Has the gig economy arrived just in time for global mobility?

10 December 2018

In a recent survey, Decoding Global Talent 2018, Boston Consulting Group reported a worrying trend. Their research found that only 57% of employees said they would move to another country for work. In itself, it is unremarkable; but a similar survey in 2014 reported a figure of 64%. Is the idea of global relocation becoming less attractive?

This question was recently echoed by Michael Dickmann, Professor of International Human Resource Management at Cranfield University. Dickman authored a report on the potential stagnation of international mobility, which stated that “around a third of organizations currently have less than 60% of the number of employees they need for international assignments willing to be internationally mobile.”

So what’s behind this trend? BCG put forward global turmoil as one reason – but also suggested “that work itself is becoming more global, making it unnecessary for people to uproot their lives to find satisfying, well-paying jobs."

If this trend proves true, global mobility managers should perhaps take steps now to address the inevitable shortage of candidates to support their global mobility program.

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But there is a clear link between BCG’s findings and the rise of the gig economy. Recent research by recruitment firm Randstad suggests the employment landscape is changing quickly: 68% of employers believe more than half of the global workforce will be ‘gig workers’ on short contracts by 2025.

The ‘job for life’ is a thing of the past – and this is maybe an answer to the global mobility candidate shortage. Just hire people in to do the job.

Relocation specialists Graebel investigated this link themselves through a survey earlier this year and found that contract workers are much more willing to travel for work than their full-time employed counterparts. A staggering 83% of gig workers in the UK, US and Singapore would be willing to relocate.

The problem with contract-assignees

Are gig workers really the obvious solution to any potential candidate shortfall? There are some very important questions to be tackled first:

  • What are the legal implications?
    How does it affect duty of care? How does the legal relationship between a company and a contractor affect assignments?
  • How does it fit in with long-term talent strategy?
    How can you attract and develop talent to drive your company forward in the future, if you only hire people to do a short-term job?
  • How does it affect candidate selection?
    It’s difficult enough to make the right choice from candidates that are already well known to the organization. The risk of selecting the wrong candidate from a pool of external, unknown contractors can be significant.
  • How do the costs compare?
    Contractors don’t come cheap – but this is often compensated by relieving the employer of long-term obligations. Flexibility is valuable – but you will need to quantify it and work out whether it is valuable enough to justify the higher cost. 

Global HR consultants Mercer are also very interested in the new challenge facing global mobility departments. In their view, international gig workers will be mainly locally hired foreigners or workers on virtual assignments.

This means that the management challenge has changed significantly, because “managing an international gig worker is less about moving someone from one country to another and more about dealing with the consequence of a move that already happened.”

A new breed of global mobility professionals?

They say that millennials are much more at ease with the idea of the gig economy. In fact, we need to think more broadly than that. Future generations are likely to be much more familiar with the idea of work flexibility. And that includes the next wave of global mobility professionals who will bring new attitudes to our industry.

We have already discussed on this blog how global mobility should perhaps be called ‘value fluidity – because it’s not about moving people, but locating value and skills where they need to be. Perhaps this kind of thinking will become more common: as we are starting to see evidence of a decline in traditional assignments, we are also seeing a new, more flexible attitude to relocation.

And that may be exactly what the companies of the future need to stay ahead of the (relocation) game.            

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