to start his own company. Like Derek, many from overseas find the Southeast Asian startup ecosystem robust and growing, with ample capital, mentorship, and consumers. The greatest challenge still remains having enough talent to fill all the various open positions at these companies.

And yet, in spite of the clear shortage of talent and the number of open positions, I have spoken to many job seekers who express frustration at the job search process. It is difficult to know how best to position oneself when not fitting neatly into a single box. I can empathize–this gap in knowledge, lack of transparency into companies, and difficulty in assessing one’s own market position, especially from the perspective of global talent, was precisely what inspired me to found Alariss Global in the first place. 

When looking for the right roles, returnees should focus upon ones at companies that have a product or service in which global expansion makes sense, or is even necessary. Luckily, Singapore is often the hub of Southeast Asia and a launching point for globalization; most Singaporean companies have the desire to go global from day one. 

Word Cloud of associations and needs that emerging market organizations have.

It is important to keep in mind that, while returnees are uniquely positioned to take on leadership and cross-border roles, those positions are often not advertised and instead surface at very particular points of a company’s growth trajectory. A few tips to consider:

  1. Put yourself out there. Get your network to help you in your job search. The best roles are not published and can only be obtained through trusted referrals.
  2. Hone your communication and interpersonal skills, including cultural awareness and empathy. You will likely be seen as a bridge between different markets, given your global education and experiences, and a lot of that involves coordinating and communicating, whether you’re a software engineer or a salesperson.
  3. Be open-minded, and constantly learn and adapt to the new normal. The world changes very quickly, and those at the intersection of different cultures will be uniquely-positioned to ride that wave.
  4. Maintain your confidence: job searching can be frustrating, especially from overseas. Cultivate your edge and know that your multicultural background is an advantage, not a deficit, and find the roles that fit you.

The world is increasingly interconnected and increasingly global, and ways of doing business are becoming more complicated and diverse. Companies need a global strategy in order to maintain relevance and succeed. And global talent is the most critical element in this rising trend in the future of work. 

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About Joyce Zhang Gray

Joyce the Co-Founder and CEO of Alariss Global, a Silicon Valley-based global talent marketplace. The mission of Alariss is to empower the next generation of global leaders and to equip them for the jobs of the future. Through education, cultural exchange, coaching, and talent placement, Alariss opens access to international job markets. 

She previously worked for Microsoft APAC in Singapore, in e-commerce in China, for the World Bank in Kenya, and in New York, DC, and San Francisco for organizations ranging from tech startups to government agencies. She received her BA from Harvard University, MPA from Princeton University, and MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Chelsea Li and Julia Dickson of Alariss Global contributed to the research and writing of this article.

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