Friday, July 11, 2014

Making opportunities in Mongolia

Given the Irish obsession with the weather, you’d wonder why anyone would actively choose to move to the coldest capital on the planet. But in 2011, 31-year-old Adrienne Youngman from Dingle did just that.

Within three months of marrying her fiancé Tom, she agreed to move with him to Ulan Bator in Mongolia, having never set foot in the country.

But as risky as it may sound to emigrants who prefer to tramp the well-worn trail to Australia, New Zealand and Canada, a closer look at Youngman’s background makes it easier to understand why moving to one of the most isolated places in the world wasn’t as daunting as it seems.

As a small child, Youngman and her family moved to Zimbabwe for three years, after her father answered a call for teachers to help stabilise the country after independence.

“When we arrived, there was nowhere for me and my sister to go to school, so my mother set one up.”

The family returned to Dingle when Youngman was six-years-old, where they stayed until she was 10. “It was a beautiful place to grow up; I was schooled in Irish and still consider Dingle home and Irish my first language.”

The family then moved to London where she spent her teens and eventually went on to study English literature at Cambridge.

After working for a couple of companies as a management and brand consultant, she landed a role with alcohol giant Diageo in 2007 and, once again her passport began to fill up with stamps.

“It was a fantastic place to work. I got to live in Spain and Russia. My job was about strategising and the global marketing of Captain Morgan rum.”

Sense of adventure She met Tom and the pair decided to get married in 2011. While many couples would feel under pressure to start putting down roots, Youngman had found someone who shared her sense of adventure.

“We decided to start looking for work abroad. Initially I thought I would move within Diageo and we considered Asia, Latin America and Africa, but in the end it was Tom who got offered a job as a general manger in Mongolia.”

While in Mongolia the couple noticed a gaping hole in the recruitment sector and decided to dive in, as Tom had experience in the industry.

“So we did a bit of research and decided to go for it and set up the Mongolia Talent Network. We spent the first month working from our flat. It was challenging being married to your business partner, as we literally talked about nothing else. So as soon as we could, we rented an office and agreed to keep things as separate as possible.”

The agency aims to help both Mongolians and ex-pats find jobs, but that’s not as straightforward as it sounds.

“There are a lot of rules about employment here. The government want jobs to stay with locals and there are restrictions on hiring here. The standard quota is that a company can only employ one foreign worker for every Mongolian.”

Despite its vast geographical size, Mongolia’s population is less than three million, with a working population of just over a million. In the past few years the economy has seen rapid growth in both the mining and financial sectors, but the number of people qualified to work in these industries struggles to keep up.

“There’s a real shortage of specific qualifications and depth of experience here. Despite this being a mining-driven economy, less than 2 per cent of graduates finished with a mining-specific degree last year. Qualifications like law and engineering are also under-represented.

“The challenge is to find and recruit locals as well as ex-pats that have experience in emerging markets such as Mongolia. That has meant a significant demand for our type of work. We currently employ 10 people in Ulan Bator and hope to expand the business internationally in the coming months.”

Surprisingly cosmopolitan But despite having itchy feet professionally, the mum-of- one says Mongolia is home for now. “I love it here. The people are very friendly and despite the cold you get a lot of beautiful crisp sunny days. The ex-pat community is very supportive and it’s more cosmopolitan than people might think. We are trying to learn Mongolian, but it’s not an easy language to master.

“I’ve even managed to find one other person who can speak Irish to me, so I still have a connection with home. I’d also like to teach my son Oli how to speak Irish when he’s old enough. He might not need it commercially but it could be handy to have our own secret language!”

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