Schofield has worked for PwC for 26 years, during that time he has completed three international assignments, one in Australia, Russia and the Czech Republic. As a Partner at PwC he offers both HR and Global Mobility related advisory services.
How many years of your life did all your international moves take up?
Of the 26 years I’ve spent working with PwC I have only spent eleven in the UK.
Have you noticed an improvement in the way HR departments run mobility programmes over that time?
When I first went on assignment the HR teams were very helpful in pointing me in the right direction for relocation vendors and removal firms as well as providing a list of recommended “to do’s”, for example updating the electoral register and the post office for change of address. The support I received for more recent moves though had gone up a notch or two with the team in Russia being particularly supportive, helping to negotiate tenancy agreements, setting up bank accounts and other critical admin in the early days.
What about in terms of assistance with immigration law?
Yes, I was helped with that a great deal and it took a lot of anguish out of what we needed to do. We just needed to come up with the relevant paperwork. The HR departments were always very supportive, for example, when my wife lost her Australian passport that had her Russian visa in it, they resolved that problem very quickly.
I would imagine a country like Russia has a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy to get through before they allow you to work in the country?
Yes, a lot of bureaucracy and had we been left to deal with it without assistance there would have been a language issue too.
You mention language, is that another area you were offered assistance with?
Yes, we were offered language lessons and my wife did somewhat better at those than I did. For us as a couple, and we had two children as well while we were in Russia, it was absolutely critical that one of us at least could speak some of the local language. Learning the language allows you to manage life so much more effectively. If I had my time again I would make far more of an effort to learn the language.
What was your job role while you were in Russia?
I work in the global mobility area advising clients on global mobility strategy. My role in Moscow, and then Prague, was to run our local practices on a day to day basis, but I also led the broader global mobility advisory teams across our Central and Eastern European practice, spreading from Prague in the West all the way through to Moscow in the East and Kazakhstan in the South.
Do some people find relocation more difficult than others, in your experience?
Absolutely, there is no simple formula for making working internationally easy. Every individual and family will have different needs and experiences. When I first moved to Russia I was fortunate in one way in that my family remained in Australia for 8 months allowing me time to integrate at work and find my feet without domestic distractions. That having been said, being on different sides of the world wasn’t easy either! When the family did arrive I was fortunate in that my wife was willing to try hard and integrate into expat life, joining in with various expat activities as well as learning Russian.
If I was advising a client I would say when selecting someone to go on assignment, where there will be cultural differences, I would say don’t just think of the worker’s performance in the UK or their values and their skill-set, you’ve got to think of the broader picture, for example, are they likely to take some risks, be prepared for new challenges, will their family be supportive. I often hear that global mobility should be for top talent and to a fair degree I agree with that statement, but sometimes top talent in the UK may not transfer into being top talent in an environment with a different job requirement and a different set of skills that are needed.
If you, for example, are approached by two people who are equally qualified to be sent on an assignment, but one person is single and the other has a family, does that effect the decision?
Of course there could be financial considerations to take account of, but leaving that aside, to make an assignment a success the employee and family need to be the right fit. If equally qualified to take on the role I would consider the “fit” of the individual and for the family try to understand the motivations and whether the spouse would also be comfortable in the new environment. At the end of the day an unsuccessful assignment will end up being very expensive and potentially disruptive for the business. It is far more sensible to work hard to get the right person in place regardless of family circumstances.
Would a person who took a family with them be, in your opinion, more likely to see an international assignment through to the end?
I don’t have any firm evidence one way of the other on that question. However, with mobility trending away from the more traditional avenues of long term assignments to increased business travel, commuting, project work etc I would say that these create additional and new pressures which can impact on family life and a person’s work. I commuted in-between Russia and Prague for about twelve months and it was hard for both me in Russia and my wife in Prague. Working in this way has to be taken on with an open mind and an acknowledgement that it won’t be easy.
Does undertaking an international assignment improve career prospects in the long run?
Some will say that the experience has been wonderful for their career, however, there are no guarantees. People who undertake multiple or longer international assignments may, for example, see a completely different career path from those taken by their peers in their home office so it is difficult to judge.
After people have worked abroad for a period of time is it difficult to move back and is any assistance offered with this process?
It is critical that an employer helps the returning expat reintegrate. There should be a programme of support and mentoring which should be offered by someone who has already been through it. People often need help to find their feet again after they have completed an assignment.