The Expatriate Population: Latest Findings from Industry Surveys

population-six-billion-1Recently, two of the leading global relocation companies, Brookfield GRS and Cartus, have published their annual surveys. As in previous years, both surveys shed light on the most relevant trends in global mobility, describing current international assignee populations, their main motives and challenges, as well as the challenges faced by employers and relocation professionals. I would like to bring up some of the surveys’ highlights in regards to the assignee population.

International assignee population continues to grow

Similar to the trend observed over the past few years, the Brookfield 2013 survey data indicates that international mobility is still on the rise. Indeed, more than half of the respondents (54%) indicated that their assignee populations increased also this year. However, it should be noted that compared to the last two years the growth is rather modest. While the initial optimism and boost of assignment volumes was largely affected by the growth in emerging markets, then today many question whether this growth story is still valid. This cautious view is supported also by the Cartus (2013) findings, which indicate that most of the companies are in a ‘wait-and-see position’ in regards to relocation volumes.

Generally, however, the surveys indicate that international assignments remain in focus, as companies continue to expand their assignment programs and candidate pools.

The number of GenY and female assignees increases

The growing importance of issues related to millennial employees and gender diversity in the workplace is reflected in an increase in Generation Y and female employees among international assignees.

As previously discussed in my blog, millennial employees possess a more global mindset and look for opportunities of international experience within their careers. Arguably, such motivation makes Gen Y employees a perfect source for developmental assignment types, which may entail some cost savings for the company compared to the traditional assignment schemes of attractive pay and benefits. Moreover, millennial employees may be less demanding in relation to family status, as they are more likely to be either single, without children, or with children below the school age. Ultimately, either for these or some other reasons, both surveys indicate an increase in the number of younger employees to go for an assignment.

The data on assignee demographics also supports the trend towards gender diversification in the workplace. Given that gender diversity in management positions is a hot topic in global business, and that an international assignment is often seen as a needed step towards career development, the initiative of sending more women on global assignments is more than justified. Indeed, the Brookfield (2013) data shows that compared to 2011 the percentage of female assignees has increased by 5%, and by 130% compared to female representation 20 years ago.

The profile of an average expatriate is expected to change

Whilst the percentage of Gen Y and female employees among expatriates is increasing, the current profile of an average assignee remains similar to previous years. Recent stats show that an average expatriate is a male (79% in Cartus data; 77% in Brookfield data), who falls into the age group of Generation X (35-49 years old), is married or has a partner, and in the majority of cases is accompanied during expatriation by a partner, however less likely by children.

Although not yet manifested in the current average expat profile, the global trends towards a younger, highly mobile and less attached workforce becomes more visible when examining the potential assignees. Cartus 2013 data identify that the strongest interest in global assignments comes from young single male employees, as opposed to a lower interest shown by older employees with families. This is quite understandable, given the continuously highlighted assignment challenges of spouse adjustment/employment, housing, schooling, and security issues in emerging locations.

The motivation for expatriation remains in line with previous years

According to Cartus 2013 respondents, similar to last year’s data, the main motivating factors for accepting an international assignment are largely related to career development and to a smaller extent to attractive compensation. However, what seems interesting is the relative importance attributed to the ‘spirit of adventure’ (27%), which is close to becoming as motivating as attractive compensation (34%). It looks like the increasing emphasis on the adventurous part of expatriation is yet another proof of the impending change in the expatriate profile towards younger, more mobile and adventurous individuals.

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