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The Skills You Need to Become a Global Mobility Specialist

See also: Intercultural Communication Skills

Businesses across the world are discovering the benefits of global mobility - how could you make a start in this field?

While there’s no shortage of financial and political turmoil in the world, international expansion remains a growing trend amongst businesses of every shape and size.

As organisations reach out, and extend operations across borders, the need to manage employee populations on a global scale becomes an important priority.

Mobilising employees to work in foreign countries requires a diverse set of skills, talents and knowledge - meaning ‘global mobility specialists’ are increasingly in demand by businesses across the world.

What is a global mobility specialist?

More often than not, when a business’ expands internationally, it must move employees into foreign territories to set-up and oversee operations - global mobility specialists work to facilitate this process and all that it involves.

Why and when an organisation hires a global mobility specialist (GMS) depends on the complexity and challenges of the expansion location: employers with mobilised workforces in locations all over the world may need global mobility specialists to develop a ‘global solution’ for the challenges they face, in a range of environments.

What does a global mobility specialist do?

Broadly, global mobility specialists manage international employee populations, handling various immigration-related aspects of their movements, and helping them to navigate the unfamiliar legislative environments in which they work.

From a practical perspective, the day-to-day duties of a GMS may be varied, and range from addressing mobilised employees’ concerns over issues like housing or utilities in a foreign location, to facilitating visa applications, ensuring tax compliance, and integrating employees onto their employers’ global payroll.

Education, qualifications, skills, and talents

The skills and education needed by global mobility specialists reflect the diverse demands of their field.

There is no single path to becoming a GMS, but candidates with certain backgrounds may stand out from the crowd.

Secondary education: Some secondary-level qualifications may boost your suitability for entry-level global mobility roles. Proficiencies in languages, STEM, IT, and communications subjects will all be helpful, but it’s important to remember that university level qualifications will probably play more of a part with employers selecting candidates by educational background.

University: While there are no specific university qualifications or disciplines which are considered indispensable for a career in global mobility, there are plenty which might help candidates distinguish themselves to employers - and prepare them for what the job involves:

  • Foreign languages: Any level of foreign language proficiency is an obvious advantage in mobility roles which take place in non-native speaking locales. While global mobility specialists won’t necessarily find themselves working in a territory which requires their language knowledge, their aptitude for learning a language will in itself help them adapt to their environment.
  • Business, Payroll & HR: Any academic background in business, and a general working knowledge of the business landscape, is useful for global mobility specialists  who may work across a spectrum of industries and sectors over the course of their careers. Global mobility specialists will have specific and important duties in payroll, HR and other vital internal business services.
  • Management: A large part of the GMS role involves the management of employee populations across international borders. To this end, degree-level management knowledge and skills are a strong foundation for the personnel and HR-related challenges of global mobility, which will involve both planning and administrative duties, and face-to-face interactions with employees.
  • Maths & Numeracy: Global mobility specialists may work to deliver payroll solutions across numerous legislative environments, with duties involving tax and social security calculations, and the delivery of salaries. Qualifications in maths and all numeracy disciplines are obviously useful in this respect, since they boost accuracy and lower the chance of compliance penalties.
  • IT & Communications: Degrees in IT and communications are advantageous to global mobility specialists who will need to deliver services between people and locations thousands of miles apart, via a range of software platforms. More specifically, they may be required to work with industry-standard payroll, HR, or accounting software, and other IT tools, to perform their duties.

Industry qualifications: It may be possible to gain accreditations in global mobility from industry-recognised institutions. While these kind of professional qualifications are not essential to forging a career in global mobility, they offer a level of added expertise which may appeal to employers - and of course, help prospective GMS candidates hone their knowledge and skills. Look for training courses from prominent institutions like the Chartered Institute of Personnel And Development and the American Payroll Association.

Skills & talents: Global mobility is just as much about personality as it is about academic and educational background. A GMS will be faced with unique challenges, and must be equipped with the skills and talents to overcome them:

  • Organisation: Whether managing a handful of employees between two locations, or hundreds across several territories, being able to organise and compartmentalise is an essential GMS trait. Developing a working global solution may mean juggling numerous legislative and procedural issues at any given time.
  • Attention to detail: Since the principle function of a global mobility solution is to ensure compliance with legislation, attention to detail is a crucial trait for specialists - especially when dealing with tax and salaries. Remember, on an international scale the business stakes are high and errors could result in costly penalties for an employer and, worse, unhappy employees.
  • Responsibility: The emphasis on regulatory compliance makes responsibility and integrity crucial traits for specialists in global mobility. GMS employees must observe, and work to, high legal standards, and employers must be able to trust them with both their business’ assets and their employees’ interests.
  • Problem solving: The sheer administrative scope of managing global employee populations means problems and challenges are an inevitable part of the job. Global mobility specialists must be prepared for these eventualities, and able to think creatively to resolve them.  
  • Customer service: From shipping personal belongings overseas, to calculating tax returns, global mobility specialists address a range of issues on behalf of their clients. With this in mind, customer service skills are an essential part of the job. Specialists must be able to react to clients’ questions with patience, discretion, and understanding.
  • Flexibility: The international business landscape is in constant flux. Since compliance requirements, business needs, and a range of peripheral political factors can change overnight, maintaining professional flexibility is the only way to handle the unique demands of global mobility.
  • Confidence: Perhaps most important trait to bring to global mobility roles is a level of confidence. Mobilised employees will find themselves in an unfamiliar location at what could be an uncertain time in their lives. A GMS should represent a reassuring presence, and someone an employee can trust to handle important aspects of their professional lives.

What kind of companies can global mobility specialists work with?

Global mobility specialists may work within a specific business, or for an outsource organisation, providing bespoke global solutions for essential processes like payroll, HR, and accounting to third-party clients. Mobility roles span industrial boundaries: prospective employees searching for positions may target companies with an existing international footprint, or those preparing to step out onto the world stage. Fortunately, plenty of sectors offer career stepping stones, including financial services, technology and IT, construction, and manufacturing.

Ultimately, prospective GMS candidates should be looking for exciting professional opportunities. The appeal of global mobility lies in its diversity: each appointment is a chance to tackle a fresh set of professional challenges, with a new group of employees, in a different part of the world.

About the Author

Graham McKechnie brings over 25 years’ experience to his role as head of activpayroll’s Global Mobility Division. Having held positions at HMRC, Deloitte, PWC, and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Graham’s expertise lies in delivering cost and administrative efficiencies, and managing the needs of global employee populations.