Understanding mobility

A look at the top five factors driving change and the top five trends in relocation
By Stephen Cryne
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/03/2016

The nature of global mobility is changing. For years, the industry has observed a steady and significant shift in the way people work, live and communicate. It’s a shift that has ramped up demand for skilled and specialized workers and created new complexities for mobility professionals.

These changes have been the subject of countless research studies. Last fall, the Canadian Employee Relocation Council (CERC) teamed up with the European Relocation Association (EuRA) to take that research one step further in launching a study to discover top trends and consensus points in a vetted list of 57 global employee mobility reports published between 2011 and 2016.

The new study reflects the opinions and experiences of over 25,000 mobility stakeholders across 140 countries.

To begin, there are the top five factors many believe are driving change across the globe and impacting the $60-billion mobility industry: Globalization 2.0, which is creating a shift in power of economic might from west to east; demographic change, such as retiring workforces and the rise of millennials; individualism, creating more power of choice for employees and a more knowledgeable workforce; a movement toward knowledge-based economies; and technology and the digital age.

Together, these factors are increasing demand for skilled and specialized talent across the globe. In response, more employers are expanding mobility programs to manage complex talent gaps, increase global reach, attract and retain employees, and develop tomorrow’s leaders.

Fortunately, there are plenty of skilled workers willing to meet the demand for global talent. Most millennials are eager to complete a mobility experience in the first six years of their career, found the study. Interestingly, 71 per cent of female millennials want to work abroad, but they only represent 20 per cent of the current international mobility population. This disconnect makes for a strong argument for better talent engagement.

There is, however, consensus regarding the challenges employers face in mobilizing talent. Cost pressures are most prominent as the fallout from the Great Recession, the European debt crisis and other economic crises push managers to do more with less. Managers also are expected to continuously prove the value of employee mobility.

Further challenges are tied to keeping up with the complexities of a modern mobility program, as well as difficulties staying compliant with changing tax laws and government regulations. More than three-quarters (78 per cent) of employers cited over-regulation as a major concern, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers Global CEO Survey.

Future trends

As for the top five mobility trends, these include the prediction employee mobility will continue to rise, but the length and types of assignments will vary more than ever. Cost-conscious employers will favour shorter-term assignments and “local plus” programs while exploring technological alternatives, such as assigning staff to “virtual teams.”

At the same time, incentive packages will likely become even more flexible and will be based on the specific needs of the employee, her circumstances and the relocation budget.

Second, mobility professionals and consultancies are all advocating for mobility to play a more strategic role in the organization and to become embedded in a diverse range of organizational activities and play a broader role in human resources.

The third observable trend is cost concerns will put more pressure on relocation managers to prove the return on investment of their assignments. This will lead to better ROI tracking tools and a greater understanding of the value of global employee mobility to a company.

Ninety-five per cent of companies do not measure international assignment ROI and are not even sure how to start, according to Brookfield GRS’s Mindful Mobility report.

However, three out of four respondents said they expect to be measuring ROI in two years’ time, compared to the nine per cent that do so now, according to ManpowerGroup’s report Moving People with Purpose.

Technology and data analytics was the fourth observable trend. While the use of predictive analytics in HR is still in its relative infancy, an increasing number of organizations are beginning to embrace the concept. The data is available, but more sophisticated analysis would provide valuable trend information and the potential to identify risks. From better program management to improved employee experiences, mobility professionals must stay on top of technological advancements.

The research also points to greater collaboration between employers and their respective governments, as business puts more pressure on government at all levels to reduce barriers to employee mobility.

Forty-four per cent of CEOs plan to work with government to develop a skilled and adaptable workforce over the next three years, and 27 per cent intend to work with government in creating a more competitive and efficient tax system, according to the Global CEO Survey.

For those partnerships to work, most agree that industries must build a more impactful business case for global employee mobility and improve communications with government partners.

Overall, many see talent mobility playing a much larger role in an organization’s strategic planning. Investment in mobility technology and data analytics will become important in managing a global workforce. The aforementioned Global CEO Survey indicates a majority of CEOs already believe their investments in digital technologies have created value for their business.

If there is one key take-away from the report, it’s that global employee mobility is something both employers and employees are keen to embrace. And hopefully it will encourage more thinking about the importance of mobility to economic prosperity and business success, as well as its critical role in building meaningful and rewarding careers for employees.

Stephen Cryne is president of the Canadian Employee Relocation Council (CERC) in Toronto. For more information on the study, visit www.cerc.ca.

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