IIC Partners

By IIC Partners
Aug. 6, 2012

"For the first time in the history of mankind, many of us can choose the country we live in. If I want to, I can live anywhere within Europe. I could choose go to Asia, the USA, even Russia or Africa. But this great idea is not to be confused with prosperity as only a very limited number of people exercise their freedom of movement," says Norbert Abraham, a Managing Partner at Frankfurt-based ingeniam Executive Search & Human Capital Consulting. 

"If you want to have a career in an international organization it is a must to have been working or studying abroad. It broadens your horizons and puts your country into the perspective of another country, another society, other social systems and enables you to make friends outside your own social system."

But Norbert has observed that in Germany fewer and fewer people are prepared to be mobile in their careers. The geographical distribution of 'career sensitive' industries and 'hip cities' to live in covers most parts of Germany. 

"Mobility becomes a serious issue if you talk to well educated young couples. Two adults living together trying to develop their careers is one of the most complicated challenges young people face today. One person will always be behind," he says.

Anecdotal evidence suggests this anti-mobility trend is largely a result of the influence of a candidate's partners and separately concerns about their children's education. 

A few decades ago, there were not as many women in senior roles as there are today, so with a couple where both are working at a high level, if one is offered an job elsewhere, they may decide not to move because the other is in a good role.

And as career opportunities for graduates decline - in one region of Spain 65.8% of young people between the ages of 15-24 are unemployed according to Eurostat (July 2012) - the pressure to excel academically, combined with the soaring cost of education, is seeing parents tending to keep the school life of their children constant.

"The irony of this is that children who move around - the children of diplomats, the military - develop into adults who make friends easily, are assertive, have strong social skills and who develop into adults who are able to intuitively manage in new and complicated situations. So mobility as a societal issue starts at school," says Norbert.

And school systems in most countries proactively discourage mobility, with some countries fining parents for taking children out of school during term time for holidays, and even for music or ballet exams. Once enrolled in university however, the world opens up, but Norbert says it's the skills developed in the early formative years that are most useful for an aspiring international executive.

Germany is one of 23 European countries (17 of which belong to the European Union), which has adopted the euro as its national currency. The eurozone continues to be battered by its members' overspending and debt problems, which were exacerbated by the global financial crisis of 2008. Germany is also the strongest economy in the eurozone with a population of 81.8 million people in total, including 6.93 million migrants. The German Statistics Office reported that in 2011, 140,000 Germans left Germany to live in other countries. However, 116,000 Germans moved back to Germany permanently. In comparison in 2011, 539,000 non Germans left and 842,000 moved to Germany. This is an increase of about 20% against 2010. And Germany needs talented workers.

"We have a problem which some other countries also have. Germany's birth rate fell dramatically due to the introduction of the contraceptive pill in the 1960s. Subsequently, the number of young educated people eager to achieve decreased between 2004 to 2010 to the point where effectively very third person in the age cluster of around 35 years is now missing from our workforce."

While Norbert believes the single currency will survive, the weaker economies within the eurozone - Greece, Spain, Italy, France and Ireland, which are seeing unemployment continue to rise - will see the departure of trained and experienced professionals to stronger economies within Europe and beyond.

"If you are a young Greek person with a good education you possibly have no other choice other than to go somewhere to make money," he says.

"However, big healthy companies that need top talent will not be affected by national economic issues as they can afford to select the best, keep them interested and retain them. In fact, the eurozone crisis is an opportunity for the big brands based in Europe to attract talent."

Keyur Thakore of KTA Associates in Mumbai says the economic instability in the eurozone and the USA is making BRIC country India more attractive to mobile professionals, despite the slowdown in India's growth.

"Over the last six months we've been receiving more than double the number of unsolicited resumes and contacts not just from Indians wanting to return here, but other nationalities. We're specifically seeing a lot of Indians living in the USA wanting to return due to economic conditions there.

"Professional  experience in India or China on a resume is a huge advantage and is now almost a must for any professional wanting to take a c-level role in a global organization."

Keyur says different sectors are emerging and contracting for expats within India.

"One of the areas that is still virtually virgin territory is the education space. The most recent development has been that international universities have been allowed to tie up with local institutions and explore the possibilities of providing higher education of a quality that is currently lacking in India.

"Other sectors we see a huge possible demand going forward is the defence, aerospace and high-end technology sectors.

"Areas we see do not see expats being welcome are the more developed industries such as financial services, telecommunications and retail where they have been replaced mostly by local talent.

"As India's economy was developing, it was necessary to pay very high salaries to talent from abroad. But Indian companies have got wiser and knowing that 'India experience' on the resume is a huge career boost for expats, pay scales have become  far more realistic," he says.

"But expats are still coming and staying for the quality of life - top health care, a chauffeur driven car, membership to clubs, domestic staff to mow the lawn and do the laundry -  and the cheapest golf courses in the world - what more can one ask for?"

However, just as the education of their children is hindering the mobility of German professionals, it is a key reason Indian workers between 40-50 years are wanting to emmigrate.

"These people are not looking at the usual countries that one would think of - not the UK or the USA, though Australia and Canada are still popular, but are eyeing up Singapore, Hong Kong and future emerging markets where quality of life and better education can be had for their children.

"This trend is in part stemming from new policies regarding the education of primary school aged children which are widely viewed as likely to bring down the quality of education.

"But also the openness and lack of ethical practice in Indian business is frustrating many professionals as nothing is being done to combat it."

In Sao Paulo, Denys Monteiro, a Partner at Fesa, laments the challenges Brazil is facing in finding skilled workers to fill top roles.

"It's hard to find the talent for all the positions that we have with the price that are clients are willing to pay," Denys says.

Fesa receives  100 unsolicited CVs per week from Brazilians abroad -  and foreigners -  who want to work in Brazil.

"Besides that, what we did notice in the market  was that in 2011, 56,000 Portuguese were issued with working visa permits in Brazil. If you assume that most of these people will bring their partners and children, it's more or less 1.0% of Portugal's total population."

One driver is the eurozone crisis but Denys says the key driver is Brazil's talent shortage.

"Brazil is booming. While most other countries are just maintaining their economies or slowing down, in Brazil companies are seeing high double digit growth."

This growth enables Brazilian firms to pay their key staff higher salaries than most countries in Europe and the USA. However, this creates a serious challenge for these firms which need key executives to relocate abroad.

"The big multinationals can't get their executives to move abroad right now. They know they will have a different kind of lifestyle.

"Our unemployment rate is 5.8% and we see at least five years of good market conditions and a shortage of talent in Brazil.

"Our government is currently in discussions with Spain to allow Spanish people to come to Brazil. We need skilled people and in Spain, with 40% average unemployment if it's not tackled, they will have a lost generation who will not be able to advance their careers because they will not get  the experience they need."

As Keyur of KTA Associates says, "In a world where mobility seems to becoming easier, there is still the challenge to find the right talent. While Germany has challenges of the euro and an aging population, India with its youth and talented middle-aged population is looking at outside opportunities so give their next generation a better quality of life and higher education. Brazil, despite a vast influx of talent wanting to come in has its challenge of language and integration of those wanting to come in.

"Are we really in a world where boarders are shrinking and talent can move as and when they wish?... Are governments listening to industry needs, or do they have an agenda of their own given the growing unemployment in many parts of the world?"

Latest Articles

More thought leadership

Get the latest news in Executive Research thought leadership, white papers and industry reports. Sign up for premium content.