In January 2018, the Office of National Statistics reported that the UK employment rate had risen by 102,000 in the quarter to November 2017. This meant the employment rate had reached 75.3%, the joint highest rate since comparable records began in the 1970’s. Unemployment has also fallen to the lowest rate since 1975, while the number of vacancies reached a record high of 810,000 in the three months to December, indicating a strong demand for firms hiring going in to 2018.
On the face value, it would point to optimism in the UK market for employment in a general context, but is that a true reflection of what is going on in mobility and what could be the big impacts for 2018?
Sourcing Talent and Immigration policy
Many governments are looking at tightening up boarder security. For the UK, the record number of vacancies is a great indicator that firms are optimistic going in to 2018. With the government mandate to cap net migration, what could be the impact if firms aren’t able to find qualified candidates in the current market space? The British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) reported that the shortage of skilled workers is approaching a critical level and could be the biggest potential drag on business growth moving in to 2018. In a study undertaken by the Cartus Corporation, who surveyed global mobility managers in 2018 Trends in Global Relocation: Biggest Challenges Survey Report, 70% of respondents stated that immigration was a greater concern this year than last, and concerns were both internal and external. From the external side, issues included visa wait times, application complexity, political events (e.g. Brexit, US travel bans), as well as internal issues such as business managers not considering host location requirements and lack of knowledge around host location regulations. Skill shortages, increased vacancy levels and government policy could have a huge impact in the business growth if not addressed properly. It is clear to see that there are opportunities out there but by not having the skilled labour available, where will firms be able to turn to? Jane Gratton, Head of Business Environment & Skills at the BCC, recently stated that “The UK should be striving to attract the brightest talent from around the world, so it’s crucial that our immigration policy reflects this.”
GDPR legislation comes in to effect in May this year. This will introduce big changes and increase scrutiny around data protection and privacy rights for EU citizens. This will in turn create new levels of responsibility for global organisations in how they keep EU citizen data secure. New data released from Port.Im revealed 50% of businesses are unaware of their responsibilities regarding GDPR law. 73% of firms surveyed collect personal data, while only 27% think this legislation can be applied to them. GDPR will affect not only global businesses with EU offices but also firms who have EU nationals working globally. Assignment costs are always high on the agenda for a mobility manager and in the Cartus survey, 44% of respondents stated cost as a bigger concern than previous years. With the increased protection around GDPR this could create much more unwanted assignment costs, but firms have to act on this quickly and make sure they operating within the new legislation. Mark Costa-Rising of the Global Relocation firm, AGM Group/Gerson Relocation recently stated “Those ignoring GDPR are putting current and future global mobility projects in jeopardy. The key to avoiding problems is immediate action. Any corporation employing European Union citizens must start to shore up their data protection and privacy policies in relation to the GDPR. Those that are caught out implementing changes after the deadline open themselves to potential regulation breaches, and the consequences attached”.
Mobility (like all industries) has had many advancements in technology. Organisations can now track most assignment related data with many software tools available at their disposal. The case for technological advancement is clear, allowing for better data gathering and assignment tracking and, in the long run, helping reduce costs for assignments in general. In a study undertaken by ECA International last year, who surveyed mobility teams across Asia, they found 63% of respondents reported no change or reduced investment in IT solutions over the past couple of years. Reducing costs is nothing new and (as already mentioned), is ever at the forefront in the Mobility Manager’s mind. Though investing in technology can save money in the long run. One trend we saw increasing in 2017 was the use of virtual teams to reduce assignment costs. This obviously reduces relocation costs as there is no assignment involved, but what does that mean for assignments moving forward? This is obviously not a new concept and many global firms operate virtual teams - of course there are draw backs, but it does pose more questions on the fate of the long-term assignment. In ECA’s survey, they found long-term assignments equated to 45% of firms’ overseas assignments which was down from two-thirds when surveyed in 2008.
In ECA’s survey, 88% of organisations believe that their mobility department should be more strategic than transactional, but only 13% think they are achieving strategic input. This could be attributed to cost savings with mobility team headcount being reduced as part of the cost cutting process. We have recently seen less and less hiring at the senior level on a permanent basis, which could potentially be linked to the feeling of less strategic input. On the flip side, we have seen an increase in short-term contract positions. Whether a cost cutting exercise or due to market uncertainty this is becoming more and more prevalent in the mobility space. Could we be about to see the creation of a mobility gig economy which focuses on offering mobility services in the short term at a strategic level? Only time will tell but it’s worth noting as a potential trend that has started to emerge more and more recently.