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International recruitment trends – an APAC point of view

Posted on from The RSA Group

HR in a multi-national context requires an understanding of the ‘small world, big market’ idea of globalisation. What challenges do human resource practitioners face as their duties expand beyond their boundaries?

Singapore - destination of choice

Using Singapore as a case study, it comes as no surprise that the country is the destination of choice for many on international assignments and this certainly also includes those in civil service. Singapore is rated as having the best quality of life for expatriates by The Political and Economic Risk Consultancy, as well as the second best city in the world in terms of quality living by Fortune Magazine.

Therefore, Singapore does not necessarily come cheap, especially in terms of accommodation. Yet, there is now a marked trend where companies are increasingly reluctant to extend full expatriate Benefits, that is, all-inclusive packages with housing, education and living-away-from-home allowances. Instead, HR and recruitment specialists now deploy all of their persuasion and motivational skills to managing expectations of potential candidates (and in particular, headhunted candidates – but that’s another story).

Opportunities for international HR practitioners

So what are the Challenges and opportunities that international HR practitioners face? Most notably would be their ability to spot in their existing team the makings of a global secondee. This in itself is the coveted prize among many who see international placements as part of their development, both in terms of skills as well career ladder.

It's the fruit of their hard labour to be able to represent their company in new markets, to be given mandates in defining new strategies and the responsibility to recruit and build new teams.

Keeping the expatriate engaged

However, these talents, and that's exactly what they are, will also be in demand by others. Therefore, HR has the crucial job to keep the expatriate engaged, and loyal. HR has a massive responsibility to ensure that any parent company nationals sent abroad are properly trained and deployed with all of the necessary tools with respect to management, training and cultural understanding.

It's the latter that more often than not will be the downfall of many an expat - the so-called ‘expatriate failure’. Skills, track record and experience are essential in getting the job done, but an empathic approach and a willingness to modify one’s own approach to suit a culturally sensitive situation, is nothing short of critical.

Identifying a proper career map

In my opinion, global relocation into Asia-Pacific will endure for some time to come, particularly in sectors such as life science R&D. As the pool of local talent continues to develop, essential management and technical skills are learned through the tutelage of managers and leaders from established markets who have simply, ‘been there, done that and got the T-shirt’.

Technical capabilities that are in scarce supply will still need to be brought in. While there is a growing trend for MNCs to recruit locally or regionally, these tend to be in commercial positions where skill sets such as sales and marketing are much more prevalent than say, a scientist who specialises in multi-modal translational imaging.

Hot spots for international recruitment

So where are the international hot spots? Up-and-coming countries such as Vietnam will start to see their human capital needs ramp up as a growing amount of MNCs establish themselves there. With construction underway for a new US$1 billion biotech park, Vietnam has ambitious plans to train up to 20,000 scientists by 2015. 

Malaysia too, has begun construction on a new biotech park, that when finished will be in size, nearly six times that of Virginia’s Biotech Research Park in the US.

Singapore - the Asia-Pacific headquarters

Quality, compliance and IP will still be paramount; as the world’s third least corrupt nation, Singapore will continue to remain as the Asia-Pacific headquarters for many organisations. Functional roles, such as HR and finance, are likely to be based here.

Impact of recession on international recruitment

Expats do take note: assignments in less developed countries will afford you better overall packages, but naturally, you will have to be prepared to put up with a lower standard of living. However, I’m afraid that gone are the days where expats could demand a hardship allowance for a stint in Singapore.

And that brings me to that final question - has international recruitment been impacted by the turbulence of the last 12 to 18 months? Yes of course, adversely, in a few sectors. But, thankfully, not in mine.

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