In 1962, Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan in his book The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man, coined the term “global village” to describe a world in which “the visual, individualistic print culture would soon be brought to an end by “electronic interdependence”: when electronic media replaces visual culture with aural/oral culture. In this new age, humankind will move from individualism and fragmentation to a collective identity, with a “tribal base”.
That prediction has certainly come true with the advent of the World Wide Web, which has given us the ability to communicate and do business with people all over the world with the touch of a button or by swiping an icon on a screen. But the reality on the ground has always been different. While we have no problem communicating with “strangers” we may never meet face-to-face, we always seem to have a dilemma when “foreigners” make their way to our island to take up jobs, usually, those which are considered prominent or well paid, or which we feel our own people are capable of handling.
The issue surfaced again this week when leader of the Unity Workers Union, Senator Caswell Franklyn, responded to an advertisement for a store manager from the local warehouse retail store, Cost-U-Less – a subsidiary of a Canadian company – which carried the all too familiar words: “Having found no suitable responses to our advertisement for the position, it is our intention to submit an application for a non-national to fill the position.”
Franklyn contended that “These people invest in Barbados and believe they can bring in their friends and families, some of whom are not even skilled themselves. It is not about finding skills, it is about employing their unemployable relatives who cannot find jobs overseas. That is what is happening, especially in the tourism industry. A few Bajans get managerial jobs, but at these hotels moreso than anywhere else, Bajans can only get to a certain level, no matter what skills they have.”
Franklyn’s comments may be true in some respects but are rather simplistic in nature. Multi-national companies may hire executives from their home base to run their overseas subsidiaries for several different reasons, and it is not as easy as it seems. In an article entitled “The Pros and Cons of Hiring Expats”, Martin Laird, who spent some time working as an expatriate in South Africa, noted that “In most cases, an expat assignment will cost a company two, maybe three times the price of a local employee. However, having a person you can trust running your business and training new employees, or hiring a knowledgeable expat for your business, may be beneficial in the long run.”
Laird said some companies send expatriates out because the local staff may not understand its policies and practices, so sending someone who knows the ropes will make it easier to train local workers. He also stated that the target company might have a limited talent pool when it comes to the skills the organisation is seeking, as is the case sometimes in the hotel and restaurant industry where these facilities call for people who can speak certain languages or specialise in certain types of cuisine not usually associated with the indigenous culture. On this point, former principal of the Hospitality Institute, Bernice Critchlow-Earle, once said that when chefs with specialised skills came to work in Barbados, part of their contract involved imparting that knowledge to the students enrolled at that institution.
President of the Human Resources Management Association of Barbados, Brittany Brathwaite, shared a similar sentiment. “There are multiple variables that go into why companies make the decision to hire non-nationals. It may be a store manager on the surface, but there may be some elements of that position based on the nature of the company’s operations that it might not have found [among the local applicants.]”
In discussing the cons of hiring expatriates, Laird said it was a costly exercise for the company since they had to deal with travel expenses, visa issues, tax differentials and of course everyday but nonetheless costly matters such as housing, vehicles and finding schools for the children if the expatriate’s entire family is also relocating. Contrary to popular belief, they are not “foreigners living the big life at the expense of a local person who could probably do the job better”, and the experience can be quite stressful for some of them. Laird reported that 25 per cent of them are called home early because they take on too much stress, which can come about owing to language and cultural barriers, being away from familiar faces, and of course the xenophobia and prejudices they might encounter on the ground from locals who might feel they were overlooked for the position.
Brathwaite, along with other human resources professionals, has spoken recently about grooming our population to become more competitive in the ever-changing job market, which unlike days gone by, is no longer limited by geography. Beyond that, there are many Barbadians who have taken up high managerial positions in organisations all over the world. How would we feel if they were subjected to the xenophobia we display when people from other countries try to make a living here? So, we need to build our skill set here where necessary, and the non-nationals who come in must be willing to share, and we must be willing to learn, whatever talents they bring and increase our marketability within this global village.