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Archive for April, 2008

Britain is at risk of losing its curry talent, which can affect 10,000 chicken tikka palaces in the country and jolt its food industry to the bone.

I sat up straight as I read a fascinating report in the Financial Times. Curious indeed is the way that countries manage the ‘people’ risks of globalization. Britain’s curry houses employ over 80,000 people and are among its biggest industries by sales. 10 to 12 percent of them will likely close in the next few years.

Why? A new immigration system will make it difficult to hire skilled curry chefs from South Asia, mainly Bangladesh. “It will count for naught that a would-be immigrant can mix a mean masala. He will need fluent English and a high-level cooking certificate too.”

But the government has exempted East Europeans from having to produce such qualifications to get hired. So it’s asking restaurateurs to hire them. And restaurant owners say that you can’t just get someone from Bucharest and expect palatable curry! Even the look of the dish changes. As one owner pointed out flatly: “We had an east European sous chef, but his chapattis were wiggly at the edges, like maps of Russia.”

FT summarizes the situation with pointed eloquence: “South Asian restaurants could hire chefs weaned on curry who had come from Commonwealth countries whose soldiers fought for Britain in two world wars. Now they must recruit cooks specialising in dumplings and pickled cabbage from the former Soviet bloc. That is idiotic. But that is the European Union.”

We hear global CEOs point out that attracting and retaining talent is the biggest challenge that their companies will face in an increasingly competitive world market. HR professionals, in the same vein, are investing more on the management of a workforce spread worldwide and on means to keep them happy.

Against this business trend collides a political one: the management of immigration by governments. Countries like Ireland bring out advertisements promoting the innovative talent available for foreign investors. But next door, in Britain, the food industry is about to lose its curry chefs.

Now a small-footprint local restaurant is not exactly a multinational giant. If it were, it would be better off, for it could offset the risks from talent squeeze in one country by sourcing from another. Not only are the assets of a curry house tied to its location, but the service it provides is also location-specific. So it can’t really manuever much.

On top of that, the curry house is facing another risk. Food prices are increasingly rapidly in the world economy, preventing the restaurants from managing prices to make up for talent shortfall. Under such business constraints, talent management becomes critical, with support from the government.

Governments should forecast risks more systematically before embarking on a major policy change. The ‘people’ factors in globalization have always been challenging — economically, politically, culturally. So integrating people and capabilities adequately in global risk management is critical, not just for companies but also for governments.

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