Last year, thousands of athletes from hundreds of countries competed in the London Olympics. The International Olympic Committee had no difficulty attracting the world’s leading sporting talent because the Olympics are considered as the pinnacle event for most sporting disciplines.
The global war for talent, the competition for skilled migrants, holds important parallels to the Olympics and Paralympics in that a breadth and depth of supply of talent exists across the world. But there are also stark differences: this war is not a one-off event. Therefore, countries and companies continue to face significant competition with attracting and retaining the best global workers.
The most talented arguably have greater choice than ever in deciding where to work. But many have to seek work outside of their home country because of the unevenness of global economic growth.
And while countries such as Taiwan are passing laws to streamline immigration to make it easier to attract top workers from across the world, the Portuguese government is encouraging the country’s young graduates to seek opportunities elsewhere.
Multinational corporations are realising that they cannot afford to limit their hiring to local and national labour markets when they can hire from a larger and more diverse global labour market.
After all, why would US firms restrict their talent search to the US border when China produces more PhD graduates? Or why would British firms look only to the UK and the European Union when India has more business graduates than the whole of Europe?
The flight of global talent exists across multiple sectors, from science to banking and from extractives to sport. The British footballer David Beckham, for example, has played for Manchester United (in the UK), Real Madrid (in Spain), LA Galaxy (in the US), AC Milan (in Italy) and shortly for Paris Saint-Germain (in France).
It is not only companies (in this case football clubs) that benefit from attracting foreign talent, but also individuals who benefit from the increasing international exposure to foreign markets which enables career and personal brand development.
Countries will lose the war for global talent unless they signal a shift in policy. National governments such as Australia need to convince their electorate that global talent is important for economic development during booms and busts. Their role is also significant because global talent is becoming more footloose, selective and demanding about which countries and opportunities will best suit their needs.
National governments need to implement strategies that both attract and retain skilled workers. Australia already has a relatively open door policy to global talent and has recently loosened its requirements for skilled foreign workers transitioning from temporary to permanent residency. But as the global war for talent intensifies, it will need to consider loosening its immigration and permanent residency policies further, which may well be at odds again with the electorate.
Companies also face growing challenges of attracting global talent because workers are moving jobs more frequently during their careers, otherwise known as “boundary-less careers” in business management parlance. Higher salaries or more generous relocation packages are important to a certain extent, but they are not necessarily the primary reason why migrants move or stay.
People move abroad for professional purposes as well as to seek a change in lifestyle, an amenable place to raise their children, an adventure or an opportunity to live in another country. Motivations also change over time with career opportunities being more important in the earlier stages of a migrant’s life, and family and lifestyle considerations being more important at the later stages.
Therefore, countries and companies need to balance these drivers and tailor them to the right people at the right time.