2017 International Women’s Day: Support “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50”… ‘because it’s’ 2017

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This month around the globe, we dedicate 1 out of 365 days to celebrate women and girls. This year, the spotlight was in the world of work. As stated in the message by the UN Women Executive Director Phumzile MLambo-Ngcuka,

Achieving equality in the workplace will require an expansion of decent work and employment opportunities, involving governments’ targeted efforts to promote women’s participation in economic life, the support of important collectives like trade unions, and the voices of women themselves in framing solutions to overcome current barriers to women’s participation […]

It also requires a determined focus on removing the discrimination women face on multiple and intersecting fronts over and above their gender […]

Addressing the injustices will take resolve and flexibility from both public and private sector employers. Incentives will be needed to recruit and retain female workers; … support their re-entry into work, […]”[1].

I was highly satisfied with the 2017 IWD focus on work as it aligned with the aims and intentions of this webpage. In addition, greater emphasis is needed to develop, implement and expand concrete initiatives aimed at recruitment, re-entry and retention of women in the labour market, in particular schemes supporting migrant/mobile professional women.

Recalling my last post, mid-career intra-EU mobile jobseekers need the support of employment mobility schemes, such as REACTIVATE[2]. Based on the REACTIVATE call for proposal, this scheme represents a step forward in supporting the unemployed and potential employers. Nevertheless, an important aspect requires clarification regarding specific eligibility criteria for intra-EU mobile jobseekers. That is, are jobseekers wishing to take part in the program only those “seeking a work placement in another EU 28 country” ? Or would an EU citizen already residing in another Member State be eligible? In principle, would unemployed EU citizens already residing in another Member State be eligible to register, thus benefiting from the services of the program?

These questions are raised because numbers of accompanying partners/spouses already relocated and seeking employment could benefit from such comprehensive supporting services geared exclusively to intra-EU mobiles. In light of the realities of intra-EU mobile families, perhaps in future calls or existing programs, the requirement for relocation of candidates could be waved in favor of “the best interest” of jobseekers already residing in another EU Member State.

Based on the UN Women Executive Directors’ call for the “voices of women themselves in framing solutions to overcome current barriers to women’s participation … [along side] incentives needed to recruit and support [the] re-entry [of women] into work”, I would like to put forth the following suggestion:

That both private and public sectors’ employers consider: (1) stepping up their efforts in the recruitment process aimed at greater diversity outcomes in support of female intra-EU mobile citizens and migrant workers[3]; and (2) develop, partner and implement “returnship”/re-entry like programs for women who have undergone a career break due to family care or migration experiences, as suggested in previous posts.

All efforts towards a gender balanced 50/50 world of work and beyond are relevant, ‘Because it’s’ 2017 [4].

[1] See more at: http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2017/2/statement-ed-phumzile-iwd-2017#sthash.IY5i00Ct.4bvgnpVf.dpuf

[2] http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=629&langId=en&callId=485&furtherCalls=yes

[3] https://highlyskilledmigrantwomen.com/2016/02/01/2016-international-womens-day-women-employment-and-intra-eu-mobility/

[4] “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s succinct “Because it’s 2015” explanation of his new, half-female cabinet”, Trudeau’s ‘Because it’s 2015’ retort draws international attention, The Globe and mail http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/trudeaus-because-its-2015-retort-draws-international-cheers/article27119856/

“Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee Program”: Operationalizing Innovative and Resourceful Measures to Support Mid-career Professional in Re-entering the Labour Market

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According to the 2016 EUROFOUND report on gender gap and employment in Europe, “The cost of a woman’s exclusion from employment throughout her working life is estimated at between 1.2 million and 2 million, depending on her education level”[1]. Hence, I found myself intrigued and hopeful when I read the following article: “The Youth Guarantee in practice: Tina’s journey from unemployment to her dream job[2]. Furthermore, I was curious if such a scheme could be transferrable to my area of interest; i.e., a successful program aimed at supporting mobile, mid-career professionals seeking job opportunities.

How exciting it was to envision the following story in alignment with such an aspiring goal!

The “Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee” in practice: Ana’s journey from unemployment to her new job

Ana Gomes was 41, when she moved from her country of origin (somewhere is Southern Europe) to another major EU capital. After one year searching for a job in a field where she had more than 9 years of work experience, she was unable to take part in any special programs for those searching for employment. This was so, since she was not considered as a vulnerable group, long-term unemployed, + 45, etc. In fact, most of the programs offered by the PES (public employment services) in her city of residence focus primarily on youth and low skilled. However, what Ana really needed was a kind of individual counseling/advise commensurable to her skills and experience, instead of the usual “how to write your CV, interview and presentation” skills tailored to young jobseekers. In fact, one of the counselors she saw from a special program for jobseekers told Ana that her motivation letter, CV and experience were perfect for the jobs she was applying, and after the second meeting declared that she could not help her any further.

Language skills were not Ana’s problem, since like many European professionals, she spoke three EU languages fluently. However, perhaps one of her main disadvantages was her lack of professional networks in the place of residence, and opportunities to demonstrate her skills to potential employers.

So after many trials and no success, Ana finally heard of a new program called the “Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee” scheme aimed at facilitating intra-EU mobile citizens integration to the labour market through an “on-the-job” re-entry program. All Ana needed to qualify for the scheme was: history as a of job-seeker and registration with PES, residence in another EU Member State, +35 years of age, at least 5 years of work experience in her field. As part of the program Ana received tailored support and a job placement for 6 months commensurable to her work experience.

When I first met Ana at the office (into her three months re-entry work experience) she had a big smile and a heart filled with renewed hope in the future. But as she started to talked she said: “When I left my country with a graduate diploma, language skills, more than 9 years of work experience, a vast network of professional acquaintances and some international working experience (pause) … let me tell you, I was confident and certain that I would find a job here and continue to thrive in my career. So when the opportunity came for my partner to move here, I did not hesitate … however, after a year of unemployment and isolation from my professional network, I felt that I made a big mistake in leaving my country towards a “EU adventure”. In fact, I realized that mobility is not always advantageous for those in mid-career path, because you are too old and experience for entry jobs and not so experienced to senior one. In addition, despite being an EU citizen, I am disadvantage when competing for jobs with those who are locally trained and known by potential employers”.

