The right way to relocate workers to Latin America


HSBC Global Connections

The right way to relocate workers to Latin America 

Booming emerging market economies have set off a scramble for local talent, and that’s encouraging many North American companies to relocate new or existing workers from up north.

Unemployment levels in countries like Brazil and Mexico are approaching historic lows, thus recruiting in their tight job markets is even tougher because of the relatively shallow pools of available Latin American talent. In the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Learning Curve survey, which ranks 40 countries’ cognitive skills and educational attainment, Mexico and Brazil were in the third to last and penultimate positions, respectively. No surprise, then, that last year job placement company Manpower found in its global Talent Shortage Survey of 41 countries that Brazil is the second hardest place to find qualified workers. Mexico is the twelfth most difficult.

Talent scarcity varies by title. Highly technical positions, such as chief digital officers, e-commerce heads and positions in big data analysis must often be filled by “imported” individuals, according to Francisco Ruiz-Maza, executive director at Russell Reynolds Associates, an executive recruiting firm in Mexico City. But, in other areas, such as sales and marketing, finding qualified people within the country can be easier. Brazilian citizen Adriana Bidegain, CEO of the Brazilian operations of telecom consulting firm Telcocell, acknowledges how hard finding local talent was—even with her extensive local network and the help of a senior human resources professional. Today, she has a 50/50 mix of Brazilians and Canadians at her new 10-strong Brazilian office. Ruiz-Maza observes that the opportunity to gain some experience working in emerging markets can make relocation to Latin America an attractive proposition for some North Americans. Twelve years ago, that prospect, in part, drove the fresh-from-college Roger Lessard to Brazil. Today, he manages the Brazilian operations of Canada’s diversified conglomerate GLV Group, which has a paper and pulp equipment business in Brazil. Lessard sought a dynamic and rapidly growing market and found Brazilian culture to be youthful compared with the “grey hair” culture of Quebec.

When searching for workers likely to be successful in a new country, Marie Berdini, vice-president of human resources and talent management at software company Infragistics, headquartered in Cranbury, N.J., reviews their work history, looking for “a collaborative nature—someone who quickly establishes trust and rapport at all levels—and versatility.”

Accounting and financial management positions are often held by North Americans; these kinds of positions don’t require the ability to speak the local language. Upper management often feels more comfortable with a transfer from the head office to oversee financial management, says Lessard. This may be particularly true in a region with high levels of fraud and corruption.

But reasonable local language fluency is indispensable for many other positions. “Spanish is critical for commercial roles, general manager positions and those that rely on business development strategy,” reports Ruiz-Maza. Sales and marketing positions, in addition to needing linguistic fluency, require an understanding of local preferences and knowledge of networks, for example.

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The right way to relocate workers to Latin America