New Solutions for a New Generation of Expats?

As we discussed in our last blog post, the demographics of international assignees are changing, reflecting shifts in society. While the profile of expats has always changed over time, with each new generation bringing their own values and expectations, the last few decades have seen radical social changes and an unprecedented revolution in technology, which combine to present the global mobility industry with a unique set of challenges.

There is no doubt that employers and relocation professionals need to respond to these changes – but how? Without the benefit of being able to look into the future, and with a picture that is still evolving, perhaps the best place to start is to consider those factors we can be sure of.

We know that:

  • A globalised economy and an increasingly mobile international workforce mean the number of people relocating for work is set to continue rising.
  • Gender diversity, an aging population and changes to the conventional family model are impacting on the demographic profile of international assignees, making it impossible to define a ‘typical’ expat.
  • The pre-digital ‘baby boomer’ generation is moving out of the global workplace to enjoy retirement. Taking their place are the digital immigrants of ‘generation X’, followed closely by the first generation of true digital natives – the ‘millennials’.
  • Organisations are more budget-conscious than ever, and are seeking the most cost-effective relocation solutions.

So what does this all mean for the relocation industry?

  • Support needs will change. It’s no longer possible for HR departments and relocation professionals to take a ‘one size fits all’ approach, and bespoke support packages will be required to meet the needs of a new generation of expats who may span a wider age group, be male or female, single or married, with or without children or in a same-sex relationship. In short, ‘cookie cutter’ style formatted solutions are no longer appropriate.
  • Established packages may not be attractive to millennial workers who have different drivers. They are more likely to have travel experience and be more globally aware than their predecessors. While they will still need support, the services they will be looking for are likely to be far more flexible and less prescriptive than those that suited the baby boomers.
  • For the next few years at least, there will be an added layer of complexity for those organisations supporting expats as they have to provide solutions for diminishing numbers of baby boomers on the one hand, and fast-growing numbers of millennials on the other. They will need to manage change effectively by understanding the very different requirements of these groups and what they need, modifying their corporate structure to deliver appropriate support to different people in parallel with shifting expat profiles.

New solutions for a new generation?

Amid much uncertainty, we can be sure of one thing – understanding the emerging millennials will be critical to success. Their increased mobility, expectations of having several employers, and their ambition for faster career progression – sometimes at the expense of monetary rewards make them very different to previous generations. As well as developing innovative, more flexible services, new ways of delivering them need to be considered. Born and raised as digital natives, it seems reasonable to anticipate that this new, digitally savvy generation of international assignees will expect to be able to access services online. This possibility presents potentially significant benefits to all parties; it gives the assignee more control by allowing them to access services as and when they are ready, and it gives the assigning company the option to take advantage of a highly cost-effective medium. Of course, human interaction will always be important for some aspects of relocation, and it will be crucial for employers and professionals exploring this route, to find ways of integrating a personal element into the process where it’s needed.

The concept of online relocation is already reality, and I’m currently in discussions with RelocateYourself (, a business that has a vision to transform the future of relocation. The company has developed software that helps assignees to identify their needs quickly and plan accordingly. The relocating company purchases credits, which the assignee can redeem online for the services they want – when they need them. It’s a solution that’s far more cost-effective than traditional hand-held relocation – the assignee benefits from the expertise and experience of a global team of relocation experts (‘Relocation Angels’) when they need them, while the assigning business can spend as much or as little as they like, channelling their resources into services of their choosing.

What do you think? Is delivering services online the future of global mobility? If you’re a relocation professional, or you are one of the new generation of expats yourself, we’d love to hear your thoughts at expatknowhow.

If you are relocating staff internationally, expatknowhow can support you with a wide range of services including intercultural training programmes, helping to make the process as painless as possible!

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One Response to New Solutions for a New Generation of Expats?

  1. Apple Gidley says:

    Interesting and so very relevant Claire – makes me realise I am becoming part of the expat dinosaur brigade. However, the emotional side of expatriation remains very much the same, particularly for those who are the ‘following’ partner. For some the issues of finding their feet in foreign lands, despite a great deal of digital research and an expectation of easy transition, is still a quagmire that can radically impact an assignment.

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