With help from the “Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee” program, Ana was able to gain a foot inside the industry, and in the process help to raise the awareness of her employer to the fact that many highly skilled mobile women are an added value to the industry. In fact, after three months in the re-entry post Ana started to network with her former professional network back home, in order to facilitate a partnership towards a major project her employer was considering applying, but for which was missing an important partner in the consortium. Her boss admitted that she has never though that highly skilled intra-EU mobiles experienced disadvantages in the labour market, and that perhaps through Ana’s networking and business skills a new partnership will come about that can be very positive to her enterprise.

Within 6 months of completing the “Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee” program, Ana was able to gain: work experience in the country of destination in her field, access a professional network of colleagues and mentors, gain access to information on the “hidden job” market (including projects in the pipeline), and develop new skills, such as project development.

I am happy to state that at the end of her 6 months program Ana was given a chance to re-integrate into the labour market, as she was able to secure a temporary consultancy position with the company while they are waiting for the project she helped to develop to come through. Ana and her employer hopes that her journey will culminate in a job offer which will secure her a 3 years contract with the company and a prospect for more to come. Now as a consultant she is working full-time in a field that she not only love, but she sees her investment in her studies and work back home paying off. She said: “I am very grateful, because my talent is no longer wasted on being unemployed, I have a renewal hope on my career prospect and future opportunities to contribute to my family, employer and my host community; yet others [like me] are not so lucky, since they don’t have the opportunity to participate in a kind of support program that de facto gives you the opportunity to gain access to the labour market through employment”.

The “Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee Program” consists of a six-month’s re-entry work placement for qualified intra-EU mobile workers, age 35+, seeking employment, residing in another EU Member State, and having minimum 5 years of work experience. Placements are commensurable to workers experience and language skills, while support on language training is also offer by the programme. Participants receive a wage subsidy provided by the program, and employers are encouraged to consider them as potential candidates on new openings. Besides on-the-job training employers are encouraged to provide professional network support through for example, mentoring and career supporting activities.

Since it’s launching a year and half ago the pilot “Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee” program has had more than 300 participants throughout the European Union, with a considerable success rate on labour market integration according to the main implementers, the Public Employment Services and partners. Given its high demand by intra-EU mobile citizens and preliminary evaluation among the employers, this program is due to expand in 2017.


Like Cinderella, this story would be great news if it was, in fact, true. Unfortunately, the “Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee” program does not exist. Unlike in the fictitious story of Ana[3], many highly skilled intra-EU mobiles remain unemployed and without a re-entry program which could, like in the case of ‘Youth Guarantee’, produce concrete results in facilitating the integration into the labour market in another EU Member State and consequently increase the prospect of mobility in the EU.

Fortunately, all this may change. While writing this article, I came across a call for proposals with a new European Commission Program called: REACTIVATE – Intra-EU job mobility scheme for unemployed over 35”[4]. The program aims to support unemployed citizens in the 35+ age group, including long-term unemployed, to help them find a job, traineeship or apprenticeship with at least 6 month duration in another Member State. Reactivate will be featured as an intra-EU labour market activation measure, combining tailor-made recruitment, matching and placement services with financial support for jobseekers and employers (SMEs).

The action supported by the projects shall:

  • deliver a comprehensive, tailor-made package of mobility services, combining customized activation measures with direct financial support to both the target group of EU citizens over 35 years of age and employers (in particular SME’s);
  • include at least information and assistance with offers and vacancies, matching these with candidates and the preparation of the placement /recruitment in a number of Member States involving jobs, apprenticeships and/or traineeships; and
  • provide one or more items of direct financial support to both the target group of EU citizens over 35 years of age and employers (in particular SME’s).”[5]

From my perspective, REACTIVATE is great news! I look forward to reviewing the selected projects. I feel this scheme represents a step forward towards concrete activation measures in supporting jobseekers and potential employers through the process of recruitment, matching and placement services. Congratulation to DG Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion and European Parliament for supporting this new intra-EU mobility scheme.

As stated in my previous post, current re-entry programs are no panacea. They support qualified and experienced workers gaining back a foot in the labour market after a period of unemployment or transition. However, as in the case of immigrants in Canada and United States, it has been proven that bridge and re-entry programs work. Why not try new creative schemes that support mid-career professionals back into the labour market through on-the-job re-entry?

As expressed in: “Commission Work Programme 2016 – No time for Business as Usual”, “History has shown that Europeans have an inherent capacity to work hard, innovate, to create and to sell their ideas to the world. We cannot afford to lose a generation of this talent and potential.”[6]

In light of the above statement, may public services and other key stakeholders consider establishing a re-entry program consisting of work placements for professional intra-EU mobile citizens, 35+, jobseekers, residing in another Member State in line with the REACTIVATE program as a concrete response towards facilitating access to the labour market, gender equality, diversity and inclusion. After all, first and foremost, Employment is the primary motto for intra-EU mobility while the proportion of highly educated among recent intra-EU movers has increased substantially (from 27% in 2008 to 41% in 2013) [among] all citizenship groups.[7]

May 2017 advance many concrete initiatives in support of highly skilled migrant/mobile job-seekers in Europe, fostering inclusion in opportunities to participate in the labour market, creating true peace, harmony and joy for both the individual as well as their respective family members.

[1] Eurofound (2016), The gender employment gap: Challenges and solutions, Publication Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

[2] http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?langId=en&catId=89&newsId=2624&furtherNews=yes

[3] Ana Gomes is a fictitious figure, but her story is based on anecdotal accounts by intra-EU mobile professionals and personal experience of the writer.

