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To Asia... or Not To Asia?

A summary of Pros and Cons for those considering a move, by Liz Norman of ENI


So working in Asia would be an adventure - but whilst lounging on the sofa in Europe it is easy to think of excuses not to go. Even there, amongst the sweat, the excitement and optimism, you do find yourself asking why. People in Asia work really hard: one personnel manager there told me they audited staff hours recently and on average they worked 280 hours a month (c.13 hours a day). Some of that is a cultural issue (and some claim that the hours put in are not always spent productively). It is also the result of working in the fastest growing region in the world, where the volume and pressure of work is high, and interest from elsewhere means a lot of global phone calls at all hours to accommodate time differences. Finally it is the result of heavy travel schedules, particularly at a senior level (itís not uncommon for an Asian-based Research Director to be travelling up to 80% of the time).


Rapid Growth, Open Minds

Passion is mentioned a lot when talking to people in Asia. Many describe it to me as an addiction. People want to get on, partly to better themselves but also to support the company they work for - there is a lot of loyalty and a lot of opportunity. That creates an atmosphere of drive and enthusiasm. TNSí Hong Kong office employed 85 staff in 2004, and a year later it employs 130. Growth like that in Asia is normal and it creates opportunity for individuals as well as companies. Alice Page, 28 and MD of IPSOS Hong Kong wondered if she would have been given the same opportunity in the UK? ĎHere in Asia they are more open-minded, more prepared to judge you on your skill set and what you can offer a role, rather than look at the number of years youíve sat behind a deskí.

Asia is not a home for second-rate researchers. Research standards are rising all the time and there is increasing competition from well-trained local candidates. There are difficulties managing a culturally diverse work force in such a rapidly changing and growing market and there is a lot of room for innovation, when so many markets are still relatively unexplored. Strong management skills are essential.


The Lifestyle

Lifestyle is often mentioned as a reason for living in the region. Of particular interest for me is the cultural diversity. The cultures there are not only extremely different from the West but also different from one another. Whether your interest is in people, art, music, architecture, mysticism/religion, or food, Asia can offer you something completely new. The cities might be polluted, excessively crowded and dirty but it always seems possible to find some little back street, where you can find a glimpse of life completely alien to us - and there is always a sense of buzz and drive.

The norm in Asia is only two to three weeks holiday. However, some of the most exotic locations in the world are only a short flight away so itís possible to go for weekends. Diving seems to be a particular favourite but there are amazing ruins to visit in places like Vietnam, luxurious spas where you can simply retreat... Iíve even come across someone who plays polo on elephants. Most however spend weekends simply relaxing with friends, drinking and eating. Whilst the legendary expat lifestyle no longer exists to the same extent, the peripatetic existence that people have here means they make far more effort to socialise and welcome people, than we do in London.


Money

Money used to be a reason for moving to Asia but as salaries equalise between locals and non-locals, those moving from Europe canít command the packages of old. When looking at packages it is important to take into account any taxes both direct and indirect you will be paying: in general these will be considerably less than taxes in the UK, for example. You also need to consider the cost of items that you need/want and this will vary hugely depending on your particular lifestyle and interests. Schooling for example tends to be very expensive but this wonít be a problem for everyone! Another point to bear in mind is that salaries are normally quoted on a monthly basis, rather than annually as we do here in Europe and you are often paid a 13th month, which is effectively a bonus.

As a very rough guide in Tokyo salaries are slightly higher than they are in London, in Hong Kong and Shanghai they are around 20% less than salaries here and in Singapore they are slightly less again. However once you have taken into account taxes and the cost of living most people in my experience are better off - if not initially, then shortly after moving to the region because the opportunities there are so much better.


... and will they want you?

Have I managed to interest you, are you up to the challenge? If so do you have a skill set that might interest employers out there? Three yearsí commercial market research experience with a reputable employer is the minimum they would consider. The market is growing too fast to accommodate individuals who still need training at a fairly basic level. If you are a qualitative researcher considerably more experience is required, assuming you can only work as a manager and donít have the local linguistic and cultural knowledge to moderate. Candidates of any age will be considered - Asians tend to be more respectful of age than we are in the West, but you have to be up to the pressure of living and working in a demanding environment.

At the moment there is a particular demand for anyone with online experience. There is also a high demand for pharmaceutical researchers and those with knowledge of automotive and telecoms markets. Exceptional FMCG client side researchers with international experience and the ability to add value are also needed.

However most of the above can be ignored if you speak a Chinese language and know something about the Chinese culture. Individuals with these skills who have also spent some time in the West are needed by every single research agency.

This wouldnít be an easy move, but itís a very exciting one.


Liz Norman is founder and MD of Elizabeth Norman International, which recruits for MR, Analysis and Insight positions in Asia, Australia and the UK. See www.elizabethnorman.com for ENIís web site or view the companyís current vacancies on MrWeb here.







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