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Enticing foreign talent and business: Ellyn Karetnick, UK head of international mobility practice, Mercer

Posted on from Mercer

Just how much do living standards vary for expats around the globe and how do less attractive cities compete? Ellyn Karetnick, UK head of international mobility practice at Mercer, reports.

Highest quality of life?

If you want to work abroad, head to Vienna. The Austrian capital, according to the results of our 2014 Quality of Living Survey, offers the best lifestyle for expats. Out of 223 cities worldwide, Zurich comes second, followed by Auckland, Munich and Vancouver, with European cities dominating due to high standards of safety and stability, healthcare, infrastructure and recreational provisions for expat living.


Most interesting, however, is the emergence of cities outside of the traditional financial centres. These are the hubs that have established themselves to entice foreign investment by increasing their resources. They are becoming serious contenders in the world market, working to improve their quality of living and attracting more global companies.

Although foreign investment and offshoring in Asia remains high, activities are increasing in Africa and European employers are reinvesting in Central & Eastern Europe, where the labour and talent market is competitive.

Having grown considerably in the past decade, many second-tier Asian cities are starting to emerge as important places for multinational companies. Cheonan in South Korea, ranked 98th on our list, is strategically located in an area where several technology companies have operations. Meanwhile, Pune in India – at 139th in our rankings – has become a hub for education and IT, as well as other high-tech industries and car manufacturing.

The Middle East and Africa remain the most challenging regions for multinational organisations and expats. Regional instability and disruptive political events, lack of infrastructure and natural disasters prevent the quality of living from improving in many cities. However, some cities are making greater efforts.

Emerging economies

In 73rd position on our list, Dubai is the highest scoring city in the Middle East. Durban in South Africa, at 85th, has been identified as an emerging city in this region, due to the growth of its manufacturing industries and the increasing importance of the shipping port.

Global mobility redefined

It’s no longer just about moving people to jobs – now you bring jobs to people. Virtual working and split family scenarios are offering greater flexibility and less disruption to family life. Nationalisation initiatives are also regenerating the local workforce and creating more job opportunities and the ability to grow talent organically.

Cost and quality of living play key roles in facilitating a mobile workforce. As emerging cities continue to invest in their infrastructure and international standards, they are competing with the traditional financial centres and capital cities. But increased resistance to mobility can also be attributed to concerns around dual careers, work-life balance and family issues.

In response to our survey investigating global mobility practices, 87% of employers in the EMEA region said their biggest challenge was finding suitable candidates.

The next biggest concern was that ‘conditions are too expensive’ (68%), followed by worry over expatriate performance levels (59%). Globally, the emphasis shifts slightly towards dual career/family issues (79%), package attractiveness (50%) and career management issues (48%), however, all of these are intrinsically linked.

Varied talent demographics, the greater need for flexibility and local environments present cultural or legislative barriers that impact diverse global workforce planning.

Asian cities vary

Organisations must find the right balance between conventional and innovative approaches, particularly with challenging markets. Employers must keep an open mind and encourage ‘out of the box’ thinking to drive progress in mobility management. While broad strategy remains important, companies are facing the realities of needing local market solutions. These issues elevate the importance of making good decisions – in employee selection and programme design – to a higher level in emerging markets than in traditional assignments.

Predictions for the future

  • There will be continued focus on talent segmentation to address the growing need for flexibility, multigenerational career management and broader diversity groups. This will lead to greater innovation and nationalisation strategies that will help grow talent pools within countries.
  • Alternative assignments will become more common. Short-term assignments, commuter and rotational assignments and split family scenarios offer greater flexibility. The importance of local market strategies and nuances will gain greater recognition.
  • Equality in workforce participation is rising, making dual career and family support a growing issue for talent mobility and programme planning.
  • Collaboration between the various HR disciplines – with regard to managing and optimising a global workforce – will become more important. Functional silos are being broken down.
  • Operational efficiencies will continue to be in the spotlight. Just as we look to work smarter, companies will be looking to mobilise people more effectively.

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