2016 Global Mobility Trends: Millennials and the Future of International Assignment Programs

Millennials and the Future of International Assignment Programs

As Millennials become a substantial part of the global workforce, there is growing research that indicates that their perspectives about work and careers are noticeably different than that of their work colleagues from other generations.

In many cases, international opportunities are desirable for Millennials. At the same time, talent needs are requiring more fluidity across borders, and populous countries such as China and in particular India are shepherding in massive numbers of younger workers into today’s global workforce.

Despite these trends, many companies have not yet established formal programs designed to include and engage Millennials as part of their global talent mobility strategy. In BGRS’s 2016 Global Mobility Trends Survey, we asked respondents to tell us what percentage of their assignees fell into a number of age ranges, including the 20 – 29 range which encompasses Millennials in general. Based on the survey results, roughly 1 in 10 of today’s international assignees is a Millennial.  Most survey respondents indicate that the highest percentage of their assignees is between 40-49 years old (38%), with the second highest percentage (31%) between 30-39 years old. The 20-29 years old category came in nearly last, ahead of only the 60+ category.  Historically, the 40 – 49 years old and 30 – 39 years old categories have, year after year, always contained the highest percentages of assignees.  Given the high cost and high visibility of most international assignments, it is not surprising that many companies choose to invest in sending older, presumably more experienced employees on assignment.

However, there are a small but important number of companies that are more often engaging Millennials in their international assignment programs, and these are companies where the role of Mobility is seen as more aligned to the company’s talent management practices. When we compare these companies and what percentage of their assignees that fall into a number of age ranges, their age distribution looks significantly different from the rest of the survey respondents.  The companies who see the role of Mobility as aligned to the talent agenda are sending more Millennials on international assignments than the rest. In fact, those companies have double the percentage of international assignees who are 20-29 years old (22%) and nearly 10% fewer international assignees in the range of 40-49 years old than the overall respondents.

This distinction is not specific to any one or more types of industry. Even though, for example, companies in the technology sector tend to employ comparatively a larger percentage of younger workers than other industries.  When we look at the companies aligned to the talent agenda, and thus the ones with a higher percentage of younger international assignees, the distribution of respondents was evenly split across industries.

Companies focused on growing their talent will often implement robust employee developmental programs. Rotational assignments and graduate assignments are two examples of where mobility policies can form cornerstones of these programs. These programs can be designed to achieve a variety of objectives, from onboarding large numbers of newly trained university students to giving high potentials exposure to all aspects of a multinational’s business. They can also be used successfully to ensure future leaders obtain all-important global management experience.

Within organizations nurturing and building a truly globally capable workforce, an international assignment is often viewed as the ultimate development opportunity. This certainly holds true in the 2016 Global Mobility Trends Survey where those companies that rank individual employee development as part of their top three international assignment objectives also have a higher percentage of their assignees that are 20-29 years old.

In addition, a considerable number of companies (41%) say they use their global mobility policies for recruiting desired talent externally. When looking to attract top talent, global organizations can utilize its mobility policies and programs as a means to differentiate themselves from the competition, and this can be essential when looking to attract Millennials who often are drawn to opportunities that include an international experience.

Shifts in the global mobility landscape are resulting in companies moving fewer assignees under traditional long term assignment policies and more assignees under alternative policy types, such as short term assignments, one-way transfers, or business travelers. If this trend continues, we could also see the percentage of Millennials involved in global mobility programs fluctuate as well.  As companies look to meet the talent shortage, attracting and retaining Millennials will be key. By defining, developing, and implementing mobility programs that target Millennials, mobility can play a significant role in making this happen and supporting the company’s business and talent objectives.

Visit the 2016 Global Mobility Trends microsite at globalmobilitytrends.bgrs.com to learn more.