Expatriate Assignments: Training and Development Tool


Expertise is a very critical element that enhances efficiency, effectiveness as well as the economy in a given activity or practice. It entails skill or knowledge in a particular area/field. There are various ways through which expertise could be developed, each being associated with some benefits as well as drawbacks. One way is through the use of expatriate assignments as a training and development tool. Expatriates are usually sent on international assignments to carry out different functions for instance initiating, expanding as well as controlling the international operations that organizations are involved with. There are also evolving functions and applications of international expatriate assignments in line with the changing globalization trends (Brewster, 1991).

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This piece of paper gives a critical discussion of the issue of expatriate assignment with much emphasis being given to the importance attached to it and its application.


An expatriate assignment is a crucial training and development tool in today’s competitive world. This is more so due to the fact that the world is growing into a global village due to globalization. This has in a way necessitated that people become capable of interacting and working in different parts of the world as opposed to earlier days where mobility was relatively limited. There has been an increase in the internationalization of business enterprises through joint ventures, the establishment of international subsidiaries, and the formation of strategic alliances leading to an increase in the number of individuals who work fully or partially in other countries rather than in their country of origin (Berg, 1973).

To have a deeper understanding of the topic under discussion, it is important to look at the different types of expatriate assignments and what they are associated with. There are long-term expatriate assignments. This entails an employee and his or her family moving to the host country for a certain time, more than 12 months. Short-term expatriate assignments on the other hand entail an assignment of less than one year and the employee’s family does not necessarily have to accompany him or her. The expatriate assignment may also take the form of a frequent flyer where an employee is engaged in recurrent international business trips but does not relocate to the countries of visit. Another form is where an employee could be an international commuter. Here, the employee commutes from the home country to the place of work in another nation. The frequency could differ for instance weekly or twice a week. The family of the employee is usually left behind (Dowling, Festing and Engle, 2008). Generally, the reasons behind international assignment and expatriation include professional development, fulfilment of scarce skills and capabilities, knowledge and competence transfer, control as well as coordination.

An international assignment is a mechanism that has been recognized to be very critical in the process of developing international expertise. This is due to the advantages that are linked with the mechanism. They include management development and organizational development among other positive attributes. In regard to management development, international assignments help individuals to gain international experience. This is very essential in facilitating career progression. It is also advantageous to multinationals and international organizations since they gain a pool of experienced international workforce (Handler and Lane, 1997). The workforce is in turn very crucial in regard to getting future international assignments.

In respect to organizational development, international assignments have been deemed to be very crucial. This is because they provide international companies with an effective way of accumulating an appropriate pool of knowledge, abilities, and skills that is in turn essential in facilitating an organization’s future growth. In addition, international assignments help in developing well-versed personnel with a global mindset that is able to handle various situations appropriately, an aspect that is incredibly crucial where growth, development, and sustainability are to be achieved. The expatriates derived from the international assignments programs are also extremely resourceful and act as agents of direct control and socialization through facilitating various activities and practices in an organization for instance assisting in transferring knowledge and competence in an effort of enhancing success and advancement in various sectors of an organization (Feldman and Thomas, 1992).

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Expatriation and international assignments is a process that is deemed to be extremely influential in regard to the performance of an organization both within its headquarters as well as in other countries. It plays a pivotal role in providing extensive learning and adaptation programs that enable individuals to learn and become accustomed to strange situations. This contributes greatly to professional development as well as knowledge transfer including attributes such as values, talents, and capabilities, technical experiences, and culture among others (Cuizon, 2009).

With the tendency of many United States of America and other countries’ companies and organizations to expand the business to other countries, there has been an increased need to send human resources for international assignments to facilitate the operations involved. As stated earlier, there are different types of expatriate assignments, the differences being in levels of mobility. The choice of the different modes of international employees to be adopted is usually influenced by the nature of the value elements to be addressed by a particular international assignment. It is usually possible to derive value drivers from international employees’ profiles although the level of effectiveness and efficiency is linked to the different classes of value drivers in question. This is attributed to the feature properties of the different kinds of international employees as well as the duration of time that the employee spends in the host country. Irrespective of the form of expatriate assignment, an employee should at all times represent the interest of the core organization, be involved in augmenting channels of communication and more so act as an interpreter between the main centre and the subsidiary in question (Dowling, Schuler and Welch, 1994).

In the process of selecting the employee to be assigned tasks in a given subsidiary country, it is important to consider various aspects for instance the degree to which the individual is equipped in terms of how he or she has internalized the corporate values. This is a critical issue that allows for success in different operations through building on trust and confidence. At times, the subsidiary managers could be assigned to the main centre with an aim of impacting them with some knowledge and skills through training them on the values and ways of working in the organization. Engaging in local operations is advantageous to the mother country. This is because the expatriates bring along some positive attributes to the organization. They include an understanding of local contexts and cultures based on foreign operations, availability of new ideas and perspectives as well as facilitating smooth communication with host units and local public authorities (Boyacigiller, 1990).

