Published in the SCMP June 2007
As Macau’s gaming and hospitality industries continue to boom, human resource managers in the many new casinos and hotels are struggling to fill thousands of vacancies in an extremely tight labour market.
“The situation for skilled Macanese employees is very tight, very competitive,” observed Grant Burt, general manager of human resources at Crown Macau.
“The challenge is finding the right people and the numbers of people,” said Liviano Lacchia, director of managed services (Asia) at HR outsourcing company, Talent2.
The figures are pretty staggering with local press reports putting the number of croupiers needed by 2009 at 50,000; where currently there are 20,000. And this is just croupiers.
The difficulty with finding staff has its roots in the under developed nature of the market, which had been dominated by just one casino and a couple of hotels until a few years ago, Mr Lacchia explained. “The depth of the market is not there.”
Since Macau’s gaming industry was liberalised in 2002, new casino resorts have come on stream in rapid succession, each one adding more pressure to the already stretched labour situation.
Just last year saw the opening of seven casino hotels including Babylon Casino, Wynn Macau, Grand Emperor Hotel Casino and Grand Waldo Casino; with Venetian Macau and MGM Grand Macau, among others, scheduled for completion in the near future.
Crown Macau, the first 6-star hotel and casino in Macau, scheduled to open on 9 May, has already recruited about 90 per cent of its 4,000 staff target, according to Mr Burt. More than 80 per cent of the staff were hired from the Macanese community, he said.
“I think nobody expected this to happen so quickly,” remarked Dr Cheng Soo May, professor of management at Macau’s Institute For Tourism Studies (IFT). The growth has been unprecedented, according to Dr Cheng, and all employable people in Macau are employed. “There is not enough of a population base.”
Need for Foreign Talent
Macau has a total resident population of 508,000 as at last September, according to its Statistics and Census Survey. Of this, about 280,000 are employed leaving a miniscule 3 per cent unemployment rate, which, as economists will say, is full employment.
As a result, the industry is being forced to look outside Macau for a solution. China is a primary source of unskilled labour while Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia are all sources for skilled and semi-skilled personnel.
However, hiring foreign labour is not a straightforward matter. “There are all sorts of quotas in place,” explained Mr Lacchia. Still, the number of non-resident workers in Macau had increased by 59 per cent in the third quarter of last year compared with a year ago. And now because of the sheer number of applications, companies are looking at a four-month backlog to get visa approvals.
All this encourages job-hopping and puts great strain on salaries which have been driven up quite significantly over the past two years. As an example, Macau’s Statistics and Census Service stated that average earnings for positions directly related to betting services was up 16.2 per cent last June compared to a year ago.
“There is a lot of poaching going on, a lot of musical chairs,” said Dr Cheng. “Unfortunately there is not much loyalty in this business. People are attracted by the paycheck.”
Crown Macau, however, has made a conscious decision not to buy labour by being the highest payer, but will pay average industry rates, said Mr Burt. “It can’t be just about money because everyone else will just match you,” he added. “Each employer needs to distinguish themselves in the market.”
In order to get a foot in the door, companies are making an effort to tie up with training institutions for internships and other programs, so that before their students graduate they are already working with these companies.
“It is very important to develop close relationships with the industry,” observed Mr Lacchia. “Universities, technical institutes. We bring people in from there, through graduate intake schemes.”
The IFT, for example, has ties with virtually all the big names in town: Wynn Resorts, Sands and Stanley Ho’s Sociedade de Jogos de Macau (SJM). They give scholarships, internship opportunities and send their existing staff to be trained by us, said Dr Cheng.
According to her, local residents have in the past been very laid back about doing management training. “All of a sudden there is this huge demand.”
There is huge demand, also, for professional and technical skills related to the hospitality and tourism industries such as PR, design and communication in international languages, among others. “All the institutes in Macau are trying their best to meet the needs,” Dr Cheng said.
Companies also need to think about and articulate their employee value proposition to attract staff, according to Mr Lacchia. “We need a more sophisticated message than just ‘come and work for us’. We need to explain to young, educated people about their career paths, about how they can potentially grow with us,” he explained.
At Crown Macau, the management is serious about helping staff achieve their full potential, said Mr Burt. “Our advertising signature is Make Your Career Shine,” he continued.
Maintaining a conducive work environment is paramount for retaining staff. “We need to keep people interested,” Mr Lacchia said. “We need a recurring programme so people don’t leave.”
Crown Macau has already announced that it will set up a training academy after it opens in May, which will provide on-going training for its employees and give them opportunities to upgrade their skills.
“Our commitment is to our staff, to develop our local staff,” emphasised Mr Burt. “It would not surprise me if in ten years time the company is run by the people we hire today,” he added.
Management policies that contribute towards meeting employee career aspirations like continuous training opportunities and internal mobility programmes, with promotion from within and movement around the company, will go a long way toward retaining staff, Mr Lacchia concluded.