Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Asia Drawing More Americans Seeking Career Opportunities

While still in relative infancy, I expect this story in USA Today to become an increasingly common situation, especially for younger Americans.  After decades of foreigners coming to our shores for work opportunities, we may be at the beginning of a massive sea change.  While much more common in Europe to cross borders for work (especially after the fall of the Iron Curtain), Americans generally only left the country to find work for 'adventure'.  In the years to come, I expect far more of this reverse migration to occur due to need.  Thus far it is mostly 'white collar', what will be interesting to see is if we see the same trends we saw in Europe 5-10 years ago - such as Poles moving to Britain to do blue collar work.

  • For years, foreigners have come to Asia for adventure and career development as its economies have developed at a breakneck speed. But this trend is accelerating after the recession as booming Asian nations provide jobs and other business opportunities that Americans can't find in their own country. American companies such as General Electric and Caterpillar are also expanding aggressively in Asia, and transferring U.S. executives to key positions in the region.
  • Job placement firms are reporting a surge in American worker interest in booming economies such as Hong Kong, Singapore, China and, increasingly, India. Hunt Partners, an executive search firm, estimates that it's getting 50% to 100% more unsolicited résumés from Americans looking for Asia-based positions today than before the recession. Other recruiting firms, including Korn/Ferry International, Robert Walters and Manpower, are also reporting a significant rise in Americans looking for work in Asia.
  • In places such as Singapore, China and Hong Kong, senior executives can usually expect to be paid as much as or more than in the U.S. for a similar position, says Steve Fisher, an executive recruiter at Korn/Ferry. Housing and educational stipends also sweeten the deal. "You have a huge number of jobs in Asia, where it's very difficult for the local talent to meet the kinds of needs the countries have," whether in architecture or radiology, he says.
  • Yet, for every American who finds a job in Asia, many more go away empty-handed. In China, for instance, it's getting harder for foreigners to find jobs at the salaries they expect, because expatriate packages are being phased out, and Chinese who studied abroad are returning home to compete with foreigners, says Shaun Rein, author of The End of Cheap China: Economic and Cultural Trends that will Disrupt the World, which is scheduled to be published in March.
  • Throw in cultural and language barriers, and Asia's pitfalls can outweigh its potential. Erin Ruck, 27, realized Asia wasn't a good long-term fit after working in Hong Kong and immersing herself in Mandarin lessons in mainland China. Somewhere along the way, learning the language ceased to be fun. "But the biggest deal breaker for me," says Ruck, of Menlo Park, Calif., "was not having clean air and an outlet to be active" in China.
  • Zennon Kapron, 35, who trains on Shanghai's congested roads for Iron Man triathlons, also finds China's pollution challenging. But his thriving business keeps him there. "The business opportunity here is just so large, and I'm not even sure what I would go back to in the U.S., given the deteriorating situation," says Kapron, the founder of Kapronasia, which helps technology companies do business in China.
  • For many Americans, issues such as pollution and culture shock — traditionally barriers to moving to Asia — are taking a back seat to the opportunity for career advancement, says Matthew Bennett, a managing partner at Robert Walters recruiting firm in Hong Kong. "In the U.S., there are fewer opportunities for people to grow, especially those in the midexecutive range," he says. "They're sitting in these positions and thinking, 'If I want to move up in my career, where do I go?'"
  • Those seeking opportunities in Asia generally aren't blue-collar workers, whose jobs are most at risk in the U.S.  They're professionals who are finding more opportunity in thriving Asian economies than in the stagnant domestic market.
  • After the recession, more U.S. and foreign companies are relocating senior staff to Singapore "to capture opportunities in Asia," says Damian Chan, international director of the Americas for the Singapore Economic Development Board.
  • A growing number of American companies realize they need to be "sensitive to the fact that they're losing head count in the U.S.," says Bennett, of Robert Walters recruiting firm in Hong Kong. That's why "a lot of these new positions have to be advertised internally rather than externally, to give people the opportunity to come to Asia."
  • Many Americans who come to Asia hope their work and life experience will make them more marketable in the U.S.  Jacob Schickler, 25, moved to Beijing in 2009, and eventually found a job in business development for a German company. He's betting that working in China will give him an edge over peers in the U.S.  "Many of my friends are bright, intelligent people with very expensive degrees, but they have not been able to put their degrees to use yet," says Schickler. "I'm getting real work experience."
[Jun 8, 2009: WSJ - Global Migration Reverses for First Time Since Great Depression]

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