[4] http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=629&langId=en&callId=485&furtherCalls=yes

[5] http://www.newslettereuropean.eu/reactivate-new-call-for-proposals-of-eu-job-mobility/

[6] http://ec.europa.eu/atwork/key-documents/index_en.htm

[7] http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-14-622_en.htm

Employment and Diversity: Female Professionals on the Move – An Untapped Pool of Skilled Workers in the European Union

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A number of exposes in recent years have pointed out that professional women, who have had a period of absence from the labour force[1] and want to return, is an untapped pool of skillful workers. However, studies show that those who wish to re-join, face a number of structural challenges, including high unemployment and underemployment rates, as well as more subtle forms of gender and/or age related bias, i.e., perceived lack of commitment, not having an up-to-date technical skills, etc.  As highlighted by Rosati in her piece The Diversity Triangle – Why Women, Businesses and Headhunters Need to Work Better Together”[2]: “As a general rule, rightly or wrongly, men are still viewed as being able to make a full and strong commitment to work, whereas women are often viewed as facing competing priorities, particularly at a senior level.

In an article to HR Magazine by Natalie Bickford, European HR Director at Sodexo[3], she stressed that mid-career level women are finding a struggle to access job opportunities, while there is a need for businesses to move in the direction of enabling this group of professionals to re-enter the labour market. While concurring with Bickford, in my opinion this message also goes for employers in the public sector as they are one of the main sectors employing a large number of female professional workers; i.e., social services, health, education as well as public policy and programmes. The appropriate incorporation of experienced mid-level career professionals is an important feature when trying to increase the participation of women in the work force in Europe[4], as we face demographic changes; i.e., ageing population, combined with the need to step-up productivity.

However, what can be done to mitigate this challenge and create a win-win solution?  To my knowledge, most experiences in support of women re-entering the labour market have been those programs which focus primarily on returnee professional mothers.  In my opinion, the group of highly skilled intra-EU mobile/migrant women  is  still overlooked by those in search of professional workers; i.e., employers or by those in support services for jobseekers; i.e., public employment offices. Based on evidence from studies on highly skilled migrant women and on-going research[5], female highly skilled intra-EU mobile and migrant jobseekers’, may share a similar feature to those of mothers wishing to return to the labour market, that is, a non-linear career trajectories, ‘loss’ touch with relevant professional networks, and a “career-break” triggered by mobility/migration. Moreover, through the process of mobility/migration, female highly- skilled workers, may also experience a number of additional hurdles or disadvantages; i.e., lack of support with childcare responsibilities, employment services which do not understand their experience and diverse talents, which makes their re-entry experience even more challenging compared to their non-mobile peers.

Bickford is insightful in her analysis that business is not pulling their weight on supporting and promoting mid-career level women who want to return to the labour market.  I can add that neither are public institutions offering specific programs for mid-career level mobile jobseekers. As echoed in this webpage, there is an absence of appropriate programs for mid-career level jobseekers on the mobile path, in particular intra-EU mobiles. Mid-career returnees on the mobile path can certainly benefit from dedicated programs aimed at integration into the labour market, instead of the on-going programs for jobseekers which do not take into consideration the specificities of this group; i.e., age, background, years of work experience and hurdles related to mobility. For example, take the experience of special programs for returning mothers which offers a kind of re-entry program aimed at labour market integration.

So why are such programs  not offered to mobile/migrant mid-level career women? Business could certainly profit from both the international skills and years of professional experience that those women can bring to the table. In fact, in Europe, for intra-EU mobile workers, there are no hurdles for employers  related to work permits or cumbersome accreditation of qualifications from abroad. For those interested in promoting diversity and inclusion, this is a group that owns a multiple edge – age, European/international background and gender, combined with professional experience.

The first step in a fruitful business proposal is to recognise an unmet opportunity. However, he next step is even more critical. How will it work? As such, it is vital to work towards establishing and implementing appropriate programs and matching mechanisms which can serve both the business rationale for suitable and experienced workers, as well as identify potential candidates that can be recruited and engaged in a timely manner. This successful,  avoids the impasse of “too young to retire; too old to rehire”[6].

Retirement age everywhere in Europe is increasing given extended life expectancy. This is resulting in an increase in human capital pressures and costs to the public health system.  One might ask: What is the percentage of work performed by the public employment services on case management aimed at matching employers and potential highly skilled candidates?

I understand that such services are very difficult and time consuming to perform. However,  based on evidence at hand, when this takes place, the chances to increase the number of employed individuals is higher[7] compared to other services, such as skills upgrading without a connection to an specific job, CV writing, or preparation for an interview. There is a need to balance the disproportional emphasis on the “skills debate”, which many times is based on employers’ surveys on what they want versus what are the jobs being offered.

I submit an alternative option – focus on improving job-matching services and increase dialogue with business towards multiplying the potential for an appropriate matching. After all, as we have seen in the migration debate, “labour shortage” and demand for specific workers may not always be a problem of “availability of workers”. It may well be related to structural issues[8], such as: recruitment costs, inability to identify the right candidate, low wages and work contracts which may not attract the right candidate[9], etc.

Based on anecdotal accounts commencing with my research in 2011, it strongly suggests that mid-career mobile jobseekers are finding it extremely challenging to re-enter the labour market.  There are a number of reasons for this, including: lack of appropriate language skills, period of absence from the labour market (sometimes due to mobility) and the struggle to find opportunities of employment in accordance to their professional experience and in their location/economic sector.  In fact, it  is  astonishing to see on several online employment databases how many positions there are for internships in professional fields as  social science, communications, just to name a few compared to mid-level jobs in project management.

We are certainly living in times of transition, in which the certainties, experienced by the graduate “baby-boomers”, no longer holds true. According to some analysts, the economic crisis has only exacerbated the speed in which things are changing. It has shed light on the challenges we are now facing in the labour market and the economy with its increasing level of inequality felt so strongly by the middle class.

However, not all is “doom & gloom”. We are also living in extraordinary times in which acquisition of knowledge can be at our disposal as a vehicle for positive changes – provided there is a will and the resources to implement them. With years of trans-national collaboration, through the support of the European Commission, funding mechanisms and programs in the area of research, integration and employment,  have  been learned and exchanged in terms of good practices. In addition, from a gender perspective, Wittenberg-Cox in a recent article for Harvard Business Review “What Work Looks Like for Women in Their 50’s” stated: “Some companies are recognizing that a more gender-balanced talent pool requires a rethink of career phases, and are extending the age of talent identification from the 20s through the 40s … [while] becoming flexible enough to enable their (relatively) late blooming, tapping into a potent new force in global business. For these smart, innovative employers, the silver decades may yield gold.”

