Friday, October 10, 2014

Will U.S. Workers Start Going Abroad?

A few decades ago, there was little reason for American workers to think seriously about looking for jobs in another country. Sure, a stint abroad might make add some broadening experience, or offer a chance to earn money and do some tourism at the same time. But looking ahead at the next few decades, an ever-growing share of the economic action and opportunity is going to be outside U.S. borders. A study published by the Boston Consulting Group and The Network on "Decoding Global Talent: 200,000 Survey Responses on Global Mobility and Employment Preference" offers some hints.

It's worth remembering that this survey is a not-designed-to-be-representative Internet survey, and so the results should be interpreted with caution. But the survey did receive 200,000 responses, mostly from people who are using on-line job boards in the 132 countries where The Network has a presence. For me, that's enough of a sample to make the conclusions interesting.

At present, the U.S. economy is still the single most preferred destination for the rest of the world. U.S. workers are still among the least likely to consider working abroad or to already be working abroad: "Among everyone in the world, people in the U.S. are the least enthusiastic about moving abroad for work. Only about 35 percent of Americans say they would consider such a move, compared to 64 percent of people worldwide ..." U.S. workers are still more likely than their counterparts in the rest of the world to say that working abroad is about factors like personal experience, culture, and challenge, while being less likely to say that working abroad would be about a higher standard of living, bigger salary, or career opportunity.  Here's a figure showing those already working abroad, or with an expressed willingness to do so, by country.

The report notes: "On the other hand, people in the U.S., Germany, and the UK—three economies that have rebounded more convincingly—aren’t nearly as willing to go abroad for work. Barely a third of U.S. respondents say they’d consider the idea, and only about 44 percent of those in the UK and Germany say they would be interested in taking a job in another country. The reasons for the lower numbers differ, but many people in these countries say economic stability and the comfort of home keep them from considering a job abroad." 

But what about younger workers? " In most countries, young people are more mobile than their older compatriots. One of the biggest differentials is in the U.S. At 59 percent, Americans 21 to 30 are far more willing than Americans in general to consider opportunities abroad, possibly because of the difficulty many of them have had in getting their careers started in the wake of the financial crisis. Partly in reaction to this, many educated young Americans now consider nontraditional starts to their careers, for instance, through temporary overseas assignments with nonprofits like Teach for All." 

The horizontal axis shows the willingness to work abroad for those in the 21-30 age bracket. US workers in this category are still near the lower end of the scale. But the vertical axis shows how those in the 21-30 age bracket compare with the national average. For most countries, many of which are already more integrated into the idea of an international economy than the United States, young workers have more-or-less the same willingness to work abroad. But for the United States, along with the United Kingdom, Canada, and Sweden, younger workers are expressing much greater willingness to work abroad than older workers.

People from countries all around the world have already become used to the idea that careers will often move across countries. This survey is at least a bit of evidence that young U.S. workers are headed that way, too. The report offers this thought: 
"In other words, there is likely to be a much freer flow of talent in the workplace of the future. If they want to be part of it, individuals may not have much choice but to spend parts of their careers in places that aren’t home. To do anything else could be career stifling. “To me, it’s a must,” says Harald Legros, a 39-year-old Frenchman who has worked in Singapore, Hong Kong, and the UK and is now back in his native country, living in ­Bordeaux and running an international trade business. “You have to be able to move to the locations where there might be jobs or new business opportunities. If you just say, ‘No, no, I’ll stay in my country forever,’ that might be complicated because in this day and age the world is pretty much open.”

Acknowledgement: I ran across this report at the Real Time Economics blog run by the Wall Street Journal here.