Good managers understand that hiring expatriates isn’t just about importing a certain skill set.

Not only do mobility programmes help fill the skill gaps, but they also enable the building of a global mindset, that will be a welcome boost to Asia’s rapidly developing economy.

Given the number of changes taking place to mobility programmes in Asia, we speak to T.J. Spencer, vice president sales and MD of Asia Pacific at Oakwood Worldwide, to identify trends.

Q. In your previous commentary to Human Resources, you noted that one in five mobility assignments now last less than 12 months compared with just one in ten in 2002. Do you see this trend particularly evident in Asia Pacific?

Yes, in Asia Pacific one of the current trends we are seeing is the continued shift towards shorter-term assignments as the rising number of Millennial employees in the workplace, takes hold. Organisations are using temporary assignments and younger workers on developmental assignments to plug international skills gaps and remain competitive.

Additionally, organisations are increasingly employing home-grown talent in Asia Pacific to create more regional specific roles, causing a rise in west to east mobility patterns as well as a rise in intra-regional assignments. The rise of regional roles in Asia Pacific is particularly evident in Tier 1 cities such as Singapore, Tokyo and Hong Kong.

Q. In lieu of or in addition to long-term assignments, what other approaches are organisations experimenting with? 

Organisations operating in Asia Pacific are increasingly deploying diverse and flexible assignment tactics as they expand and consolidate their international mobility programmes.  Depending on the scope of the project at hand and the ease of intra-regional travel, organisations have the option to send assignees on either an extended business trip, a series of frequent trips or a short-term assignment (three to 12 months), whichever meets their business needs.

Organisations are also adopting the following approaches:

  • Localisation after one to two years, thereby phasing out the assignee’s expatriate terms, conditions and benefits and transferring them to local contracts. Key to the success of localisation is ensuring that information on which elements of the assignment package will be phased out (and the timescale) is made clear from the outset.
  • Central mobility policies with a clear set of core benefits, followed by a second tier of option benefits designed to meet the needs of assignees in particular locations.This allows the mobility division to work alongside the different business units within an organisation to contain costs, comply and secure adequate housing, creating a flexible, localised policy.
  • Implementing regular assessments of mobility policies to ensure that the benefits are aligned to meet both costs and business objectives. Increasingly organisations are setting KPIs at the beginning of each assignment, so if targets are not met, the assignment is brought to an end.
Localisation after one to two years, thereby phasing out the assignee’s expatriate terms, conditions and benefits and transferring them to local contracts.
Q. What are the key drivers in such changes to the mobility divisions of organisations, specifically for firms based in APAC?

The key drivers of these changes are globalisation and talent mobility. While globalisation is driving demand in established and emerging markets throughout Asia Pacific,talent mobility is driving supply as organisations create more mobile opportunities as part of their recruitment and retention strategies.

There is increasing recognition of the benefit of relocation to support retention and career development. Organisations in the region are opening up their mobility programmes to a younger demographic as a result of the arrival of the Millennial generation, 71% of whom, according to the PwC Millennials at Work report, expect to do an overseas assignment during their career.

The impact of this, is that organisations are dealing with a higher ratio of employees on the move and a broader and more complex international assignment landscape than before.

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