HR on the other side of the world

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With many businesses in Australia crying out for talent, could it prove a potential relocation target?

Few people in the UK will have heard of Coles Supermarkets, but in Australia, it’s as big a household name as Tesco. It’s also bucking economic trends, recently reporting revenue growth of more than 20%, and profit has doubled. Its management team includes a number of high-profile British retail executives such as Archie Norman (the former head of Asda) and Ian McLeod, its chief executive, who used to run Celtic Football Club.

Employers all over Australia are looking for talent in the UK and Europe to fill vacancies that they struggle to fill with domestic applicants. Peter Collier, training and workforce development minister for Western Australia, recently spent 10 days touring British cities in the hope of attracting potential recruits for jobs in his state. Western Australia currently far outperforms Australia’s average growth rate of 3.1%, and has an estimated £95 billion worth of resource or infrastructure projects currently underway – but not enough local workers to fill all the available jobs.

Opportunity

Types of Australian working visas
  • Working holiday visa: For people aged between 18 and 30 from arrangement countries to have an extended holiday supplemented by short-term employment.
  • Employer-sponsored: This is aimed at Australian and overseas employers to sponsor and employ skilled workers who have recognised qualifications and skills/or experience in particular occupations required in Australia.
  • Skilled migrants: The General Skilled Migration Program (GSM) is for professionals and other skilled migrants who are not sponsored by an employer and who have skills in particular occupations required in Australia. There is a range of visa options under this programme.

Source: Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

For HR professionals, this could prove an opportunity to find work in a stimulating and growing employment market – especially with British workers in such high demand.

“It’s a great opportunity,” says Justin Linger, managing director of retail search firm Barracuda, which has been placing UK professionals in Australia for the past five years, and has witnessed a steady increase in demand. “To be involved in turning around a company in another country will gain you considerable experience, and the benefit of that experience to future employers could be huge. You simply can’t buy that experience.”

While salaries tend to be on a similar level to those in the UK, the lifestyle change is the greatest draw, especially for those with young families, adds Linger. If you work for a company or are recruited by one to move to Australia, acquiring a working visa should be straightforward, and most employers will offer full relocation support.

Culture and employment differences

But, while there will obviously be no language problems and many things will look and feel like they do at home, don’t get lulled into a false sense of security. “Australia looks and feels like the UK so it’s comfortable – but culturally it can be quite different and you need to be aware of that. Don’t assume because it looks and feels like the UK, it is,” says Linger.

From an employment perspective, because it does not have to follow European Union laws as organisations in the UK do, the legislative framework can be more free, so there is less red tape. HR is held in similar regard in Australia as it is in the UK, but there is no chartered status on offer. That said, members of HR’s main body, the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI), must satisfy the minimum education and/or knowledge, skills and experience requirements and commit to its continuing professional development programme.

One way to test the waters when it comes to relocation on this scale is to limit the working period you or a staff member will spend in Australia. Office refurbishment company Overbury, for example, has a partnership with a similar company in Australia called ISIS. It recently offered two of its UK-based staff the opportunity to spend six months working for ISIS in its Melbourne and Sydney offices.

Work-life balance

James Bleakman, who usually works as a designer for the company, was stationed in ISIS’ sustainability department. He was impressed by the company’s work-life balance initiative, which offers staff the opportunity to take off eight hours a month for an early finish or late start, but found the management structure more hierarchical than at home. “There seem to be lots of management processes and bits that need to be signed off,” he says.

His colleague Laurence Fox, who manages Overbury’s “Perfect Delivery” initiative, was charged with spreading best practice to ISIS offices right across Australia. The main attraction of the move for him was to gain international experience. “Professionally, it looks good on my CV to have come here and spread the word about a UK initiative,” he says.

Bleakman and Fox were chosen from a stack of applicants for the job swap, and one of the reasons they won the opportunity was that they had previously visited Australia – and in Bleakman’s case, he had family there. “They wanted people who had been before and who were aware of the cultural differences,” says Bleakman.

Preparation is key

Linger agrees that it’s important to ensure candidates are psychologically prepared for such a major relocation. “We can ascertain quite quickly if someone is of the right mindset for an international move,” he says. “We have to ask personal questions as this is not a whim decision. The move will affect a lot of people, so we have to be sensitive to someone’s wider family dynamics. For example, do they have elderly parents?”

For someone at the right stage of life, however, it could prove to be a rewarding move. In August, AHRI and the Economist Intelligence Unit produced the Global Index of Workplace Performance and Flexibility and Australia ranked 8th out of 51 countries for its commercial operating environment. Four of its cities ranked in the top 10 most liveable cities in the same survey.

Most of all, being part of this growing labour market and all of the challenges it brings will arm you with just the skills UK companies will need to help them emerge from the recession.

If you’re considering your next HR career move, visit Personnel Today Jobs.

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