Hamill (1989) asserts that international organizations are relatively profitable due to the issue of economies of scale among other aspects. However, they require that extra efforts are put in an attempt to ensure that efficiency and effectiveness is achieved. One of the tasks entails setting up and pursuing some complementary objectives. They for instance have to look into the issue of local responsiveness. This is usually a relatively difficult task that entails engaging in an in-depth analysis and investigation of markets in an effort to differentiate their products to fit the needs and preferences of their customers, the features of the sector and more so the legal and cultural circumstances that surround the national markets where they operate. Global integration of their operations is also essential. It plays a great role in taking advantage of various national factors of production, leveraging economies of scale in all processes as well as sharing costs and investments across different markets and business elements.

Multinational organizations also need to develop innovation and learning. This requires that the different elements are capable of learning from each other and thus exchanging innovations in different managerial processes to achieve the success of the organization as a whole. The above objectives clearly show the need for expatriate assignments. They necessitate the assigning of personnel to different units (creating expatriates) to ensure that local adaptation is not achieved at the expense of the centre carrying out all the processes, an issue that could not be convenient (Gregersen and Black, 1996).

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Every element has got its positive and negative attributes. Although expatriate international assignments are incredibly significant in enhancing human resource capabilities, they are associated with considerable costs and a lot of inconveniences. There are also management challenges that come along with international assignments where it becomes difficult to ensure that the managers enhance success in the local countries to contribute to the overall success of the organization as a whole. For this reason, cost-effectiveness and appropriateness issues should always be looked at to avoid chances of incurring losses or rather inefficiencies. The international workers should be managed strategically and effectively to achieve efficiency, effectiveness, and economy in organizations, an aspect that will boost productivity and profitability.

The present literature review in regard to this topic reveals some basis where negative criticism could be drawn. For instance, most literature lacks some theoretical foundation as they mostly concentrate on descriptions. There are also some limitations when it comes to the analysis of the relationship between expatriation policies and the international strategy that governs a business enterprise. Another notable issue is that the elements of expatriations for instance selection; compensation and repatriation have been studied autonomously rather than being linked. This makes the understanding of the whole concept to be relatively difficult due to the connection of the ideas involved (Forster, 1994).

All in all, it is clear that the concept of international assignments is a key factor in contributing to success in organizations that deal with international business activities. This is more so because of the efficiency experienced through the utilization of the skills and knowledge attained. Knowledge transfer is for example a crucial aspect that facilitates the growth, development as well as stability of any given organization. This is because human resource is a vital element in an organization since they get things done through the utilization of other resources in an organization for instance machines and finances. For this reason, the employees should be treated in an appropriate manner that will enhance good performance which in turn facilitates productivity and profitability, an aspect that every organization delights in (Bonache and Cervino, 1997).


From the above research, it is evident that expatriate assignments or rather international assignments are very crucial in our today’s competitive economic world. This is more so with the advent of globalization and hence the need for maximum interaction and cooperation of people located in different parts of the world in an attempt to allow for success in various activities and processes that are aimed at enhancing economic development to the largest extent possible. International assignments are a mechanism that has been recognized to be very critical in the process of developing international expertise. For this reason, it should be emphasized since it is associated with a lot of benefits, both individual as well as organizational. It is therefore with no doubt that I concur with the statement, ‘An expatriate assignment is an important training and development tool, with international assignments being recognized as an important mechanism for developing international expertise’. This can be rooted to the changes in the nature of businesses today where there no longer restricted to national boundaries but rather, the majority of the world’s corporations operate a significant fraction of their activities outside their home countries as a result of globalization.

Reference List

  1. Berg, N.A. (1973). Corporate Role in Diversified Companies. In B. Taylor & K. Macmillan (Eds.), Business Policy Teaching and Research. New York: Halstead Press.
  2. Bonache, J., and Cervino, J. (1997). Global Integration without Expatriates. Human Resource Management Journal, 7(3), 89–100.
  3. Boyacigiller, N. (1990). The Role of Expatriates in the Management of Interdependence, Complexity and Risk in Multinational Corporations. Journal of International Business Studies, 21(3), 357–381.
  4. Brewster, C. (1991). The Management of Expatriates. London: Kogan Page
  5. Cuizon, G. (2009). Expatriates in International Assignments.
  6. Dowling J.P, Festing M and Engle D.A. (2008). International Human Resource Management: Managing People in a Multinational Context. 5th Ed, London, Cengage Learning EMEA
  7. Dowling, J.P., Schuler, R.S., and Welch, D. (1994).International Dimensions Of Human Resource Management, 2nd Ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth
  8. Feldman, D., and Thomas, D. (1992). Career Management Issues Facing Expatriates. Journal of International Business Studies, 23(2), 271–293.
  9. Forster, N. (1994). The Forgotten Employees? The Experiences of Expatriate Staff Returning to the UK. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 5, 405–425.
  10. Gregersen, H.B., and Black, J.S. (1996). Multiple Commitments Upon Repatriation: The Japanese Experience. Journal of Management, 22, 209–229.
  11. Hamill, J. (1989). Expatriate policies in British multinationals. Journal of General Management, 14(4), 18–33.
  12. Handler, C.A., and Lane, I.M. (1997). Career Planning and Expatriate Couples. Human Resource Management Journal, 7(3), 67–78.
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