Our Advisory team regularly conducts roundtable panels with corporate mobility managers from specific industry sectors to discuss and uncover current trends, challenges and best practices. Most recently, I moderated a session for the mining industry, and conversation ranged from the future of their workforce to how they’re planning to support the needs of mobile employees post-COVID. In this post, I’ll share a brief summary of our findings.
Driven by people with very specific skillsets, the mining industry depends heavily on workforce mobility to get the right talent wherever it’s needed. Because career paths often involve more than one assignment in a remote location with little infrastructure, duty of care is critical.
As for most industries, the pandemic was a game-changer. Mining was one of the few industries that had to continue sending employees on assignment to keep the wheels turning, but many requested to end their assignments early, and demand for more work-life balance became widespread. Participants collectively agreed that these challenges will only intensify in the future, and that the way they manage mobile talent going forward will be very different.
Throughout the discussion, five key takeaways emerged:
Managing Change is Critical to the Future of the Workforce
Mobility managers in the mining industry will need to fully understand the talent, cost and compliance implications — not to mention the risks — of a workforce distributed across various global locations. More than half of the attendees expect to evaluate their mobility programs to reflect a more agile workforce and changing business structure. One attendee cited the importance of bringing providers into the discussion and how they will continue to add value. The group agreed that their suppliers add value through their expertise and ability to offer advice and alternative approaches on each and every move.
Employee Expectations Are Rising
Participants agreed that employees have been through a lot over the past year, particularly in an industry that continued to send employees on assignments through the rise of COVID. Expectations have only increased, with a few reporting that they are finding reluctance for employees to go on another assignment. Several reported that employees requested repatriations prior to the end of their assignments, citing family issues as a concern. For an industry that relies on a steady pipeline of skilled talent, the market is competitive, and companies are striving to provide opportunities or incentives that give them an edge.
Improving Mobility Programs for Tomorrow’s Workforce
A silver lining of the pandemic, according to one attendee, was that it shined light on what is working well and what needs improvement. It allowed them to take a step back and examine gaps in the process. After a year of managing by exceptions, they are starting to look at a program that “makes sense” for the company. Several attendees echoed a trend of increased exceptions, which demonstrates the escalating needs of employees.
Most attendees anticipate reviewing their programs to ensure packages are competitive but not overly generous, and for good reason. Because employees are expected to go to several sites on successive assignments, it’s important to be clear on what the non-negotiables are in a package. One attendee indicated that the mining industry does not need to follow the trends of other industries, because the offering varies by location, often in remote areas. The specialized talent and array of remote locations require managers to consider how changes to the program will impact all stakeholders involved in the assignment.
Viewing Mobility Policies More Strategically
The group agreed that Global Mobility is taking a more strategic role within their organizations. Most participants said they’re working closely with business units and hiring managers to better assess candidates for assignments. One participant said she asks more follow up questions than she may have in the past to determine whether the candidate can adapt. Another said he sees his role as a “coach” to these candidates and combines talent evaluations with “big picture” questions related to their career and personal life. Overall, resiliency is a key quality participants will be looking for going forward.
Of course, conversations about reluctance to accept an assignment are difficult in an industry that relies on a mobile workforce. In the end, a suitable alternative may be to offer rotational business trips in lieu of an assignment.
Mobility’s Role in Talent Management and Remote Work
Several participants cited competition for talent as an ongoing challenge and they expect it to increase in the next few years. Some worry that they will lose talent as employees voice their desire for work/life balance in the form of remote work arrangements. Despite being an industry that requires industry expertise and skills developed on location, leadership is willing to consider remote work in their workforce planning.
Of course, as mining companies consider remote work, they will need to address duty of care, data security, payroll implications and method of communication to employees. Furthermore, costs associated with tax analysis and outsourcing payroll needs to be closely evaluated, due to the likelihood that there is no payroll entity in remote locations.
Family Concerns a Priority for Employees
Nearly all attendees expressed that the needs of accompanied and unaccompanied family members are expected to become a higher priority moving forward. Solutions include shorter rotations to address family separation, offering choice of locations when possible, and more support for the family.
Providing flexible options around cultural training and spouse/partner assistance goes a long way toward a positive experience. Spouses and partners can experience social isolation on an assignment, particularly if they are looking after children. While cultural training focuses on the entire family, providing networking opportunities with other expat families can be a tremendous support system when acclimating to the host country. These networks can be informal; something as simple as placing expatriate children in the same school at an assignment location provides a network and broader community for both the children and parents.
If you would like to learn more about this and other roundtables or would like to participate in one of Weichert’s future roundtables, please contact your Weichert representative to be added to our list.