Author: Mike Morrow

Globalization has shrunk the world in which we live, and broad, international experience has been in increasingly high demand for our manufacturing clients around the world.  Never has talent been more mobile, and never has the mobility of talent been more critical for business success.  Executives interested in advancement to the pinnacle of their fields need to seek out international opportunities – or at least not shy from them when they present themselves.

In a November 2014 TED Talk by Rainer Strack of The Boston Consulting Group, he highlighted the looming workforce crisis of 2030 in which a labor shortage combined with a mismatch of skills and cultural challenges will need to be addressed by companies and countries around the world.  The US, for example, will have a labor surplus of 10% in 2020, while Germany will have a labor shortage of 4% based on their workforce aged populations.  By 2030, the US will have a surplus of 4% while Germany will have a shortage of 23%.

Unfortunately, based on a BCG survey of 200,000 skilled workers in 189 countries, the US and other countries with notable labor surpluses are often among the least mobile workforces, with skilled workers who are the least willing to work abroad. 

We’ve seen this borne out in our executive recruitment activities.

In a recent search for the head of operations in India for a US-based capital equipment manufacturer, for example, we looked globally for expats with strong multicultural experience in advanced manufacturing operations.  Not one of our finalists on the search was a US national.  Instead, we had candidates from Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, and the Philippines.

On a search for the global CEO of a 10,000-person industrial client, the talent pool encompassed more than 20 countries across six continents in order to source top candidates who demonstrated success living and leading businesses in multiple regions around the world. As such, our search team also needed to be globally diverse. While the Chicago office led overall client management as well as direct recruiting efforts across the Americas, our London office directed recruiting efforts across EMEA while our Melbourne office coordinated Asia Pacific.

With the global nature of business today, the candidate who has punched their overseas assignment ticket will often get the nod over someone who has not.  When looking for a leader who will have global responsibility for a function or a business, nothing shows adaptability and flexibility like past success in an international assignment or two, where an individual is immersed in different cultures.

Some scenarios to consider and look out for:

  • Speak up, and let people within your organization know that you’re open to overseas assignments.
  • Keep an open mind on locations.  Not everyone’s first overseas assignment is Paris or Tokyo, and you may have to pay your dues elsewhere.
  • Supply chain, plant management, QA/QC, customer service, project management – all afford rich opportunities to gain international experience.
  • If your organization is considering establishing a presence in a new location overseas, volunteer to lead or be a part of the team.

Those willing to consider international assignments should jump at the opportunity as early in their careers as possible.  It never gets easier, as the excuse of kids turns into aging parents turns into grandchildren.  Checking that “international experience” box on your resume opens a world of opportunity for growth in this increasingly globalized business world.