Strategizing your way through a global talent shortage


For today's companies, one of the most important considerations as part of expanding abroad is the question of staffing a new facility. If businesses choose to bring some of their domestic employees abroad, then they must navigate the often-convoluted process of obtaining the appropriate visas for their employees, which will likely require expert assistance. However, most of the positions in the new location will likely be filled by local employees, which raises a new challenge of finding appropriately qualified workers in an unfamiliar location.

The challenge of finding local skilled workers becomes more daunting in the face of skilled labor shortages across the globe. In recent years, businesses in China, for example, have consistently reported difficulties in finding suitable employees. A 2013 report conducted by international accounting firm Grant Thornton stated that 55 percent of businesses in China cited a shortage of technical skills among workers as a major concern. As an answer to this, the Chinese government is focusing on offering more training programs to increase the number of skilled workers.

Brazil is in a similar situation, with its National Confederation of Industry warning of a possible shortage of some 570,000 workers in 2014 and 2015 (respectively). Part of its efforts to address this problem include looking across its borders to find foreign workers to fill these gaps. Brazil recently simplified the process for obtaining a work visa so that less paperwork is required and documents can be submitted online.

For companies trying to find skilled workers for a new international location, one way of mitigating these shortages is to develop a familiarity with the local culture and to learn what would-be employees expect from their workplaces. Such locally based, intercultural knowledge can help businesses ensure they are presenting themselves as an attractive place to work, thus giving themselves an edge over other firms competing for the same workers. For example, in a piece on talent recruitment in BRIC countries, Ernst & Young advises that companies looking to attract talent in Brazil promote a "high-energy and socially oriented culture," whereas companies seeking talent in India should emphasize "speedy promotions and corresponding salary increases."

Another tactic is to try and find "local" workers on your home soil. For example, some German companies are seeking out and recruiting Chinese masters students in Germany for positions in German-based companies with locations in China. These students already have a handle on German culture and language through their experiences studying in Germany, but they also have the benefit of being intimately familiar with the Chinese language and culture. Events like Cologne's Chinese Talent Days offer a way for German employers to connect with current Chinese masters students in Germany in order to find possible employees.

Statistics from the 2011 Global Talent Mobility Survey make it clearer why such a strategy might pay off for businesses. Of the international companies surveyed, 43 percent cited "cultural and language differences" as their biggest problem with international recruitment, and 34 percent cited legislation. Recruiting foreign nationals who have studied in your businesses' home country can help bypass both. 

Ultimately, this search for skilled workers is creating a competitive global environment in which skilled workers are the prize. Expanding companies are trying to lure skilled workers to their operations all over the globe, while countries fight to keep their homegrown workers from heading abroad (so-called brain drain). The key to maintaining an edge in this environment is for international companies to capitalize on local opportunities to attract foreign workers as well as to present themselves as a desirable places to work in foreign markets.