Thus, there is a need to intensify the implementation of appropriate practices that can mitigate the persistent challenges of integration into the labour market of diverse groups in a sustainable way, such as the scaling –up and intensification of one-on-one services for jobseekers, as well as special programs that can facilitate entry, retention, and advancement into the labour market of mid-career professionals.

My topic of ‘female highly skilled mobility’ is still under-research. It is exciting to explore the evidence-based studies of barriers faced by non-mobile professional women in the labour market and on support programs for immigrants.  They have afforded me examples of true inspiration and  good practices, which I believe could be adapted to  support  intra-EU mobile professionals.

For example, in 2011 while researching for a project proposal on integration of women into the labour market, I came across the example of a “Returnship Program” for career breakers[10]. Merging the examples from this proposal while adding  my own experience on migration and integration, I  developed a project facilitating the creation of  a programme that could function as a vehicle in support of mobile highly skilled jobseekers as well as  potential employers, serving both diversity and labour market integration.  Unfortunately, in 2011 that idea was ahead of its time. The pragmatic ideas were dismissed   mostly due to the lack of evidence showing the exact numbers (data) and specific challenges this group experienced as they sought employment in other countries in the EU.

As a result of this experience, I shifted the focus of my research to the subject of intra-EU mobility of highly skilled women’s integration into the labour market. This webpage grew out of this passion with the intention of raising awareness of the significant challenges which effect a great deal of professional women on the mobile path.

The fact is that matching supply and demand is an essential element which makes it possible for all of us to contribute in a meaningful way to society. We live in times of competing priorities and agendas facing a standstill, or worse, a deterioration of women’s advancement in the workplace. So that crises’ do not overwhelm or displace the important issues, it is paramount to keep our attention on our intentions for gender equality and employment opportunities.

The workforce pipeline combined with outward barriers for women who aspire to senior management positions, may not be consider by some as a “crisis” worth tackling. However, evidence in the results of the 2015 CEO Success Study by PwC show: “Only 10 women were among the 359 incoming CEOs at the world’s 2500 largest companies in 2015 at 2.8%, that was the lowest share since 2011.[11] (!). These findings lead to the article, “2015: Not the Year of Women CEO”, which underlines:  “Despite this year’s reversal, we [the authors] remain confident that demographic, educational, and societal forces will continue to promote greater diversity in the C-suite.”[12] I wish I could share the same optimism. Unfortunately, based on the World Economic Forum 2015-Global Gender Gap Report, the progress on gender equality is rather slow and more efforts are needed.

Finally, on gender equality and diversity, one often hears that there is “a lack of women in high positions to choose from”. This leads me to believe  that unless society is able to address the workforce pipeline, one may never “have enough” talent to choose from no matter how much society has changed or women have surpassed men in numerical terms as university graduates. Well argued by Roseti: (2014) Recruiters and search firms have a responsibility to produce balanced shortlists and find suitably qualified female candidates. Recruiters have to be willing to challenge their client’s brief or the required skills, but ultimately clients are the final decision makers and they are the ones who have to make the changes […], there are many talented women out there and recruiters need to be prepared to look beyond the obvious to find the exceptional.

I end this piece offering a challenge to potential employers, HR personnel and service providers supporting jobseekers. The next time you are about to engage in a recruitment process, among your potential candidates, consider a female, highly-skilled, mobile/migrant worker.

I look forward to engaging in a dialogue with potential supporters wishing to collaborate in the Integration Project mentioned above. I would also welcome constructive dialogue and exchange of ideas on this topic with the aim of creating practical, pragmatic outcomes. Together we can co-create the change we wish to see on gender equality, diversity and greater employment opportunities in the European Union.

A heartfelt thank you!

 

 

[1] Reference in particular to professional women who have “left” the labour market to care for family members.

[2] Carol Rosati, Posted: 11/02/2014 10:32 GMT Updated: 12/04/2014 10:59 BST

[3] “Natalie Bickford: Women are Struggling to re-enter the world of work”, HR Magazineonline, Sep.2015, http://www.hrmagazine.co.uk/article-details/natalie-bickford-women-are-struggling-to-re-enter-the-world-of-work

[4]European Commission, “Growth potential of EU human resources and policy implications for future economic growth”, 2013.

[5] Riano, Kofman, Zulaef, Ackers, Liversage and others (see reference), as well as my on-going research on intra-EU mobility of professional women.

[6] Polyak, I “ Quite a dilemma: Too young to retire, too old to rehire”, 2015 http://www.cnbc.com/2015/01/10/quite-a-dilemma-too-young-to-retire-too-old-to-rehire.html

[7] Ichino, A., G. Schwerdt, R. Winter-Ebmer, and J. Zweimuller, “Too Old to Work, Too Young to Retire?”, IZA DP No. 3110, 2007, Behncke, S., M. Frolich, and M. Lechner, “Public Employment Services and Employers: How important are Networks with Firms?”, IZA DP No. 3005, also Reports on Long-Term Unemployed (See Reference Page)

[8] Cangiano, A. “Migrant Care Workers in Ageing Societies: Research Findings in the UK”, CAMPAS, University of Oxford, 2009.

[9] Gabriel, Yiannis “Job Loss and its Aftermath among Managers and Professionals: Wonded, Fragmented and Flexible”, Work, Employment and Society, 27(1), 2013

[10] Cohen, C. Fisman and V. Steir Rabin, “Back on the Career Track”, 2007

[11] http://www.strategyand.pwc.com/ceosuccess#VisualTabs3

[12] http://www.strategy-business.com/article/2015-Not-the-Year-of-the-Woman-CEO?gko=20b3e

Intra-EU Mobility, Employment and the Highly Skilled: Some “Food-for-Thought” on Ways Forward

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According to the latest EU Employment and Social Situation – Spring 2016[1], there is a gradual increase in the employment rate, alongside a decline in the unemployment rate in the European Union (8.8 %, the lowest rate since 2009). As I read the review I wondered how highly skilled intra-EU mobile persons are benefiting from this labour market recovery?

