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Case study: BASF’s recipe to managing expats



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Jennifer Kwan, head of the regional transfer centre for Asia Pacific at BASF, calls out the methods to enable the two-way transfer of skills between expatriates and local staff.

Being a multinational company, as well as one of the largest chemical producers in the world, at BASF, in order for the business to be successful, a workforce with highly specialised skills as well as global experience is needed.

Bringing in expatriates for their specialised skills

Jennifer Kwan, head of the regional transfer centre for Asia Pacific at BASF, says: “In our business, specific skill sets and expertise are required in particular for roles in research and development and engineering.”

Giving the example of project engineers with extensive experience in building chemical plants, she adds that in some cases, these specialists are not even available within Asia and that the local operations will have to look outside the region for talent with the right qualifications and skills.

As a result, for these roles, the company typically brings in expatriates with the relevant expertise to fill the skill gaps in the local workforce, offering attractive packages as well as cultural training to help these delegates fit in with ease.

“BASF offers relocation packages to delegates, including delegates to and from many countries within Asia as well as other locations, with benefits such as housing, spousal support and schooling support for children to delegates.

“We also provide intercultural training, before and during the expats’ delegation, to make sure they and their families are fully informed about and integrated into the new culture. Home-leave measures enable expats to maintain close ties with families and friends at home.

“Equally important, BASF also focuses on ensuring expats have a smooth transition and re-integration when they return to their home country.”

Home-leave measures enable expats to maintain close ties with families and friends at home.

These expatriate compensation packages are usually determined by various factors, including where the expat is from and going, marital status and length of delegation.

“In general, the compensation package of an expat is more expensive than that of a local employee. We look carefully into each case before we decide to take or to send an expat on delegation.”

The challenge to find the right local talent

It’s never an easy task to get the right talent, and with governments increasing their focus on having a “local core” workforce, this task only becomes more difficult.

Being one of the most attractive employers in the market, and having very transparent recruiting policies, compared with their potential competitors, Kwan feels they are in a strong position.

That said, finding talent with specialised skills needed for their business operations within the local market is still tough.

As such, Kwan reveals: “Apart from hiring from the local labour market, BASF also has an ‘Asia Pacific internal job market’, an online hiring platform where employees can easily search and apply for jobs across the whole region.

“This increases the transparency of job opportunities within the company and promotes cross-unit and country hiring of talent at the same time. We have had many successful placements to date.”

BASF has an Asia Pacific internal job market, an online hiring platform where employees can easily search and apply for jobs across the whole region.

She notes that at BASF, not every expatriate is delegated at a high position. Sometimes expatriates from junior levels are delegated to gain experience, which includes both in and out of various markets within Asia and around the world

“We aim to assign and develop such roles in our various local markets from the local talent pool, and thus enhance the company’s overall pool of experience globally.

“As BASF is a multinational company, our leaders in particular are all equipped with international exposure. Development of talent is another field where expats play an important role.”

To ensure these roles are developed successfully, Kwan notes there has to be a two-way learning transfer between the expatriates and the local workforce.

Transferring skills is a two-way street

With regards to the transfer of skills, as part of the company’s development programme, expatriates are placed into the position of a mentor to their local successors.

“Mentors train the successors by sharing with them the knowledge and skills to prepare them for their bigger roles and challenges in future. At the same time, expats gain valuable experience and market knowledge from their delegations.

“In many cases, a specific written target for an expat is to develop a successor from the local talent pool, while at the same time gaining further local market experience as an individual development goal.”

A specific written target for an expat is to develop a successor from the local talent pool.

If this transfer of skills is deemed successful, the company will be able to benefit greatly, not only having the talent with the right specialised skills available at their fingertips, but also one with the international experience necessary for the business to operate successfully on a global scale.

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