Executives are more open to the possibilities of domestic and international relocation, a new study finds.
By The Editors
As companies adjust operationally and strategically to the new global economy, professionals are expected to be geographically more flexible. The results of five years of the Global Professionals on the Move Report from Hydrogen Group shows that the percentage of people who are willing to work abroad has risen, more than doubling from 16 percent to 35 percent for this period and 40 percent of respondents working abroad state there are now no barriers to working abroad.
This year’s report identifies that the genre of professionals attracted to work overseas has broadened. Only 17 percent of people in 2014 working abroad held a professional qualification over and above a first-degree level compared to 30 percent in 2010. The experience while abroad has also improved; close to half (48 percent) noted that they were more likely to move to a new country as opposed to returning home.
Chief executives across the world agree that having the right talent in the right place is critical to business growth. Nearly three quarters (71 percent) of the professionals surveyed identified that employers value international experience and a quarter stated that international work experience improved career prospects.
Despite, or perhaps as a result of, the recent worldwide economic crisis, more companies than ever before are recognizing the value of hiring international talent and a growing number of professionals are now willing to work abroad. Traditional expatriates willing to go abroad for a couple of years are being replaced by global citizens, who are prepared to travel the world in search of personal and professional fulfilment.
Global professionals acknowledge that international experience is often essential for career progression and most company boardrooms contain individuals who have headed up overseas operations at some point in their career.
Reflecting this, the number of survey respondents who have always wanted to work abroad has doubled from 16 percent to 35 percent in the past five years, with 83 percent of those currently working abroad saying they believe international experience is important to their company.
Almost all survey respondents who had worked abroad would do it again, and would recommend it to others.
Talent on the Move
Experienced professionals expect to work abroad as part of their career progression and have the appetite to travel the world to find the right opportunity. This willingness to work abroad gives companies a far greater prospect of hiring the right overseas talent for the right opportunity.
As the economic forecast looks set to improve and with many international companies saying that they intend to increase global opportunities, the demand for those professionals willing to work abroad will rise and companies will need to act quickly to secure the best talent. They will need to focus on how to nurture and retain this talent in the places they need it.
This year, our survey revealed that almost two thirds of respondents had already or were currently working abroad. That means there is a wealth of experienced and highly-skilled professionals willing to work internationally.
Gaining international experience is not a box ticking exercise. Many respondents felt it was part of their long-term career development plans, with 83 percent of those already abroad anticipating they would stay longer than initially planned, and more than three quarters were interested in moving to another country rather than returning home.
Talented professionals are less and less restricted by country borders. Many are willing to travel the globe in search of the next exciting career. Almost all respondents who had returned home from an overseas opportunity would do it again. Likewise, the length of time spent gaining international experience has gradually increased with more professionals spending up to five years working abroad. This is reflected in the expectations of those seeking new opportunities, with 60 percent of those who would like to or are considering working abroad prepared to go for up to five years.
“We are seeing the creation of an international talent pool that is willing to move from one location to the next across the world in search of the next best career opportunity,” explains Tim Smeaton, Hydrogen CEO.
And those opportunities appear to be on the rise, perhaps a sign of the recovery in the global economy. This year the number of respondents citing insufficient job opportunities has almost halved from 44 percent to 24 percent five years ago.
Gone are the days when a company sent an executive overseas for a six-month stint as a standard training exercise. Today companies are using their resource budgets wisely to maximize the returns on any overseas opportunity in terms of business growth and profit, as well as fostering a mobile, internationally experienced workforce. The reasons a professional may choose to work abroad rarely mirror the reasons a company may need its top talent to move overseas. A number of reports for business have put cost as the overriding deterrent to placing valuable employees overseas. Yet for our survey respondents, career prospects, new experiences, and a greater earnings potential have been the top three motivators for working abroad for the past five years.
Denise McAnulty, COO EMEA and US, at Hydrogen explains this anomaly:
“Companies want to expand quickly into new markets but they struggle to identify the level of experience they need, and the length of time required to get operations up and running or to transfer knowledge and skills. Rather than deciding purely on costs, employers need to take a longer-term view. A professional with international experience is a valuable asset since skills, such as adapting to new work environments, can be applied in other overseas opportunities.”
When we looked more closely at those already abroad, we found that three quarters said that the move had a positive impact on their career prospects and 78 percent said they had seen a financial benefit to moving abroad. Those who were already abroad or had returned home also learned more on average than those still seeking to work overseas.
Barriers to Relocation
Respondents in this year’s survey had the most positive attitude toward international experience of the last five years, with 40 percent of those already abroad citing no barriers to relocating. This suggests an increasingly positive approach among global professionals, and companies should harness this optimistic attitude for their own benefit.
This decline in perceived barriers may also be a result of employers becoming more flexible in their attitudes to softer issues such as family relocation or the need to cover the costs of commuting back and forth from their home country. Despite a decrease in barriers, moving abroad for work can still be a big decision and often one not taken alone—with family and partners having to commit to move to a new country or cope with staying at home alone.
Once again, the survey highlighted the biggest barrier to relocating was family, friends and relationships. Although many companies have done more to improve relocation packages and provide language and cross-cultural training for partners and families, family circumstances may still not be high up enough on the agenda to guarantee the best talent, or ensure the success of an opportunity.
According to Denise McAnulty, Hydrogen COO EMEA and US: “Very few companies think that family circumstances or the ability to adapt to a host country’s culture are important when seeking candidates. The common view is that the career experience, coupled with an increased salary will be incentive enough. And yet a high percentage of international appointments fail to work and the professional returns home early, simply because of these two issues.”
Surprisingly our survey found that traditional barriers such as culture and language are not seen as such big issues in today’s world. Of those already working abroad, 88 percent said it was easy to adapt to the culture of the host country. This might reflect the high proportion of respondents who wanted to go to English speaking countries with similar cultural backgrounds, or the fact that even where professionals and their families need to adapt to cultural differences, English is the business language used in the workplace.
While those already abroad reaped the benefits of being there, those who had returned home and those who wanted to go abroad put insufficient job opportunities and relocation packages high up on their list of barriers to moving abroad. Companies need to manage their cost base, but also ensure that they don’t lose experienced professionals or switch off new talent simply through an assumption about lack of opportunities. Equally, employers should promote the benefits in terms of career progression and personal experience that international opportunities afford, as these may often outweigh the financial benefits of an overseas appointment.