As we approach the forthcoming Labour Mobility Package, in the midst of an on-going discussion on intra-EU mobility and anti-immigration rhetoric, perhaps it would be beneficial to take into consideration evidence from research as a “balancing-act” vis-à-vis the on-going discussion on free movement. For example, the 2015 EUROFOUND study on Social Dimension of Intra-EU Mobility: Impact on Public Services” provides some interesting evidence as “food-for-thought” to the discussion. The main object set by the EUROFOUND study was to explore whether there was evidence for the hypothesis of “welfare tourism”, along with the identification of challenges in the path of intra-EU mobile citizens[2] in nine host countries in the European Union. Results from the EUROFOUND report not only match the initial objective of the study, but also offer a set of policy implications and recommendations at EU, national and local level. For instance, the need for more research, analysis and data in order to “counter ideological and uniformed assessments”, as well as achieve a more accurate estimation of intra-EU mobile citizens’ needs and remedy disadvantages.

Moreover, the EUROFOUND study also concurred with an overwhelming body of evidence pointing towards employment as the key factor for intra-EU movement, while statistics from 2013 indicate that 41% of mobile EU citizens are highly educated. Resonating with the central role of employment and mobility, the recent Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on “Fairer Labour Mobility within the EU” (exploratory opinion)[3] stated that: “Mobility is a key factor of employability and developing talent and can be a way to address the differences between Member States’ employment rates by offsetting labour shortages wherever they arise and making better use of workers’ skills. It provides greater job opportunities for workers and offers employers greater scope in their search for talent. Mobility can consequently be a major element in achieving the Europe 2020 objectives for employment and economic growth.”[4] However, due to the potential challenges faced by some professionals in seeking and securing employment commensurate to their skills, combined with the on-going problem of over-qualification[5], for the purpose of this post I shall focus my contribution to the discussion of intra-EU mobility upon issues related to highly skilled jobseekers and integration into the labour market. To begin with, I would like to state that, unlike some experts in the field of mobility, I don’t see brain drain as a problem in relation to intra-EU mobility. After all, in quantitative terms this movement is very small (compared to the entire EU workforce), while mobility is becoming more temporary/circular (including return of professionals to their country of origin providing the conditions are beneficial). Furthermore, as I yearn to see a thriving Single European Labour Market in place, where intra-EU mobiles would face no barriers of integration, while contributing to the EU community of their choice, I deem that “brain drain” is not the main challenge. Instead, there should be more concern expressed about the potential “brain waste” of these mobile professionals, especially the unemployed. As expressed in the “Commission Work Programme 2016 No time for Business as Usual” [6] on new boost for jobs, growth and investment History has shown that Europeans have an inherent capacity to work hard, innovate, to create and to sell their ideas to the world. We cannot afford to lose a generation of this talent and potential. The Commission will continue helping Member States in their efforts to get people back to work.”

Employment Services

 

Based on the results of the EUROFOUND report There is a need for greater employment support for EU mobile citizens, because of the disadvantages they face in the labour market and in integrating into society[7]. As such, since the main reason for intra-EU mobility is employment, an effective public employment service that meets the needs of employers and jobseekers is paramount to prevent possible loss of human capital, along with job creation. While acknowledging the work of EURES in support of intra-EU mobility, it is the local public employment services (PES), which will be working directly with the users (i.e., jobseekers and, in the best case scenario, potential employers) once they move for the purpose of seeking employment/or in the event of having lost their place of employment and needing to search for a new one. However, how much do we know about the success and possible obstacles experienced by intra-EU professionals, who avail themselves of the services of PES? How many are registered with the service and what is their profile? Based on the consulted reports from PES to PES Dialogue, I can only imagine how much knowledge and experience one could acquire on intra-EU mobility from an initiative under PES which could focus primarily on how highly skilled mobile intra-EU workers are doing in the labour market. Hence, an attempt to answer many questions, including:

  1. Are intra-EU mobile professionals aware of the fact that they can register with PES for support (i.e. job search, language training, etc.)?;
  2. What services are being provided and sought after by intra-EU mobiles of all ages and professional profiles, including gender differences?
  3. How are those programmes/services working for highly skilled intra-EU mobile jobseekers and potential employers in Europe regarding the matching process towards employment?
  4. What ought to be improved in order to facilitate and speed-up the matching process?

And so on. These and other questions crossed my mind as I read some of the excellent reports and recommendations derived from PES to PES Dialogue reports in relation to my interest on intra-EU mobility of highly skilled workers and their integration into the labour market. Moreover, as the European Commission works on the reform of the Blue Card Directive intended for highly skilled third country nationals, more knowledge on labour market integration and services offered to intra-EU mobiles may shed some light on some of the issues their peers may experience as they search for employment in the European Union.

When gathering information and considering those and other questions in relation to integration in the labour market, it is important to bear in mind that much of the literature and analysis on highly skilled migration/mobility has been produced from a macro-economic paradigm, which despite its value, especially to policymakers, researchers and the media (fond of numbers), it may lose the dimension of the individual workers’ experiences and those of employers, including gaining an awareness of perceptions related to workers and concerns on employability. As such, besides supporting quantitative studies, maybe it is important to support large qualitative and ethnographic based investigations, which can compile a great deal of information from the perspective of service users and providers, as well as rebuke some of our assumptions on provision of services and outcomes. As the labour market is in transition, so are our long held assumptions about highly skilled mobility leading to a constant “win-win” outcome, since extended periods of unemployment or underemployment can “erode human capital, making reintegration into the labour market much more difficult at a later stage. Therefore, having a job in another country can play a crucial role in protecting human capital and maintaining a foothold in the labour market.”[8] henceforward preventing brain waste”.

