Global mobility in the work force has developed over the past few decades from the traditional “ex-pat” one or two year secondment to become a comprehensive part of any organisations strategic talent agenda. Companies in all industries are seeking broader international experience and diversity from their workforces as they become international players, reflecting the demands of their own customer and supplier bases. Rather than seeking individuals with singular best practice experience, companies now demand repatriated talent of indigenous individuals who can bring lessons learned from international markets home, to then be adapted to fit a more localised culture and operation. Certainly labour law harmonisation and reduced visa requirements have helped fuel this, particularly in common markets such as the EU, but equally the broader access to international educational institutes for foreign students has helped develop and skill the working populations. It is now not at all uncommon for an individual to seek higher education abroad, then spend time in that geography before eventually settling back in their home nation.
The Middle East is a prime example of this trend. Traditionally a great opportunity for Western Expats to advance their careers and be well rewarded for it, these days clients are demanding more individuals with local heritage and language skills and international education and experience over Expats who wish to spend a couple of years in the region. This appears to be driven predominantly by their own clients’ demands. One client told me as a foreigner speaking English rather than Arabic, you used to miss out on about 30% of opportunities, but these days it’s more like 60-70% even if the business language in country is English.
Does this mean the end of the Expat? No. Companies still want diversity in their leadership teams, and whilst the agenda might have shifted slightly, many firms maintain a positive diversity target of around 30% of foreign nationals among key personnel, especially if they are multi-country operations. Firms equally are recognizing the importance of Global Mobility in improving their existing workforce and are proactively driving opportunities for colleagues to spend time on secondment.