A STRONG pick-up in the economy started a war for talent last year, as companies battled to attract and retain staff.

The war has continued into 2011 but its intensity is expected to be more focused, according to headhunting firm Robert Walters. 'We anticipate growth in the aviation and aerospace sector in line with the launch of the Seletar Aerospace Park,' says Andrea Ross, Robert Walters' managing director for Singapore and Malaysia.

Staff who jump ship are likely to see their pay climb 10-15 per cent, she says. The more sought-after ones with niche skills could expect salary jumps of 20-25 per cent.

The Seletar Aerospace Park, due to be completed in the first half of the year, isn't the only battle ground to see the war for talent hot up.

'Engineering professionals will be in high demand within the chemical, energy, pharmaceutical, biotechnological and industrial sectors,' Ms Ross says.

The UK-based headhunter saw recruitment in Singapore easing in the final quarter of 2010, after three quarters of strong hiring. But Ms Ross says that's not unusual, because of the traditional year-end holiday season.

'In the first half of 2010, there was a noticeable increase in financial reporting, compliance, credit risk and relationship management positions called to market within the financial services industry,' Robert Walters says in its 2011 global report.

The firm saw job growth in the consumer banking sector here, as consumer confidence recovered. Hiring stayed constantly high in the investment and wealth management areas throughout 2010.

Recruitment in the commerce sector started to strengthen in the third and fourth quarters - particularly in the hospitality, fast moving consumer goods, industrial, oil and gas, and information technology and telecommunications businesses.

'The renewable energy market picked up due to an increasing number of projects being implemented within the Asia Pacific, with a particular focus on the solar, wind and water sectors,' the report says. 'Marketing and sales professionals, general managers with profit and loss experience, procurement specialists, project managers and application developers were particularly highly sought-after.'

Among the report's other highlights are:

* A greater demand in Hong Kong for those in middle management, revenue-generating and marketing roles;

* Salaries are likely to jump 10 per cent in various industries and roles, with top-tier candidates commanding increases of 15-30 per cent;

* Tourism and infrastructure development are expected to spark a surge in hiring in Malaysia.