Relocation to remote locations

At the Canadian Employee Relocation Council’s annual conference in Montreal, TheMIGroup’s Gail Reinhart and Dwellworks’ Sandra Cairns will deliver a session on relocation to remote locations.

Canada Mountains
Sandra Cairns, a long-standing industry figure who currently serves as VP of Dwellworks Canada, believes that remote locations have specific challenges when you're trying to relocate people to them. "There's no single solution to the set of concerns that presents itself," she says.The definition both she and Gail Reinhart, VP of client relations for TheMIGroup in Western Canada, give for a 'remote' location is one that's 350 kilometres from the nearest urban centre. Access may be only via a wintertime ice road, or even a floatplane."Before the practical problems of assignments to such places present themselves," Sandra Cairns says, "you have to look at who you are trying to move. Finding the right candidate for the move, not just from a talent perspective but also from a lifestyle perspective, has to be the first priority in any of these remote-location moves. If you don't have the services available to the family, it's going to fail, no matter how much you support them."In global relocation, Gail Reinhart notes, finding that 'right candidate' has been a high priority for many years. "What you find with industry is that there might not be quite as much effort put into assessing someone who you're moving within your own country. But if you're moving from Vancouver to Norman Wells (the regional centre for the Sahtu Region of Canada's Northwest Territories), that's a significant culture shock."It's not just the obvious resource-based industries, such as oil and gas, in which these moves happen. "It also cuts across a lot of organisations. Government, the banks – all that support infrastructure that goes with these places where people are living," says Gail Reinhart.The type of candidate who might suit a move to such a remote location can vary. "It goes across all age groups," Ms Reinhart explains, "but it's certainly easier if you don't have school-age children. You could be older and your children have gone, or you have no children, or younger and have no children."The other problem that you're going to run into – and it's a big one – is your spouse finding a job in one of these locations. You could be going to a place where there's one plant and one employer, so now you've got loss of income. It won't be easy to replace that income in one of these locations.""Some policies include spousal assistance," says Gail Reinhart, "but it's never going to be replacing an income. They'll offer support services, like helping people find employment in that location.""What Gail and I have been doing," says Sandra Cairns, "is developing programmes where, in the situation where there won't be a job, money is spent on support for the spouses once they're there."

A walk on the wild side

Some employers that have struggled to recruit to remote locations have designated certain zones that they will fly staff to and from – usually large urban centres with strong healthcare and education facilities – so that families don't have to be right on the front lines. This is similar to an international rotation, Gail Reinhart explains.Some remote communities have reputations as wild, very male, places. In this sort of location, some employers have consciously moved away from a fly-in/fly-out model, forcing transferees to bring their families in a bid to create a stronger sense of community, with leisure infrastructure being built to support that.Schooling can be another difficult area. "You might be going from a big city where your kids' school is only two blocks away to somewhere where you're putting them on a bus to go to another community," says Gail Reinhart.Sandra Cairns adds that when you're dealing with communities of 500 people, housing can be very difficult to find, and, where it is available, accommodation may be quite old. Beyond that, any number of other services, such as healthcare or even government offices, may be in short supply, making something as simple as renewing a driving licence more difficult than transferees are used to."From a supplier perspective, for years we banged our heads against a wall trying to find qualified people who could act as consultants within those towns. To find them, train them, and then retain them, if you're only moving three or four people to a location a year, is difficult," says Sandra Cairns.The picture is worse for international remote relocations, in which there may be language barriers."We've become quite creative about how we deliver those services. We do it remotely, virtually. We have virtual consultants, and we'll be presenting on how to deal with that better," Sandra Cairns adds. Ever-improving communications technology does help, though."It can be a great tool when used properly," says Ms Cairns. "The guidance of a qualified person to go through information with you, and provide you with information that's accurate, is really relevant."In their Canadian Employee Relocation Council conference session, Relocation to Remote Locations (29 September), Sandra Cairns and Gail Reinhart will dig more deeply into the problems facing transferees heading to remote locations, and outline where policy may be heading when dealing with these challenges.
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