Global mobility: A vital differentiator for the energy industry
Beth Bowen, senior vice president – global sales at Airswift
Millennials are often the subject of unfair negative stereotypes - lazy, entitled, narcissistic but such aspersions are far off the mark. In reality, this generation is coming into its own in terms of careers.
Over the next few years, they will hit their professional primes and increasingly be in a position to call the shots when it comes to the way we work. With 89 percent of respondents to our recent Global Energy Talent Index (GETI) aged 18-34 open to an international move, opportunities for flexible and international working will be expected as standard. At that point, companies and industries caught unawares will struggle to attract and retain the best talent. In this world, a robust and thought-through approach to global mobility will move from advantageous to essential.
There may be some strange media hysteria around millennials, but there are some general differences in outlook and career expectations for this generation that are worth bearing in mind.
One such trend is an increasing desire for remote working. According to the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017, more and more millennials want to work remotely from their employer’s main site – a full 64 per cent of them. The same survey links this kind of flexibility with improved performance and higher employee retention. Technology is increasingly enabling this type of employment, and the remaining barriers are often cultural ones.
Working remotely can mean home working, certainly, but in our experience, it also speaks to the millennial desire to work abroad. Gone are the days of a job for life in your home country – the modern worker wants a portfolio career taking in a variety of different roles across a number of different locations.
And as the number of desired locations expands, the duration of stay contracts. Whereas the international worker of today might be content staying put for five years or so, tomorrow’s will be more likely to move on after two. This increases the burden for employers looking to keep pace with their workforce’s international ambitions.
Experience remains as importance as ever, and millennials are rapidly acquiring it. Before long it will be the companies who can offer international opportunities that will attract and retain the most experienced talent.
Oil and gas has set the standard
If this all sounds familiar, it might be because you’re acquainted with the oil and gas sector. Owing to its naturally international and project-based characteristics, the oil and gas sector has long experience of enabling and even encouraging professionals’ global ambitions – experience the rest of the energy sector can learn from as it looks to accommodate an increasingly globetrotting workforce.
The sector exported its talent around the world for decades and has spent considerable effort in defining and refining what global mobility best practice looks like. Working with global mobility partners, oil and gas companies have smoothed the process of moving individuals and teams around the world.
Doing so is no mean feat. Items on the agenda include visa and immigration, safety and security, compliance and tax and payroll to name just a few. Then you have destination support services such as finding accommodation, securing school places for workers’ children, safe shipping of personal possessions etc. Doing all this safely and compliantly takes a small mountain of local expertise specific to each and every worker destination around the globe – it cannot be done effectively and safely from behind a computer half way across the world.
In one example from our experience, an assignee arrived into Africa at a time of particular social unrest and widespread protest. By meeting a local expert at the airport who knew the local risk areas, they were able to circumvent the trouble and had a detailed emergency evacuation briefing, if the situation escalated.
It is also important to ensure an experienced eye is across the policy on offer to ensure it is in line with market norms and reflective of the location. Traditionally, oil and gas companies have offered generous packages to tempt its key teams overseas, compensating them for the hardship and – in some cases – risk of the new location. That is all well and good, but a responsible business will keep abreast of going rates across the industry to ensure they are neither under or overpaying. It is recommended that companies review and update their global mobility policies every two years or at the time of key market changes.
These compensation packages though, are one of the key areas where the new-look worker may need different treatment to the traditional expat. This new generation is actively seeking international opportunities. Although locations with (perceived or real) higher risks or harder lifestyles may always require a premium payment, by and large relocation packages should reduce as the workforce is already incentivised to make the move.
This incentivisation element also highlights another key difference. Traditionally, the company persuades the individual to move. Now, it may be the other way around. That requires a different culture, one more open to listening to what a worker wants and needs from their career. If an employee mentions in an appraisal that they want to move abroad, they must feel and be heard.
If energy companies can get those things right – fit for purpose policies and a culture that supports and facilitates moves – they can then look to their peers in oil and gas to see how that can work in practice.
The joy of jet-setting
That said, the oil and gas sector isn’t immune from these changes itself. The industry is widely recognised as having an ageing workforce, but if we are optimistic and assume that challenge will be surmounted, then it will be left facing the same millennial workforce trends, as well as others.
For example, many countries around the world are introducing stricter local content rules. This doesn’t necessarily diminish the number of international assignments, rather it means shorter international deployments to train and develop the local workforce. Combine that with the millennial preference for shorter, more frequent deployments and you see a broader pattern shift to more numerous but shorter assignments.
The numbers bear out this desire for more international career paths. For example, across all age groups, GETI figures show that 87 percent of oil and gas workers would consider an international move. That mindset is mirrored across the energy industry with 76, 85 and 83 percent of workers in the nuclear, power and renewables industries feeling the same.
However, arguably the industry isn’t doing enough to facilitate this. Only 52 (oil and gas), 68 (nuclear), 55 (power) and 51 (renewables) percent of employers in each of these sectors actively promotes cross-regional transfers.
It’s clear that millennials are changing the workforce right across the energy industry. To attract and retain the best talent, firms will need to indulge their jet-setting career expectations – better workers have itchy feet with regards to location than employer. To do so, they can look to the oil and gas sector for guidance on global mobility best practice, but that sector itself isn’t free from change either. Those which can get global mobility right though – either on their own or with an experienced partner – will be best placed to survive and thrive in tomorrow’s world.