In general, in order to overcome the challenges of unemployment and demographic deficit of an ageing population[9], there is a need to intensify the implementation of appropriate practices that can contribute to mitigate the persisting challenges of integration into the labour market of diverse groups in a sustainable way, such as by scaling–up and individualizing services for jobseekers. In addition, by supporting special programmes that can facilitate entry, retention, and advancement into the labour market of professionals of all age groups. The evidence and recommendations elaborated by the European Commission on long-term unemployment could serve as examples of initiatives to be considered and adapted to intra-EU mobile professionals, such as individualized case work and matching services between jobseekers and potential employers.

A number of reports, including the 2015 EUROFOUND study, have recommended the creation of a separate fund dedicated to intra-EU mobility, which I agree with, while taking this opportunity to make additional suggestions. Since most intra-EU mobiles reside in urban areas (i.e., cities), local services and programmes ought to benefit from new funding aimed at deliverables (i.e., support with education, training, childcare, employment, etc.). Moreover, in relation to employment, institutions/organizations involved in service delivery should also receive additional resources to cope with the volume of jobseekers (to include funding for training and upgrading skills, new programmes, etc.), as well as internal capacity building in order to adapt their human resource/assistance towards an effective job support and matching services for highly skilled workers.

Free Movement

 

As for the unhelpful critics, despite being a work-in-progress, Free Movement is echoed and cherished by many in the EU as one the “the most highly-valued achievements of the European integration process”[10]. As such, it is important to emphasize that, notwithstanding a number of challenges, intra-EU mobility is the most advanced system of transnational human capital mobility in the world. This practice is worth preserving and strengthening as an example of international human capital mobility aimed at greater “transfer of knowledge, innovation and skills development, which is essential in a world undergoing technological change[11] and interconnection. As we live in a time of economic and labour market transition being felt around the world, it is important to take into consideration that it is not because something is a work-in-progress that we should discard or undermine it with restrictions; instead one should strive to preserve such an international advantage (i.e., mobility of workers), learn more from it (i.e., what is working, address challenges and scale-up examples of good practice), utilize what we already know (including making use of evidence based research and project/programme results), so as to adapt the structure and ways of working in support of “achieving the Europe 2020 objectives of employment and economic growth.”[12] As the idiom goes, “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”. Instead, as caretakers/social architects, we do all we can to enable our common project to grow vigorous with appropriate support and resources so it can thrive and contribute to society at large.

Moreover, since there seems to be an on-going concoction of issues related to mixed migration flows, perhaps the European Commission might consider establishing a European Intra-EU Mobility Network or Platform (like the European Migration Network) focusing primarily on intra-EU mobility, so as to among other things, strengthen the knowledge pool, address misconceptions and promote dialogue among key stakeholders focusing primarily on issues related to employment, social affairs and integration. As such, this new network/platform could include (not only) representatives from employment and social affairs at Member State level, but also representatives from cities, employers’ organizations, trade unions, civil society and experts. Such a network could contribute among other things to the identification of: emerging trends, lessons learned, example of practices and areas for further research, direction for programmes and projects in support of intra-EU mobility, etc. To date, a number of projects have received funding from the European Commission in support of intra-EU mobility and more is coming (e.g., Horizonte 2020, Intra-EU mobility and its impacts for social and economic systems, 2016), combined with initiatives at national and local level. However, as we live in an information-overloaded society, for those working on the subject, especially policymakers and practitioners, perhaps such a network would be of value towards a common understanding of the issues at hand and potential ways forward. For example, as a supporting mechanism in the trajectory to a constructive dialogue and evidence based policymaking and coverage, in service of the core elements within our common project of a thriving EUROPE for the benefit of all those involved: workers, citizens, migrants, employers and communities at large.

 

[1] EU Employment and Social Situation – Spring 2016 Quarterly Review. http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=737&langId=en&pubId=7884

[2] Intra-EU mobile citizens (from ten central and eastern European Member States) in nine host countries (i.e. Austria, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom), EUROFOUND, Social Dimension of Intra-EU Mobility: Impact on Public Services”, 2015.

[3] SOC/531 (27/04/2016) – EESC-2016-00258-00-00-AC-TRA (EN)

[4] SOC/531 (27/04/2016), paragraph 3.4 (1/6)

[5] B. Galgoczi, and J. Leschke “Intra_EU Labour Migration After Eastern Enlargement and During the Crisis”, ETUI working paper N. 13/2012, European Trade Union Institute.

[6] EC COM(2015) 610 final, “Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee of the Regions, Commission Work Programme 2016, No Time for Business as usual”, page5. http://ec.europa.eu/atwork/key-documents/index_en.htm

[7] EUROFOUND, “Social Dimension of Intra-EU Mobility: Impact on Public Services”, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2015, page 2.

[8] C. Dheret, A. Lazarowicz, F. Nicoli, Y. Pascouau, and F. Zuleeg, “Making Progress Towards the Completion of the Single European Labour Market”, EPC Issue Paper, No.75, 2013, page 37

[9] The EESC Priorities during the Dutch Presidency, Jan-June 2016.

[10] EESC, SOC/531(27/04/2016)

[11] EESC, SOC/531(27/04/2016)

[12] EESC, SOC/531(27/04/2016)

2016 International Women’s Day: Women, Employment, and Intra-EU Mobility

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In 2015, the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) published the Gender Equality Index – Measuring Gender Equality in the European Union 2005-2012[1] which examines a number of policy areas in relation to gender equality, including work[2]. The report functions as an assessment tool, thus enabling us to measure the degree of progress made in the European Union and in individual Member States on gender equality. Among the results from the report is a recurring observation that much progress is needed in key areas, such as an increase in the representation of women in political and economic decision-making in public and private sectors in Europe. Results from the 2015 EIGE report concur with a growing body of evidence from both academia and different organizations, which reveals that despite a great deal of progress in education and work experience, much still needs to be done to close the gender gap, while mitigating barriers for women’s advancement in the labour market (e.g., “glass ceiling”, “talent pipeline”, etc.). As such, if on the one hand women de jure have advanced in a number of legislative areas, as well as in education, de facto we still have a long way to go on gender equality in other key spheres of society, such as the economy, politics and health, as illustrated by the results from the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2015 Global Gender Gap Report.

