When an opportunity to move to New Zealand to accept a role with global dairy giant Fonterra came up, Nicola Spencer didn’t look back. It was a far cry from the HR role she held for a Sydney engineering consultancy in various human resources roles and was ready for a fresh challenge. The Sydneysider has been the company’s global mobility advisor for the past two years, where she’s carving out policies that are setting a new course for Fonterra employees. “I moved around a lot as a child with my father’s work to countries like Auckland, the US, the UK and Canada, so employee global mobility is in my DNA I suppose,” she says. Like many in the employee mobility sector, Nicola hadn’t specifically plotted her career until university. “When I finished high school I had the same dilemma as everyone else of what should I do with my career,” she says. Her mother steered her towards a career in an HR degree, which set the course of her career into mobility. “I wasn’t necessarily planning on working in mobility at university, but we did a couple of courses in international HR and I really enjoyed it.  By the time I finished my degree, I’d decided that global mobility was the course that I wanted to take.” Nicola undertook a range of psychology and business courses while at university, which have proven valuable for her work.


Fonterra collects around two billion litres of milk annually from farm suppliers. This milk is made into a range of Fonterra dairy foods that generations of families in more than 100 countries enjoy every day. Brands in the company’s portfolio include Mainland, Western Star, Bega, Perfect Italiano and Anchor. Fonterra is a major part of the New Zealand economy. It is the largest company in New Zealand, employing 21,500 workers. Working for such a mammoth company provides a number of opportunities for innovation in the employee mobility space. Nicola is half of the global mobility team at Fonterra, which is attached to the Rewards Team within the business.


Like so many international companies focused on export markets, talent mobility has raised its head as a key priority at Fonterra. The company has a number of international assignees each year, prompting the business to give careful consideration to the best way to tackle these assignments in a bid to ensure its attracting and retaining top talent. Mobility has had a reputation for being an expensive business function, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be, she says. “Giving our staff certainty of having an easy role to come back to or go on to next is something we struggle with when we send people offshore. Fonterra is trialling a few different approaches to improve employee mobility. “One of the biggest problems is that we have people go offshore and they lose ties with their home country,” Nicola explains. In response, she’s created a new sponsorship model structure aligning team members with someone within the company that matches their ideal career trajectory. “We’re hoping this sponsor will act as a career coach and also a spokesperson for them back home to ensure that person is front of mind when a role becomes available for them back home.” This structure means that people are returning with new skills picked up in overseas roles that they can bring back into the business, Nicola explains. A new policy roll-out this year has redefined the company’s approach to employee mobility. “We’re starting to see our initiations go up because the business has more flexibility to do what they need with the assignment policy, so that’s been really exciting for us. It’s also been great to get more younger people offshore. Similar to a gap year, the new policy has created new opportunities within the business. This has resulted in around 15% more millennials experience working life overseas within the business. Fonterra will also introduce pre-assignment and post-assignment assessments soon, which Nicola expects will reveal some interesting information about the experience for staff. Culture readiness assessments to understand how people settle into a new place when working in another country has also proven successful for the business. Providing this level of support has proven beneficial to staff, she says. “95% of our products get sent offshore, so it’s so important that we have people across the business that understand both the ties to New Zealand and what’s relevant for our products in each market.” Fonterra is also on the lookout for opportunities to increase female participation in overseas assignments is also top of mind for the company. “Our portion of assignees who are female has grown by 10% in the last six months to reach a total of 25%,” Nicola says. The broader dairy sector is ripe for disruption, which does present new challenges for mobility roles within the business. Cellular farming and natural milk alternatives produced in a laboratory pose potential risks to the business, she says. In response, Fonterra is forecasting what its future workforce will look like in proof that agility is top of mind for the dairy giant. “Global leadership skills and being inclusive in the way we lead our business is paramount. We’re working closely with the team to find ways that assignments can develop specific skills within our business in other locations around the world,” she says.


The Employee Mobility Institute is Australia’s peak industry body specifically focused on employee talent mobility. Its mission is to advocate, promote, represent and grow the Australian Employee Talent Mobility Industry.  Visit TEMI’s website to learn more.

Published by: The Employee Mobility Institute, Sept 2018

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