The mantra 'have work, will relocate' continues to gain ground as businesses shift their focus and talent to new markets. Studies show that worker mobility is increasing - and will continue to grow over the foreseeable future. The so-called BRIC countries - Brazil, Russia, India and China - are among the new destinations for international assignments, with China leading the list of hot job destination markets.
These developments are also reflected in global relocation data and trends. This was evident in a recent study by international relocation firm UniGroup Worldwide UTS covering the movement of 250,000 household goods made by their customers globally. The study showed a steady increase in the movement of household goods between China and the United States over the past two years.
Another study - the 2011 annual survey of international relocation trends by Brookfield Global Relocation Services - reported expectations for a continued increase in international assignments to the Asia Pacific.
Brookfield's respondent organisations ranged in size from having two to 250 international locations, with a total global headcount of over 5.6 million. Asked to identify the three emerging new-assignment markets, respondents put China at the top, followed by Brazil, India and Singapore.
Commenting on his firm's findings, Steven Lewis - UniGroup's deputy executive director for Asia Pacific - says the household moves covered by his company involved a mix of Americans and other expatriates transferring to China, as well as Chinese nationals employed by big firms who had been either headhunted to return or working with the head office overseas and were now returning to China to fill specific roles within their groups.
"It's a mix, but it's mainly Americans and other nationals coming to China," Lewis says.
Tzeitel Fenandes, practice leader for global compensation at human resources consultancy Aon Hewitt, says their research also indicate that the number of expatriates is on the increase, though the growth rate is very low and not in proportion to the expansion shown by Asian markets. "For example, our study in China showed that over 50 per cent of our respondents are increasing expat headcount, with the modal increase at 1-5 per cent. An additional third said that the number of expatriates are likely to remain the same," Fernandes says.
So, who is being moved? "We don't have empirical evidence, but I have noticed there are more younger, single people coming in," says Lewis.
With cultural attunement being an important criterion for the success of an international assignment, organisations are talent-searching locally, says Fenandes. "There is an increasing trend towards hiring non-locals directly in the local market, especially in China. The advantage is that the person already has a track record working in the market, with some local contacts and knowledge of the local business culture," she says.
Meanwhile, the demand for overseas talent continues. "Other trends are towards hiring 'returnees' and 'foreign direct hires'. The latter are people hired in an overseas market by the local entity to work in the local market," Fernandes adds.
"Many of these hires begin on a fixed-term contract - two years, extendable for another one to two years. Some are brought in with the eventual idea of changing their contracts to an open term. The latter is also becoming more prevalent."
Fernandes has noted that multinationals form the bulk of employers moving talent around the world, including intra-regional relocations.
"Current statistics in China show that only about a quarter of the expatriates in that country has been moved from outside Asia - the rest are from Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan - or are non-locals hired in China," she adds. "Local Chinese firms moving overseas are beginning to move Chinese talent as well, but there are language and cultural barriers to be overcome before this can become a dominant trend."