Top Destinations
Year on year the top destinations for most professionals remain unchanged, with English speaking countries dominating the top five. This is unsurprising given that the top three attractions to a country for those wanting to work abroad are lifestyle (31 percent), prospects (21 percent) and culture (17 percent). The US, the UK and Australia were the top three destinations for both those already abroad and those who wanted to work abroad.
However, this year the UK made headway against the US to be almost equal as the top destination for those wanting to work overseas.
However, where people want to work does not always correspond to the countries experiencing the greatest talent gaps. At present, the five countries having the most difficulty filling jobs are Japan, Brazil, India, Turkey and Hong Kong, but only Hong
Kong made it into the survey’s top 15 destinations.
Equally, despite the demand for talent in BRICS, Brazil this year disappeared from the top 15 desirable destinations, and both Hong Kong and China have slipped down the rankings to 11th and 12th place respectively, suggesting that although there is an understanding that these emerging markets are important, cultural barriers, coupled with a perceived ‘distance’ from home, may make them less appealing. The lack of emerging countries in the preferred destinations list means that companies will have to work hard to attract the international talent that they need in these places.
Talented, highly qualified professionals also realize the benefits of international experience to their career prospects and earnings potential. Marrying experience of emerging market operations with home country knowledge raises their marketability. Hence we have seen a steady growth over the past five years in the number of respondents who are currently working abroad, have already worked overseas or who are interested in moving abroad for work, which now stands at almost 100 percent.
There has been an increase over the five-year period in the number of professionals who think their company values international experience, growing from 63 percent to 71 percent. And for those already working abroad, we have seen an 8 percent increase from 17 percent in 2010 to 25 percent in 2014 in the number who think their career prospects have improved as a result of international experience.
For future growth, employers must capitalize on the younger generation of talent that is keen to gain international experience, and ensure they maximize the return on investment from mature professionals returning home with a wealth of experience.
The above was excerpted from the report, Global Professionals on the Move Report from Hydrogen Group.

Tags: Employee Engagement, Relocation

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