26 March 2008

The Overseas Option

This lead story appeared in Issue 23 of my Newsletter, InSight. Published: 12 March 2008

In the cruisey, carefree days of the 1980's, the most popular destination for Australians wanting to work overseas (me included) was London. A majority of the Aussies you congregated and got lubricated with on a Sunday afternoon at ‘The Church' (a pub where the only praying was for a shorter queue at the bar) were likely to be working as accountants, nurses, lawyers, teachers, bar staff or secretaries.

Fast forward nearly 20 years and ‘going OS' for an Australian has much more meaning than simply a working holiday visa in the UK. Amongst many other options, Australians now have unprecedented access to USA working visas. This is due to the annual issue of 10,500 E3 visas which unlike working holiday visas, have no age restrictions.

The E3 visa can be granted to an Australian citizen who has found a sponsor employer in the United States. The job must be categorised as a "specialty occupation". This term is not specifically defined but it basically means degree qualified professionals in fields such as accounting, law, engineering, medicine, IT etc.

There is limited scope for non-degree but relevant qualified-by-experience skilled workers to also be granted an E3 visa. The visa is for an initial period of two years and is renewable by the sponsoring employer.

The global skills shortage and the travel-happy nature of Australians has seen an explosion of employment opportunities for talented Australians, as the Australian Financial Review (AFR) has revealed over the past few months:


  • According to government statistics, more than 1 million Australians now live and work overseas. In recent years, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has estimated that more than 100,000 Australians live in Asia alone, most notably in Hong Kong and Indonesia and 57,000 Australians live in New Zealand (07 December 2007)
  • The London office of international law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer held a drinks reception in Sydney on Wednesday 5 March 2008 to "discuss our international opportunities"  (15 February 2008)
  • Joint lead partner of the Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) practice at Allens Arthur Robinson, Ewen Crouch, predicts that Australian lawyers with M&A experience will continue to be head-hunted by overseas firms this year. "Australia really produces excellent lawyers" he says, putting this down to Australia's good education system and Australians not being too fussy about working conditions. (7 December 2007)
  • A quartet of KPMG Australian tax trekkers will leave the country on a staggered basis over the next few weeks for overseas secondments within the firm's Asian network. The idea behind KPMG's Tax Trek program (since it was initiated in 2006), is that four employees from KPMG Australia's tax division will be selected each year and given the opportunity to travel and gain international work experience in an Asian KPMG office for three months. All expenses will be covered by the firm. (9 November 2007)
  • An increasing number of professionals are being lured to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), including Russia.

    Link Recruitment's Jason Cartwright says one of Link's major clients is professional services firm KPMG, which has 26 offices across Russia and the CIS. Cartwright says that the most in-demand professionals are accountants and lawyers with at least four years post-qualification experience.

    "There are some enormous projects and exciting work up there and people who have spent four to six years in their careers after their degree find they can be involved in work they wouldn't see in Australia" (7 December 2007)
  • Chris Bell, Operations Director of global property and construction recruiters Hill McGlynn, says there is also strong demand in Russia for Australian property professionals, mainly in project management.

    "Aussies have the experience in high-rise and big malls" Bell says. While the money is good it is the exciting and different work conditions and unique projects which lure property professionals to Russia and the CIS. (7 December 2007)
Last Saturday, Hays advertised in The Age newspaper (Melbourne) for recruitment consultants and made a point of stating that after 2 years employment there is the opportunity to move to one of the 350 plus other Hays locations around the globe.

Smart recruitment companies understand that it's either ‘kill or be killed' in the global market for talent, and that particularly applies to themselves, as a huge employer of Gen Y staff, those most likely to want to make a global move.

Late in 2007, ASX-listed recruiter, Ambition Group Limited, purchased London-based recruitment business Witan Jardine Holdings Ltd and.  One of the stated reasons for the acquisition was the leverage to be gained by cashing in on the skilled professional worker traffic between Australia and the UK.

This financially aggressive move represents a new era in Australian recruitment companies broadening their horizons beyond their own shores - and no doubt there is more to come.

The US move, in issuing a quota of E3 visas for Australians, is also a very significant one in that it signals that we are indeed in a new era of rapidly reducing barriers to the global flow of skills.

For Australian recruitment companies that are in the blue collar, industrial or low end white collar market, this may not be an issue of concern due to the highly localised nature of their client and talent market.

Those professional market recruiters who are serious about growing their market share and credibility will want to carefully consider their strategy in this area.

To make it profitable to invest in the resources necessary to ensure international recruiting is successful, my major recommendation is to have consultants or divisions dedicated to international recruitment. Having the odd consultant make the occasional overseas placement is unlikely to achieve anything worthwhile.

Many recruitment companies will continue to make excellent profits without giving the international market a second thought. However the benefits of looking overseas strategically and being proactively involved in international recruitment, is likely to generate handsome returns over the next 3-5 years.

As the globalisation of the skills market accelerates, more European and American-based recruitment companies will be looking our way to try to cash in on our skilled, motivated and travel-happy workforce.

I suggest now is the right time to take a closer look at your current client and candidate base and consider whether expanding into international recruitment is of benefit to you. 

Australians are world class at many things - why not international recruitment?

1 comment:

  1. Please comment on this article and share your views with the recruitment community.

    ReplyDelete