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Global Mobility Issues for the Oil & Gas Sector

Ever-growing energy demands are creating opportunities for mobile workers and their employers in both new and traditional destinations.

Together, these locations are all providing fresh challenges for oil and gas HR and global mobility teams as they work to support corporate strategy and provide the highly skilled technical talent required to service rising energy needs responsibly and cost-effectively.


Job mobility versus employee mobility 

The changing expectations of employees are leading companies to reassess the concept of mobility. Traditionally companies have been moving people to jobs but are now increasingly considering moving jobs to people.

For oil and gas employers, the application will be limited to certain professions and roles since many operational jobs are not mobile. However, companies cannot ignore the broader workforce trend that the stereotype of traditional expatriates coming from their home country to a destination to support the local operation is being replaced by highly mobile expatriate gig workers bringing their expertise when and where needed.

In other words, they are offering assignees a greater say in how and where they will be working. This implies flexible working conditions, an increase in commuter assignments, and making better use of frequent flyers and virtual assignments, using technology to make this transition easier.


Generations on the move 

Despite the increasing willingness among millennial workers to move abroad for work, the destinations favoured typically include global hubs and popular cities such as London, Dubai, Singapore, or Shanghai, and not necessarily include the offshore destinations where oil and gas companies need them.

Most oil jobs will remain in the current areas of the Middle East, the Gulf of Mexico, North America, Russia, the North Sea and parts of Asia. Of all these regions, Asia is set to expand the fastest. Relocation sector surveys confirm that demand for inbound relocation is higher in Asia than in most other regions, a trend that is expected to intensify.

Appetite for international experience also goes hand in hand with increased expectation in terms of lifestyle, career opportunities, and flexibility. The focus of recruitment negotiations and relocation packages will not just be on the size of the compensation package but will include the experience, work-life balance, and career development perspectives on offer.

Companies might have to offer a more holistic approach than just cash or vague promises about career perspective. Millennials will not make mobility easier, they won’t necessarily make it harder, but they will make it different. Companies will need to adapt to their needs to avoid losing talent and developing synergies by aligning their mobility practices with the expectation of the new generations.

While millennials capture the headlines, the population and the workforce are aging fast, not only in developed countries but also in many emerging markets. This is putting pressure on pensions but also affecting the way people work.

Aside from the aging of the general population, other factors are driving the increasing number of older assignees – employees in their 50s are potentially more mobile than younger employees with families and might be tempted to go on one more assignment before retiring.

They can also be tempted to offer their expertise internationally on a freelance basis. Certain industry sectors have been relying on older workers and even brought back employees from retirement. That was the case a few years ago in the oil and gas sector when companies had to bring back engineering from retirement to bridge talent gap and while investments in the oil sector have more recently dropped, the trend of bringing back or extending the career of highly skilled individuals with critical skills for the business is likely to continue.

The challenge is therefore not only to accommodate the needs of the millennials but foster an inclusive corporate culture that also use the expertise of older assignees, takes into account their priorities (e.g. saving for retirement) and their specific needs, such as caring for elderly parents.


Flexibility, duty of care & cost control 

The preference of millennials for greater flexibility and the imperative of adapting host-based approaches to specific country conditions are driving the need for increasing flexibility in global mobility policies.

Some companies are considering having two parts in their global policies: one part covering global principles and a more flexible second part reflecting local conditions. More generally there is an increasing appetite for cafeteria-style policies that mirror the flexible benefits provided to local employees.

The limit to this flexible approach is the duty of care that companies have: in hardship locations, companies might need to limit the flexibility given to assignees to limit risks.

More generally the question of duty of care and minimum level of support can be expanded to encompass exchange rate issues, insurance questions, and pension decisions. More flexibility therefore implies that educating mobile employees on financial and benefits decisions will increasingly play an important role.


Expat gig workers 

The growing complexity of global mobility is not just about having more short-term assignments or commuters. Some of your future assignees might not even work for your company. This trend has existing for many years in the oil, gas, and engineering industries where contractors and freelancers are used on a regular basis. The trend is now reaching many more sectors and types of jobs.

We are seeing an increasing number of highly skilled professionals willing to market themselves directly in the host location as opposed to being hired in their home location and relocated to the assignment location by the company.

In some cases, these highly skilled professionals are hired as freelancers rather than as permanent employees. The rise of the gig workers who go from project to project for multiple employers is part of the future of work. The implications of this new way of working for global mobility and international assignment models are already being felt.


Business traveller risks 

As more companies have become better at tracking their short-term assignments, the focus is moving to extended business trips, commuters and frequent travellers. In the new global mobility landscape, international assignment management should be seen as a continuum ranging from extended business trips to long-term and localisation and should cover different types of moves that were not traditionally considered as part of global mobility.

These types of moves however present a host of challenges for companies from compliance, tax, emigration, and security perspective to cost issues, and coordination issues (across teams and geographies), technology limitations (no system available or lack of integration of the different systems) and siloed teams (tax, immigration, and HR) are limiting the efficiency of the tracking processes.

Should it be the responsibility of the mobility team to track these types of moves? Wherever the responsibility lies, the HR and mobility teams are often better equipped to do it than other departments, and it is in the interest of the company to facilitate smooth processes.


Diverse workers in non-diverse locations 

Fostering assignee diversity is allowing companies to tap into new pool of talent and is becoming a significant advantage in the global talent war.

However, managing a diverse assignee talent pool when doing business in destinations where diversity might not be welcome is a challenge. From practical questions about sending non-married couples to destinations when non-married couples are not tolerated, to serious concerns linked to the ethnicity, nationality, gender or sexual preferences of the assignees, the risks and potential barriers to mobility are numerous.

Employees might sometimes be willing “to take a chance” but companies have a duty of care. Sometimes facilitation, cultural training and careful planning can help but in any case issues need to be openly discussed and anticipated.


Need assistance?

DavidsonMorris are established advisers to the oil & gas sector. As employer solutions lawyers, from offices in Aberdeen and London, Cambridge, Manchester and Birmingham we work with multinational energy companies to support with their full global mobility requirements including employment & immigration law advice and human resource consultancy. We understand the commercial and legal challenges facing oil and gas companies, and work to support our clients meet their workforce management and planning needs while reducing legal risk exposure. Contact our oil and gas sector specialists today.

Last updated: 2nd January 2020

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