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Trends tat shape global assignments for companies

In my research for my workbook for Expat Partners, I came across many useful facts and figures. I talked to industry leaders and HR experts, and I want to share some of the key trends at the moment that shape the global assignment movement. 

A short definition

I know that there is a considerable debate going on why white people going abroad for work are called expats and all others are called immigrants. Therefore it is vital to set the tone right and define global assignments a bit clearer. I focus my work on families who move abroad for a certain amount of time due to a global assignment by the current company. In that sense, global assignments are limited by time (mostly 2-5 years), and the trigger for moving abroad is most of the times external as the home company offered an exciting work project. Regarding this definition we talk about Expats and Expatriation. 

Top trends in the global assignment industry

1. rising demand for working abroad & less sophistication in the process

I love to watch old movies where pilots and flight attendants are represented as an elite who were able to travel the world. There was always a touch of sophistication and elite feeling with this profession. Back then, traveling the world was seen as something exceptional and luxurious while they are seen as a more normal career nowadays. I can see that global assignments in companies are taking a similar route. 20 years ago expat packages were tremendous, offering a lot of support and financial compensation for the lack of comfort that often came with the relocation. An international assignment was seen as a brave step by the employees and only a certain attitude in combination with the right Expat Package with all necessary amenities could make the deal. Nowadays, especially younger generations are striving to explore the world and the higher demand for a global lifestyle makes the barrier for expat assignments lower than ever. 

2. Not a guarantee for a career jump anymore

Until recently, international assignments have been a guarantee for professional success in the home country. Still today, employees have to go abroad on an assignment to be considered for a certain management level. However, the wind has turned and while going abroad for a project is still something that can be promoted in the CV it has lost a bit of its magic. Expatriation is no longer an entry ticket to Candyland but a possibility to get on the waitlist. With increasing internationalization, companies are struggling with repatriation and planning the next career step ahead of time. Surveys show that managers are increasingly unsatisfied with the positions followed by an expatriation and staying in touch with the local network is not as easy as thought. Many managers realize that essential staff changes have been triggered in their absence and that they lost momentum. Nonetheless, it is not as bad as it sounds – it is just that expatriation is no guarantee for success anymore but only one part of the equation.  

„Expatriation is no longer an entry ticket to Candyland but a possibility to get on the waitlist“

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3. Dual-career couples

Nowadays dual-career couples are the new norm and the big question for the Expat Partner „What to do with their career abroad“ is more in focus than ever. Human Resource departments are restricting the costs of Expat support but at the same time try to find new solutions for the partner. Still, most companies think that a translation of the CV and some language courses would be enough. The happiness of the Expat Partner is a tremendous factor for the whole expatriation success, being the number one reason for an early – and for the company a cost intense – return. Partners are no longer looking for a hobby or a job, but they are searching for ways to continue their career abroad. Unfortunately, current numbers show that only 20% of female Expat Partners are lucky enough to manage the transition smoothly. HR departments are looking more than ever into more modern approaches to satisfy Expat Partner needs as this topic is the number one reason to refuse an assignment for young potentials.  

(If you are wondering why I am only talking about female Expat Partners: It’s simply because only 25% of the Partners are male. While this number was low for a long time experts expect a rise in female Expats in the future. For that to happen two factors are crucial: More women are reaching a higher management level & even more challenging, the male partner is ok with moving abroad for their wife’s job)

4. Serial expatriation

When I was writing my Expat Partner Career Guide, I stumbled across a figure that was so new to me that I had to write the source to confirm. Dr. McNulty, a leading business scholar, specializing in expatriation and global HR research, stated that „Today, trailing spouses re-assign more often than they repatriate, and they increasingly desire continuation of their careers and employment opportunities.“ While I  have been in contact with many women who went abroad several times, I did not know that this is the new norm. Serial expatriation and long-term expatriation are huge trends right now leading to entirely new challenges for companies and HR departments in the long run: How do serial expatriation and dual-career couples match in the future and what kind of services do companies have to offer to secure project success? In my experience, way more is needed than just a translation of the CV but the Partner has to get the feeling that his or her needs are taken seriously. 

These are a few of the developments I came across during my research for the Expat Partner Guide. I observe that expatriation is increasing in simple figures but also in challenges companies have to deal with. The resettling of families gets more demanding with dual-career couples, and the likely possibility of serial expatriation forces the Expat Partner to rethink his or her options. If you want to know more about the Expat Partner Guide, you can get some more information here




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Kate from Share the Love, expat, expat wife, expat life

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