WEF1 This coming 8 March 2016, we will be observing International Women’s Day, a time when we hear a great deal of reflection regarding women’s equality, uneven progress, and recommendations. However, in light of the on-going challenges in the economy and an ever increasing labour market segmentation in Europe, perhaps we need more than just reflection and commitment. We need instead to intensify the implementation of appropriate practices that can contribute to mitigate the persisting gender gap in a sustainable way. According to a number of women’s organizations and influential entities such as the WEF, there is an urgent need to mind the gap[3], which has a direct influence on economic growth and prosperity. For example, [r]esearch by WISE has found that attracting more women to the STEM sector could contribute an extra £2bn to the UK economy. With an ageing workforce, many of whom are due to retire in the next few years, now is the perfect time for STEM employers to focus their efforts on recruiting more women. But as well as attracting new applicants, they also need to give their existing female employees the support to stay in STEM careers.[4]

WEF2

“We know a lot of countries are investing in education – this chart just illustrates the G20 group of nations – but are they doing enough to help women enter the labor force?”[5]

Keeping with the theme of intra-EU mobility and work, it is encouraging to see that the 2016 Dutch EU Presidency has given a strong impetus to the priorities of – job creation, employment and sustainable growth – in order to overcome the challenges of unemployment and demographic deficit of an ageing population[6]. Henceforth, in light of International Women’s Day and the EU Dutch Presidency priorities (e.g., work), perhaps it is time to have a concerted dialogue towards identifying measures that can address de facto the on-going challenges while strengthening opportunities for female intra-EU highly skilled workers, self-employed and entrepreneurs to successfully integrate into the labour market. Maybe this process could start by questioning: is enough being done to support intra-EU professional women in their mobility path (i.e., entry, retention, and advancement into the labour market)?

Recently, I was asked to consider what measures should be put in place in order to mitigate the low return of human capital in relation to intra-EU mobility of highly skilled women. To begin with, given the complexities involved and lack of comprehensive research on the topic, there is too much to consider to prompt a single answer. Secondly, even though mobility is a major factor to consider in relation to the underutilization of workers’ professional skills and experience, it is important to take into consideration that gender bias and mismatching also affects the trajectory of non-mobile/locally trained highly skilled women. However, in an attempt to answer the above question, I would like to consider two threads, which could contribute towards lessening some of the challenges faced by intra-EU mobile, highly skilled women in relation to integration in the labour market. One, the need to place a greater effort on evidence-based policy and decision making process; and second, strengthening existing practices, as well as developing and implementing better targeted programmes and services on labour insertion, retention and advancement in partnership with employers, and other interested parties.

Evidence-based policy and decision making process

When examining the experiences of highly skilled women it is important to call into question the assumption that gender equality outcomes can be achieved primarily through parity of human capital; instead, quality research in this field emphasizes that it is other factors, such as influential practices and structural barriers, which act as de facto obstacles in the path of progress for female professionals. Studies focusing on highly skilled women consider that the gender dimension regarding institutional barriers for women (including limited opportunities of participation in relevant professional networks), and imbalances in the division of labour (in particular family care) between male and female professionals, are on-going negative contributors towards women’s’ advancement. However, it is in the evidence of studies, such as The Sponsor Effect: Breaking Through the Last Glass Ceiling[7] that we see how endemic, invisible and damaging some of those forces operate at the work-place (including “gender-fatigue”), as well as societal level in relation to women’s progress. For instance, “Male CEOs simply don’t see the lack of women around them, conditioned as they are by decades of initiatives dedicated to correcting gender inequalities… Men are also far less likely to recognize that gender bias is still prevalent in the workplace. While 49 percent of women think gender bias is alive and well today, only 28 percent of men agree[8].

According to McKinsey & Company, Women in the Workplace 2015 report, “it is hard to change what we do not measure”, but it is perhaps equally hard to change what we don’t set clear targets for, including the identification and implementation of practices that work in support of women’s advancement in the labour market. Given the on-going loss of female talent and expertise on the workforce pipeline, we need more than initiatives, like “women on boards” and in positions of leadership, since before reaching the “top of the mountain”, women must be able to continue walking upwards – starting with appropriate entry level jobs for young professionals all the way through middle management and beyond, along with a crucial factor – the engagement of man through a “HE(sponsor)ForSHE(highly skilled worker)[9]! As the subject of female highly skilled mobility is still under-research, it is in evidence-based studies of barriers faced by non-mobile professional women in the labour market that one may find inspiration and examples of good practice, which can be adapted in support of mobile professionals. For example, if mentoring mobile/migrants is a key to provide a set of helpful tools and advise to aspiring professionals in their career, it is perhaps the “transnational” sponsor which will make possible the re-entry of those in the mid-career path in a given host country. After all, a successful mobility (especially first employment) depends on an equal network of supporters who can back-up one’s professional stance in the face of unknown international degrees and work experience to reassure potential employers in the recruitment process. As highlighted in the The Sponsor Effect, “[w]hat women need now…is what men have always relied on: sponsors. Sponsors are more than mentors… Sponsors are powerful backers who, when they discern talent, anoint it with their attention and support”[10].

Target Programmes, Service and Practice in Partnership with Employers

As stated in a previous post, networks and professional advice on labour markets are key elements in a job search, along with access to labour markets for highly skilled mobile professionals which does not place them in a disadvantageous position vis-à-vis locally educated and trained professionals. However, here is the conundrum. Where are the public supporting programmes aimed at facilitating individual advice and job-matching services towards job entry for mid-career mobile professional women in the EU? To my knowledge, most specialized programmes addressing the unemployed/jobseekers focus primarily on youth and 50+ workers, hence constituting a gap for those mobile workers in their 30s and 40s. In addition, intra-EU mobiles may not qualify for existing public employment programmes geared to those facing the challenges of integration into a labour market (i.e. 45+), due to a lack of history (i.e. time period) of unemployment in the host country, even if they have been unemployed in a previous country of residence prior to mobility.

