By Daniel Hunter

Firms across Asia are prioritising creativity and innovation as a critical focus for future business success. However, an overly hierarchical approach to who should be involved in innovation (less than a third of all firms are involving all their employees in strategies for innovation), together with a patchy approach to future talent and skills needs, is putting future growth and success at risk.

That’s according to a survey of more than 1,000 organisations across China, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea, revealed conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in collaboration with the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management (HKIHRM).

The survey also finds considerable concerns amongst employers about a draining of talent overseas — with three quarters believing their country will be a net exporter of talent in five years time. In this context it is encouraging that nearly three quarters (74%) of organisations across the sample are engaged in talent management activities, focused on attracting, developing and retaining talent. However, with only 11 per cent focusing those activities explicitly on addressing the future skills needs of the organisation, there is a danger that fears of a talent drain become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The majority (60%) are focusing on developing high potential employees in line with the organisations’ current needs, which may make sense today — but will not be sufficient to provide a strong pipeline of future talent to replace skills that migrate abroad. The findings are also particularly surprising given the fast rate of growth and change in the region, which will require a constantly refreshed and agile workforce that is well equipped for the future.

What’s more, the survey found significant skills gaps when it comes to leading and managing change — nearly half (44%) of the organisations surveyed identified this as an area of concern. More than a third of organisations also cited a lack of skills around performance management (38%) and leading and managing people (37%).

“Employers are right to recognise the increasingly mobile nature of the global workforce, and are justified in fearing the implications if Asian economies become net exporters of talent in the next few years," Peter Cheese, CEO at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, commented.

"However, there is more firms can do to protect themselves against these trends. With only one in ten firms explicitly focusing on addressing their own future skills needs, it is clear that employers can and must do more to build strong and loyal pipelines of future talent.

“But the benefits will not just be long-term. Our research finds that encouraging employees at the start of their careers to see themselves as talent and contribute ideas can help firms to drive innovation at all levels of their firms. Breaking down hierarchies in the approach to talent management and innovation will make firms more agile, more creative and more competitive today, as well as more fit-for-the-future.

"To drive these important trends, it will also be important for firms to get better at promoting people on the basis of performance and capability, rather than age and tenure. If today’s most capable, passionate, driven and self-confident younger workers don’t find their contributions being valued, and opportunities for progression offered, then fears of a talent drain will certainly be more likely to come true.”

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