Working in the shadows, outside of the system and following the cash from one location to another, rotational workers play a vital and yet almost hidden part in many industries. But significant changes are on the horizon.
Rotational workers, or rotators, is the name given to those who regularly work in another country, typically on a fixed schedule such as 28 days on followed by 28 days off – so they ‘rotate’ between home and work.

Nomadic lives

It is particularly prevalent in the oil and gas industry where rotators are used primarily offshore on exploration and extraction projects in a variety of roles. But the principle is replicated across many industries, for instance in construction, pharmaceutical and engineering. The benefit for employers is that skilled rotators can be recruited quickly and for short periods of time to work on specific projects.However many ‘rotators’, despite being well paid, often live a nomadic lifestyle and have traditionally enjoyed few of the benefits other employees take for granted.

In the past nobody took responsibility for where – or even if – they paid tax. There have been no pensions, no careers advice or help with acclimatisation. In fact the system seemed perfectly designed to keep them ‘off the books’.

Change is in the air

For some, of course, that system still works – and the money and freedom on offer is enough of an incentive to make an alternative way of working seem attractive. But in many multi-nationals across several industries there is a real sense that change is in the air.

Young people entering the workforce these days have a different attitude – they demand international travel as part of their development and are far more relaxed about working abroad. So suddenly multi-nationals are seeing rotator work very differently.

Uncovering talent

Some of our clients in the United States, for instance, are using rotator opportunities as a way to uncover talent – sending high potential employees on a series of short-term assignments to key locations as part of their development.

In future, opportunities on rigs and on engineering projects could be offered to those on the high potential track or as part of normal talent development for the graduate programme. And most importantly they will be treated as employees not as nomadic workers who are somehow out of the system.

Crown World Mobility recently held a seminar on rotators in Aberdeen where of course the offshore rigs attract workers from all over the world; and what was interesting was that the issues that drew the most debate were about what could be done to bring rotators into the system and how to aid retention. We discussed mentoring programmes, for instance, using older rotators to help younger recruits. There was a real change in focus.
Rotators have little incentive for loyality

It’s a world that until now not many have talked about; and as a result rotators have traditionally had little incentive to show loyalty. It wouldn’t be unusual for a rotator to arrive at the airport for a job, be offered more money to go elsewhere and simply disappear.

In fact, a Deloitte survey in 2013 revealed that 44 percent of respondents said the most common cause of failed rotational assignments was losing talent to competitors during a project.

The challenge now may be how to keep those same people on board as the environment changes. Future rotators will want far more from their employer – more perks, more services, tax equalisation, help with travel and acclimatisation. They will want universal benefits.

The rotator of 2017 may well be younger too, more educated, less willing to live in the shadows. Things cannot stay the same.