Expat talent comes home

2009

Yes, the workplace is more global than ever and, yes, the international posting is still where an ambitious young manager can expect to cut their teeth and gain valuable experience that will hopefully put their career on the fast track. But for anyone luxuriating in an all-expenses-paid expatriate lifestyle, the message at the moment is: don't get used to it.

According to a report by the website www.workforce.com, more and more companies are cracking down on all-but-essential international postings and expatriate programmes.

What this has meant is that companies have begun recalling expats from multi-year assignments up to 12 months early, particularly where assignments are allocated solely for career development purposes.

Not surprisingly, banking, financial services and automotive companies have been at the forefront of this drive.

In some cases firms are even looking at bringing thousands of employees home as the focus turns from expansion and globalisation to retrenchment.

And if the shock of coming home is not bad enough, many expats are being brought back to find they have no job at home, either.

Figures compiled last year by consultancy Mercer suggested that barely four out of 10 organisations guaranteed a job to an employee upon repatriation. And fewer than half helped expatriates reintegrate into their old country.

It's little surprise therefore that, even as far back as 2007, the U.S Society for Human Resource Management reported that many firms ended up losing valuable expat managers, either to a rival overseas employer or once they returned to home shores.

Of course, the problem for many expats now is that it is much less easy simply to walk into another position, whether in the overseas location or once you have returned.

Workforce.com cited the chief executive of an unnamed Pacific Northwest manufacturer who said he was bringing his European division manager home after only eight months of a two-year assignment because the business could not continue to foot the $500,000 annual bill for his salary and living expenses.

Similarly, a U.S HR manager based in Russia for a major oil and gas multinational told the site that significant budget constraints had led the company to cut assignments short and re-evaluate whether positions are needed.

She added she was working on a "massive" repatriation of expats to their home countries, in some cases moving people who had been away for many years.

Where expat positions do still exist, it's now much more likely to be for a specific purpose or project, such as heading a construction project or a manufacturing facility in a remote location, it added.

Despite this, the lure of a foreign posting remains strong among many workers.

Research last month by recruitment firm Alexander Mann Solutions found that almost four out of five professional workers were interested in either a regional or international move.

Yet, at the same time, almost half complained they had not had any opportunities to move location in the past three years.

While almost a quarter said their company allowed for overseas job moves, only 13 per cent felt that international moves were encouraged.

David Heath, global director of people capital and international business at Alexander Mann Solutions, said: "It is evident that what employees want from their career are fresh challenges and opportunities for mobility aren't just desired, but expected. International jobs are given much more value, with global experience being recognised.

"However, such placements aren't always available. The UK currently has the greatest gap between 'supply and demand', which can cause high-flying talent to be lost to competitors who can provide global career experience," he added.

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