Talent is increasingly mobile – let’s not kill it with tighter controls

THE NUMBER of professionals currently working abroad or interested in relocating overseas now stands at an estimated 235m – almost 8 per cent of the number of people in work globally. Over the past five years, companies have diversified outside of their home markets for survival, and many now derive more revenue from overseas operations than domestic ones. This has led to the rapid globalisation of recruitment.

In the UK, there’s no sign of this trend slowing down. Skill shortages are evident in areas like life sciences, legal services and accountancy, and companies looking to expand have to go abroad to find the right people.

A recent survey by Hydrogen Group found that there has been a seismic shift in perceptions about working overseas, with a staggering 40 per cent believing that no barriers exist at all. In 2009, no respondents shared this view. What is driving this change in attitude?

New demand for executives with international experience has led candidates to seek positions abroad to accelerate career development. And the world has become a smaller place, with the rise of technology shrinking perceived distances across the globe.

English speaking cities are the most popular destinations, and it’s no surprise that London tops this list. Lower corporation tax and strong GDP growth make the capital an appealing place for major international companies to establish European headquarters. Candidates cite lifestyle, culture and work prospects as key attractions to working abroad. The capital has these in spades.

And London’s appeal to foreign workers has supported the recent rise of the city’s technology sector. Silicon Roundabout, near Old Street, is home to a number of successful tech startups. Some of the biggest names in technology are also now recruiting here. Vodafone, for example, recently announced plans to move its product innovation and development team from Silicon Valley to London.

However, while global business borders may be more fluid, and executives increasingly mobile, visa restrictions and work permits persist. Indeed, the UK itself is in the process of tightening up its immigration and work visa processes. Companies looking to expand internationally must assess if there is talent locally or if they will need to look abroad. Often the solution to the tightening up of controls in the workforce is to favour home-grown talent, rather than executives from overseas. These “return homers” provide additional skills and local knowledge that can be utilised in their country of origin.

Governments must facilitate the global exchange of skills and knowledge between countries. A balanced approach can ensure that such a transfer does not result in a talent drain or surplus in any one country, but is mutually beneficial to companies, professionals and countries.

Tim Smeaton is chief executive of the Hydrogen Group.