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HSBC Bank Canada executive Karen Adams has travelled the world for the bank. She advises young workers to embrace the ‘big wide world out there.’ (Rafel Gerszak For The Globe and Mail/Rafel Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)
HSBC Bank Canada executive Karen Adams has travelled the world for the bank. She advises young workers to embrace the ‘big wide world out there.’ (Rafel Gerszak For The Globe and Mail/Rafel Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)

Career

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For Karen Adams, regularly packing up the household and moving to another country became an essential path to career growth.

She joined HSBC Canada 17 years ago in Vancouver and learned about the bank’s international manager program, which offers the chance to transfer to operations in any of the 87 countries where HSBC operates.

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“I thought long and hard about it and talked to a lot of people who were doing it already,” and they encouraged her to leap at the opportunity, she said. Since then, she has been posted to Dubai, India, Hong Kong, South Korea, China, Jordan and England for stints of as long as two to three years each.

“I know it has helped my career,” said Ms. Adams, who reached the rank of senior vice-president and national head of business banking years before she expected to and recently moved to Toronto for her executive role.

“Particularly for young people just starting out in their careers, I advise being open to opportunities and not closing any doors geographically. This is a big country and it’s a big wide world out there. If you say you aren’t mobile, it immediately limits you.”

But a new study says that most Canadians are likely to say No to a job that requires them to move to a foreign position.

Only thirty-nine per cent of Canadians said they would be either likely, or somewhat likely, to consider a move to another country for between two and three years – if it brought a minimum 10-per-cent increase in pay and they were guaranteed they had a job waiting when they returned home.

That compares with 49 per cent of respondents in other countries, according to the survey by Ipsos Reid, which interviewed more than 18,000 people in 24 countries, including about 1,000 in Canada.

In Brazil, 71 per cent of respondents said they would be likely to consider an international move. Two-thirds of employees in India and Saudi Arabia and nearly that percentage in Mexico and Russia would switch countries as well.

But Canadians turned out to be more adventurous than Australian, British or American employees, who were all slightly less willing to make a career move across borders, according to the study reported at the Human Resources Professionals Association meeting in Toronto last week.

The least likely to move were workers in Sweden, where only 16 per cent said they would move elsewhere.

“With the globalization of businesses and shortages of people with needed skills in many specialties there’s a growing likelihood that you’ll be given an opportunity to take a temporary assignment for up to three years or a even a permanent relocation,” said Stephen Cryne, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Employee Relocation Council, a Toronto-based human resources advisory group that commissioned the survey.

Even though unemployment remains historically high, sheer demographics are making talent shortages a growing problem in Canada.

“A wave of older employees are reaching retirement age. We’re also in a global economy and competing with the United States, Europe and Australia for talent,” Mr. Cryne noted.

“The key challenges we find are that people don’t want to leave family and friends. That’s becoming a more pronounced issue among younger workers … They like staying close to their parents and their friends. Even though the technology lets them stay in touch from anywhere, they place a lot of emphasis on their personal life and relationships,” Mr. Cryne said.

But unemployment can be a big motivator. A second study of 7,000 U.S. workers who were laid off last year found that 20 per cent had to move to a new city or state to find work. Of those, the vast majority – 77 per cent – reported they were happy with the move and didn’t regret their decision, the survey by online job site CareerBuilder.com found.

That survey also queried 3,000 U.S. employers, 32 per cent of whom said they would cover all moving costs to attract professionals with the skills the companies need, and 19 per cent said they would pay a signing bonus to get people with the right talent and experience. In-demand professions include engineering, information technology, business development finance and marketing.

For Ms. Adams, there have been downsides to a nomadic career. “It has been challenging as a family of four,” she said. She married her husband while in India and she had her children overseas, a son who is now 11 and daughter now 9.

“If you have children, uprooting them and moving to another country and another set of friends is a big deal. Also I find it’s difficult after building a local network of friends and colleagues to suddenly have to leave those relationships behind and start again,” Ms. Adams said.

But the opportunity to experience new cultures not as a tourist but as a local has been extraordinary, she said.

“I know it has helped my career and helped broaden my horizons. There were many more positives than I’d even hoped for.”

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Why people don’t move

Family issues: The typical move for a new job is undertaken by someone between the ages of 26 and 40 and married. But their spouses tend to also have a career they would rather not leave, and they encounter reluctance from children.

Complexity: People own more household goods than in the past and moving costs have risen.

Housing costs: Canadians are concerned about moving to a city where they have to buy in an overheated real estate market.

Potential equity loss: An increasingly difficult challenge for Canadian employers is persuading Americans to move to the buoyant Canadian housing market from cities in the U.S. where real estate values have collapsed.

Source: Canadian Employee Relocation Council survey

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