What young 'global nomads' should consider when working abroad

August 29, 2015 08:08
So-called 'global nomads' should not be confused with  expats, according to experts. The former voluntarily choose to advance their careers and skills on an international level across multiple countries. Photo: Reuters

Overseas academic programs and internships have become popular in recent years, allowing students to experience different cultures and develop their cross-cultural competencies.

There is an emerging generation of young “global nomads” who are eager to travel and work in a foreign country but the question is whether the job market has that many overseas opportunities.

Also, what factors need to be considered when planning for an international career?

Dean Stallard, regional director of Hays in Hong Kong, says “global nomads” are different from “expatriates”.

“The term ‘expatriate’ traditionally refers to candidates posted to another country by their companies, but these days ‘global nomads’ are voluntarily choosing to advance their careers and skills on an international level across multiple countries.”

This year’s Hays Asia Salary Guide shows 65 per cent of 2,361 employers surveyed would consider sponsoring or employing a qualified overseas candidate.

The most sought-after jobs are in sales, engineering and IT. Technical jobs are mostly at the junior to middle management levels.

“The fluid mobility of skilled professionals across borders is the norm in this ever-increasing globalized job market," Stallard says.

"That’s why the term ‘global nomads’ is more than a buzzword; it’s a genuine trend.”

Andreas Valdemar Fransson, a graduate of Hong Kong Polytechnic University who holds a master's degree from the University of Cambridge, identifies himself as part of “the new generation of global nomads”.

The Swede studied, worked and lived in Hong Kong, mainland China, Britain and Bangladesh before landing a job as country controller for Swedish company H&M in Ethiopia.

His past experience abroad includes an unpaid internship with the United Nations Development Program in Shanghai.

He received a subsidy from the Swedish government.

“I believe in new experience,” he says.

“Life as an expat allows me to understand different cultures and to network with many interesting people around the world.”

However, he says he had to compromise on lifestyle.

“Take the expat communities in Addis Ababa [in Ethiopia] and Dhaka [in Bangladesh], for example. They are much smaller than in Hong Kong. Instead of having a bunch of expat friends, you have a small but intimate social circle.”

Fransson says applying for a job, getting a visa sponsorship and inadequate knowledge of Mandarin are three of the biggest challenges when seeking opportunities in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong employers prefer to hire expats who are already here.

Stallard says most banks prefer not to have to provide visas.

“They give priority to Hong Kong residents, followed by overseas candidates who have a working permit. Their last option is to move people from other offices and hire expats.”

Most positions for expatriates are in middle management or senior management.

Mitsuhide Shiraki of Waseda University says expats should start cultivating cross-cultural adaptability from a young age.

Shiraki cites his own research which shows the performance of Japanese expatriates has been poorly evaluated by their local direct subordinates, particularly in markets such as Malaysia, Indonesia and India, where the culture is very different from Japan.

That has negatively affected their mission accomplishment rate.

Japanese expatriates – on average in their mid-40s – lack experience with non-Japanese colleagues and the challenges they face are beyond the language barrier, Shiraki says.

“While you're young, you should learn from the experience of working with people from different backgrounds.”

Hays’ Stallard says technical skill and having the relevant qualification carry more weight than cultural adaptability in the hiring process.

“Employers are looking to fill particular roles in skills-short areas, so technical skill and the relevant qualifications are the number one priority,” he says.

“In fact, due to labor laws in most countries in Asia, employers will need to prove their need for candidates abroad based on the specific skill set.”

Meanwhile, global mobility is on a rise.

According to Global Mobility Survey 2015, which polled nearly 1,300 companies in 74 countries, there has been a 24.8 percent increase in overseas postings in the past 12 months.

However, most companies are mindful about cost in their overseas programs.

In the same survey, more than half of respondents said they are “under significant pressure to reduce overall cost”.

That could mean expat life is no longer as easy as it used to be.

“Expatriates need to be aware of what is happening on the ground in the local job market," Stallard says.

"This includes not only researching what skills are in demand but also being aware of the localized salaries which have seen expatriate packages become a rarity as employers offer packages more in line with local rates.”

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