Let’s talk about the oldest profession – No, not that one….I’m talking about Global Mobility.
Global Mobility or Expatriate Management is as old as humankind itself. The ancient migration routes of our earliest ancestors are well documented and the distances travelled by primitive man still continue to amaze. There were even expatriates in the Bible – consider the exodus from Egypt for example. Indeed, the forced expatriation of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden is the starting point for the entire Biblical narrative. Was Eve the very first “trailing spouse “?.
In more recent times entire civilizations have been influenced by the expatriate exploits of such famous names as Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Captain Cook and the Pilgrim Fathers.
So global mobility is nothing new but its rise and rise has been underpinned by the drive towards globalisation and this, in turn, has been enabled by the massive developments in communication technology that took place throughout the 20th century. Enabling technologies such as airplanes, telephones, telex machines and more latterly the internet, have allowed companies to globalise in ways which were simply unimaginable in earlier times. Indeed such is the commitment to globalisation, that many major companies now structure their reporting lines along global delivery lines rather than local geographic control.
The growth in globalisation has led to major changes in labour mobility. Global companies will now frequently select the best candidates for a particular role without giving any consideration to physical location. To the contrary, an overseas assignment is often seen as an essential part of an employee’s career development plan. It’s a far cry from the days when the least well regarded employees were shunted off to some remote outpost and kept well away from the high-flyers in head office.
By contrast, today’s expats are often the most senior and well respected executives in any organisation. Nowhere is this more true than in the UK where an extra-ordinary 30% of all CEOs in FTSE 50 companies are non-UK nationals. Truly Global Mobility has come of age.
The next few years may be somewhat tougher for global mobility professionals. Expats are expensive and many companies will doubtless be under intense pressure to control costs. That having been said, its is more likely that a hold will be put on new expatriate assignments rather than curtailing existing ones.
In any event, the current recession is likely to be a hiccup as there is no doubt that the on-going mega-trend is towards increased globalisation and global mobility.
The other significant trend affecting international assignees is the nature of the assignment itself. While many assignees are still on traditional three year secondments from head office to some overseas location, the real growth in expatriate numbers is coming from Short Term Business visitors. These are assignees who are typically sent overseas to work on specific projects lasting for one year or less. We are also seeing a growth in the number of “Commuter Assignees”, where employees work overseas during the week but return home every weekend. While many of these Commuter Assignees are intra-Europe there are also a growing number of “NY-Lon” (i.e. New York-London), commuter assignees.
To cope with the growing complexity of global mobility management, we have recently launched the Forum for Expatriate Management. Founded just 3 months ago, the Forum already has over 1200 members who collectively manage over 500,000 expatriate moves. Our members come from the leading blue-chip employers of international assignees both in the UK and globally. We also have extensive databases of useful technical information including country guides to over 100 locations globally. Membership of the Forum for Expatriate Management is free – just register at our website – www.totallyexpat.com
Brian Friedman is the Founder of the Forum for Expatriate Management.