Emerging trends in global labour mobility

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Expatica picks out current trends in global mobility as highlighted by leading industry players and research institutions.

Despite the recession worldwide, companies are not only continuing to send employees on assignment, but more expats are being deployed for work abroad. This trend is predicted to rise over the next 10 years.

International assignments are increasing

In their 14th Annual Global CEO Survey: Growth reimagined, pwc (ranked no. 1 in the Expatica HR Top 5 Industry Survey Awards) reveal that over half of the 1,201 chief executives in 69 countries polled are planning to send more staff on international assignments in 2011. The number of international assignments among multinationals increased by a quarter over the past decade and pwc predicts there will be a further 50 percent growth over the next 10 years.

More people willing to relocate for work

Manpower Group surveyed 14,385 employed people across nine countries for their Migration for Work Survey (ranked 5 in HR Awards) and found that more than one in four people report that they are more willing to relocate for work since the global recession. This trend indicates that the economic downturn and lingering unemployment woes have put more pressure on individuals to be flexible and broaden their job search parameters

The Global Relocation Trends 2011 Report by Brookfield Global Relocation Services (ranked 2 in HR Awards) reported the first increase in international assignee populations since 2006. As many as 61 percent of survey respondents expected the number to increase in 2011 compared to 43 percent in 2010, higher than the historical average of 57 percent.

Assignees are getting older

Brookfield observed links between difficult economic times and the employment of older international assignees. For example, an all-time low of 9 percent of assignees were 20 to 29 years. In contrast, 19 percent were 50 to 59 years old, the second highest in the history of the relocation report. The use of older assignees may be a reflection of companies' desire to maximize and leverage known past performance. Only 8 percent of the employees were new hires and 12 percent had previous international assignee experience.

Looking back on the data, the percentage of assignees in the 20 to 39-year-old age group was higher in the boom years of 2005 through 2007 and was lower in sluggish economic times--as it is today.

Expats with children at all-time low

While respondents to the Brookfield survey reported that 68 percent of assignees were married (close to the historical average 67 percent), only 47 percent of assignees had children accompanying them--the same all-time low as in Brookfield's 2010 relocation report.

Companies with a high percentage of single-status assignments had a higher percentage of short-term assignments, extended business travel assignments, commuter assignments and local hires.

Female expats still minority

The percentage of female expatriates remains low, having hovered between 17 and 20 percent for the past five years, reports Brookfield. In the current Global Relocations Trends report, 18 percent of international assignees were women. This prompts a series of probing questions: Is the reason for this stagnant growth in female candidates related to career development issues or to personal and family issues, or is it a combination?  It remains a paradox as recent research (Napier & Taylor, 2002 and Tung, 2004) shows that women are generally successful when posted on international assignment.

As pwc report in their 14th Global CEO Survey, companies moving into emerging markets can also tap into existing unutilised markets. In virtually all markets, for example, fewer women than men are active in the labour market.  But there is a lot of ground to be covered, and only 11 percent of CEOs globally are planning ‘significant change' to policies to attract and retain more of their female employees.

Taking the international mobility programme to the next level

Brookfield Global Relocation Services survey Flexible Assignment Policy in Practice (ranking joint 3 in the HR Awards) highlights that many companies are now beyond the strategy stage in the development of flexible approaches. The interest lies in seeing a flexible policy that is in place, is successful and is taking the international mobility programme to the next level.  Flexibility allows employees' individual (highest priority) needs to be met within a budget that management can support.

Expat spouses struggle to find work

While there are some signs of improvement, obtaining spouse or partner employment during international assignments continues to be a struggle.

Greatest challenges and reasons for assignment failure

Key factors leading to assignment failure were partner dissatisfaction, poor candidate selection, poor job performance, inability to adapt and the job  not meeting expectations.

The top family challenges identified as very critical to companies were partner resistance, family adjustment, and children's education and location difficulties.

Top expat destinations

Manpower Group's Migration for Work Survey  (ranked 5 in the HR Awards) showed the preferred destinations for workers to be the United States, Canada and Australia followed by the United Kingdom, France and Germany. The United States China and the United Kingdom  remain the top international assignment destinations and have been so since Manpower's 2000 report. Rising popular destinations with companies are Australia, Brazil and Canada

Most challenging expat destinations

China, India, Russia, and Brazil were cited as posing the greatest challenges for assignees and programme managers.  China, India and the United States were cited as the locations with the highest rate of assignment failure.

Popular assignment types of the future

The Brookfield Global Relocation Trends 2011 survey shows that respondents most often considered localisation policies, short-term policies, long-term policies, commuter policies and developmental policies.  Other policies considered were extended business travel policies, one-way permanent moves, flexible, local hires, rotational hires, graduate hire and virtual teams.

Career planning and repatriation

The top initiatives to improve international assignee ROI (return on investment) included better candidate selection/assessment, career-path planning to utilise cross-border skills upon return, more effective communication of assignment objectives, better assignment preparation and company-sponsored mentoring programmes.

Future challenges for global HR professionals

In the report Managing tomorrow's people: The future of work till 2020 (ranked  joint 3 in the HR Awards), experts at pwc predict the role of HR going one of three ways; HR will become the heart of the organisation taking on a new wider role and incorporating and influencing many other aspects of the business, HR will become the driver of the corporate social responsibility agenda within the organisation or HR will be seen as transactional and almost entirely outsourced. In this scenario and in-house HR will be predominantly focused on people sourcing.

Dr. David Collings, Head of Management Discipline, National University of Ireland, echoes the importance of HR as the heart of the organisation's talent management when he tells Expatica, "First and foremost I see building the linkages between global mobility and talent management as a key emerging issue for global mobility professionals. I feel it is a key means through which global mobility can build their profile and influence internally."


 Expatica/ NG

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