The landscape of business has changed over the last century into one that is much more global. Here Bob Robertson of Robertson Languages International examines the changing face of relocation services, and looks at how language skills are needed to compete in today’s multilingual world.
PricewaterhouseCoopers has published a fascinating report Talent Mobility and Beyond 2012, which highlights changes in the business world that will affect workforce mobility.
Particularly interesting is the fact that today’s managers think differently from their parents and have different expectations from an assignment.
“Baby Boomers”, born just after WW2 are currently approaching retirement. They have spent their careers in a world economy dominated by the West in which the predominant direction of expatriate assignments has been from West to East and the strength of the US and UK economies has permitted some of them to expect people of other languages to use English.
“Generation X”, born in the 60s and 70s, are now in senior positions. Due to air travel and technology, their view of international business is different. All their lives they have dealt with people from many countries in ways their seniors could never have imagined. For them, familiarity with different languages and cultures is normal and many consider it essential. For Generation X, relocation is not just a matter of “us” going “out there” but of colleagues criss-crossing the globe in all directions.
And what of the new generation? “Generation Y”, leaving university and starting their careers during and (we hope) after the current recession, face a world that is different again. For them, the world economy is no longer dominated by the West but will probably be by countries such as Brazil, India, China, South America, and Eastern Europe, none of which are English-speaking. The flow of assignments might be from anywhere to anywhere. Multilingualism and familiarity with different cultures will be a basic competence that no international manager can be without.
Generation Y will become the majority of the workforce by 2020. The PwC report has several implications. Generation Y expect to have overseas assignments as part of their career and they value opportunities for personal development more than financial reward. This is good news for the relocation industry as people will continue to go on overseas assignments for the foreseeable future. It also means that relocations will be different in the future. They will probably be from and to a greater variety of destinations and contain a more explicitly developmental purpose. As a result associated skills training will move from “nice to have” to essential.
The relative importance of English-speaking economies and other economies is undoubtedly changing. It would appear that managers from Generation Y will seek to develop their international competence through international assignments and be less tolerant than their predecessors of relocations that adversely affect their personal lives. As a result relocation service providers and global assignment managers will increasingly be called upon to provide language and cultural training and support as a routine part of assignments. We look forward to a future that offers opportunities for relocation service providers to expand their services into new areas.