As such, there is a need to review existing and new initiatives on job-seeking support services in view of opening-up to intra-EU mobile workers, as well as to develop and implement special programmes/services that can facilitate de facto labour market integration for female highly skilled mobiles in line with European Commission recommendations (see previous post). As an individual assessment approach for job seekers is gaining momentum, along with the 2015 European Commission proposal on integration of the long-term unemployed[11], it is paramount to consider evidence, including new research, about what works, in order to attune new programmes to our times, as well as to strike a balance between the different target groups being served. Studies reveal that programmes addressing the unemployed have focussed a great deal on the short-term unemployed, hence leaving the more challenging cases behind. In line with under-represented target groups, evidence from the recent European Commission Employment and Social Developments in Europe 2015[12] underlines that older workers need more tailored support than youth due to a number of disadvantages, including potential bias in the recruitment process.

Furthermore, working in partnership with potential employers and different professional networks in order to raise awareness of potential disadvantages faced by intra-EU highly skilled women, as well as to promote a more balanced view in relation to nationally trained peers is paramount. In terms of practices, perhaps potential employers (especially those who place a greater premium on problem-solving/results-oriented skills) should consider changing the recruitment process towards placing a greater weight on tasks and performance, instead of background. Moreover, if on the one hand studies reveal that training programmes aimed at skill upgrading and employability alone are very weak if not directly linked to employment, on the other hand we are faced with widespread reporting by employers of the difficulty to find appropriately skilled labour. However, here is an interesting evidence-based observation by the WEF: “Employers often attribute their difficulties in recruiting to a lack of appropriately qualified candidates. However, many reported shortages arise due to the inability or unwillingness of firms to offer competitive pay and attractive working conditions, to poor recruitment and training policies, and/or to geographical barriers. As a result, many of the identified shortages could be addressed by facilitating labour mobility, promoting better recruitment and human resource management practices or supporting small and medium-sized firms in identifying needed skills and providing training.”[13]

Conceivably, in the light of growing evidence, it is time to move away from the soft commitment and into concrete investment aimed at achieving a more diversity-oriented outcome. For example, the on-going effort to curb unintentional bias in the recruitment process, is an important step on the road towards greater diversity in personnel. However, the practice of “blind” CVs may not be enough to address unintentional bias, since there is strong subjectivity involved in the process of reading and interpreting a CV, along with the interview process which leans towards likeability, suitability bias, and assumptions about the candidate’s background (sometimes based on the readers/interviewers’ limited knowledge of educational institutions, standards, and practices in another country). As such, maybe human resources and potential employers are to consider identifying and using a set of more objective tools, prior to the personal impression gained through the CV and interview process, such as “blind audition”. One case in point is the work of GapJumpers[14], which considersblind auditions level the playing field for all applicants”.

GapJumpersHomepage

 

In conclusion, on 8 March 2016, International Women’s Day, do we have much to celebrate or is there a great deal of work and advocacy to be done towards women’s equality? Optimistically, might 2016’s International Women’s Day observance and the EU Dutch Presidency priority on work serve as a vehicle in the direction of concrete action still needed to enable intra-EU highly skilled women (i.e. jobseekers, workers, self-employed, and entrepreneurs) an even participation in the labour market that is commensurate to their skills, professional experience, and aspirations.  Strengthening cooperation and partnership with employers towards job creation, and the implementation of appropriate services, in particular specific projects/programmes tailored to the integration of intra-EU mobile and highly skilled into the labour market, are in my opinion the two main priorities if gender equality-integration is the aim. After all, labour market integration is one of the main vehicles through which professionals in the mobile path integrate into the larger community. Overall, the enabling factor in the realization of free mobility rights is the essential element that makes it possible for all of us to contribute in a meaningful way to economic growth, productivity, prosperity, innovation, and well-being in Europe.

 

[1] http://eige.europa.eu/rdc/eige-publications/gender-equality-index-2015-measuring-gender-equality-european-union-2005-2012-report

[2] Article 23 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union states ‘Equality between men and women must be ensured in all areas, including employment, work and pay

[3] According to the 2015 Global Gender Gap Report, women are not likely to reach economic equality with men until 2133, World Economic Forum.

[4] https://wise.statementcms.com/resources/2014/11/not-for-people-like-me and http://gender.bitc.org.uk/news-opinion/news/national-women-engineering-day-and-myths-about-women-stem

[5] Graphics 1 and 2 including text – World Economic Forum, accessed 17 Jan. 2016, http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2015/report-highlights/

[6] The EESC Priorities during the Dutch Presidency, Jan-June 2016, www…

[7] Hewlett, S., with Kerrie Peraino, Laura Sherbin, and Karen Sumberg “The Sponsor Effect: Breaking Through the Last Glass Ceiling”, Center for Work-life Policy, Harvard Business Review – Research Report, Dec. 2010.

[8] Hewlett, S., with Kerrie Peraino, Laura Sherbin, and Karen Sumberg “The Sponsor Effect: Breaking Through the Last Glass Ceiling”, Center for Work-life Policy, Harvard Business Review – Research Report, Dec. 2010, page 3. Figures based on the survey carried out for the study.

[9] HEforSHE, UN Women – Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality.

[10] Hewlett, S., with Kerrie Peraino, Laura Sherbin, and Karen Sumberg “The Sponsor Effect: Breaking Through the Last Glass Ceiling”, Center for Work-life Policy, Harvard Business Review – Research Report, Dec. 2010, page 4

[11] EC Proposal for a Council Recommendation “On the integration of the long-term unemployed into the labour market”, [SWD)2015) 176 final}, Brussels, 2015 and Analytical Supporting Document {COM(2015)462 final}. Access on line.

[12] http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=738&langId=en&pubId=7859&furtherPubs=yes

[13] World Economic Forum, Matching Skills and Labour Needs: Building Social Partnerships for Better Skills and Better Jobs, 2014.

[14] https://www.gapjumpers.me/