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In May 2015 a conference entitled “How to Improve Intra-European Mobility and Circular Migration? Fostering Diaspora Engagement”[1] was convened under the auspices of the Latvian EU Presidency in Riga, which proposed a number of policy recommendations for European institutions on the issues of intra-EU mobility aimed at overcoming barriers and increasing the benefits of mobility for all involved. Preceding the conference, in January 2014 the EC-Directorate General for Justice published a report on the “Evaluation of the impact of free movement of EU citizens at local level –Final Report”, also considering potential services for intra-EU mobile citizens, which have been implemented (mostly) in relation to third country nationals in the ambit of integration. The purpose of this article is not to review the two sets of recommendations (which I invite the reader to consult for their value), instead, I would like to use these two examples as an ‘entry-point’ on recommendations available in the field of intra-EU mobility, while offering an opinion in relation to highly skilled workers. It is important to stress that in all documents reviewed on the issue of intra-EU mobility to date[2], especially those assessing the aftermath of the economic crisis, reiterate that the overwhelming majority of EU mobile citizens move for the purpose of employment – hence making labour mobility the primary motto for this movement. Moreover, despite some discontentment, Free Movement is still viewed by most Europeans as one of the most successful policies of the European Union, and this is echoed by most evidence-based studies and statements to date.

However, since employment is the primary motto in the process of intra-EU mobility, before delving into the subject of service and recommendations, I take this opportunity to highlight an interesting slide by Eurofound concerning sources of information used by EU mobiles seeking employment in the European Union presented at the Conference “Stimulating Mobility of Young Workers through Mentoring”, Lisbon 2015.

Eurofound2015Slide

Considering mainly the figures presented in the slide[3] above, one is left with the impression that EU mobile citizens need better servicing regarding the source of information on labour market opportunities for employment. While agreeing with several recommendations that improvement must be done to EURES, national public employment services, and other vehicles for information dissemination and services in the field of job vacancies, I remain somewhat cautious about the results which these efforts alone could facilitate successful mobility of the highly skilled. After all, matching jobseekers to employment, especially among the highly skilled, is a very complex task, as shown by the examples of long-standing selective migration policies and integration of workers in the labour market in other parts of the globe, notably North America and Australia. Moreover, the same goes for recommendations calling for the improvement of language training for EU mobile citizens. In part, language training is an important service, which in the past was mostly geared to third country nationals, but the degree of competency necessary for a highly skilled worker to perform their work on the basis of language grounds varies tremendously. Just consider that in some professional sectors language proficiency, precision and understanding is 90% of the job (i.e., lawyers, academics, medical staff), while in the case of those with high technical skills it may be 60% or less. As such, when considering recommendations on language training in view of employment, it is important to consider the field of work and the entry point, since perhaps for young workers less proficiency and precision is expected in relation to the workers’ professional experience in a given field, compared to mid-career professionals.   Experience with highly skilled migrants shows that language training ‘on the job’ yields better results compared to mainly classroom-style. As many EU mobile professionals and experts in this field would tell, this is not a “one-size-fits-all”, and more is needed to understand the challenges, conditions, realities and opportunities faced by individuals, along with the complexities of the labour market at the EU and national level, even if one is to consider mainly a few net receiving countries (i.e. destination countries). The complexities of different sectors and how they operate, even in countries with an akin linguistic background (i.e., Germany-Austria, or UK-Ireland) is enormous. Generalizations and assumptions based on the experience of integration of third country nationals, state of affairs prior to the financial crisis, and “the way it has always been done” would not deliver the kind of Europe 2020 and beyond which we would like to experience as a reality. Perhaps, more is needed in the “way that has never been tried” or “the road less-travelled”, since intra-EU mobility of workers does deliver concrete gains. For example, according to the OECD 2014 report on migration and adjustment, since the economic crisis “Labour mobility contributed to reducing regional unemployment and non-employment disparities in Europe. (up to a quarter)”.[4]

Returning to the purpose of this post on recommendations and services, it is important to stress that after looking at a number of recent publications on the subject, recommendations still geared overwhelmingly to public institutions, be these European Union or national authorities. However, since the key factor contributing towards increasing levels of mobility is employment, in my opinion we are to provide further recommendations which focus or can be geared to employers in the private sector as the main players in the area, in particular SMEs since they are the main source of employment in the EU. Research aimed at evidence based policy and programmes, or integration projects for migrants, to name a few, can only play the role of facilitators in the process of decreasing the barriers of mobility. Moreover, public institutions, including national governments cannot alone solve the mismatch in the labour market which goes beyond geographical boundaries, lack of information about jobs (database), or equal treatment and anti-discrimination. One just needs to look at discussions on women’s issues, to see that despite legislation, high qualification (university degrees and work experience) and a variety of programmes (i.e. public and private), women are still underrepresented in positions commensurable to their skill, experience and qualifications (both in the public and private sector).

The work of public institutions is beyond doubt of vital importance in the process, but the private sector is still the main generator of employment, hence more activities to link EU mobile citizens with potential employers should be considered and pioneered. Programmes should go beyond age parameters (i.e. youth unemployment programmes) since the average age within the 70% of active EU mobile citizens ranges from 15-64. As such, highly skilled workers in mid-career should also be considered as potential beneficiaries of supporting programmes given their aspirations for a career and employment in another member state. The consistent low percentage of intra-EU movement, despite the economic crisis, points towards the complexities involved in fostering a growing number of potential movers. Unlike, a great deal of literature, which assumes that mobility of highly skilled is on the rise for better working conditions and income, I see it differently. With the increase in the number of dual career couples, which among the highly skilled is more a norm than an exception, the overall potential for mobility (unless if financially necessary or otherwise) may decrease because successful mobility means a vehicle to satisfy two professional careers at a given location, not one in support of the other. The “myth” of the ‘trailing” spouse/partner without professional-work aspirations has long been debunked by a number of research paper and studies, including McNulty’s[5] survey on accompanying spouse which shows that out of 264 female respondents, 63% identify the ability to work as an important challenge in the process of mobility, especially since for the vast majority of them regaining a professional stand abroad was not possible. As such, one just needs to take a look at the literature on “dual-career couples” and consider that, in case this category is faced with challenges in securing employment commensurable to their skills in a given destination – language and institutional barriers would just add to the list of challenges to be overcome, hence ultimately contributing toward a possible decrease in the level of mobility of highly skilled Europeans. As mentioned in a previous post, 60% of graduates in Europe are women, so when considering growth and increasing the levels of participation of women in the labour market, please consider how to best integrate highly skilled mobile women. In the end, the lack of appropriate services and understanding of the challenges faced by highly skilled mobile/migrant women, an idea for a bridge project and my wish to provide a meaningful contribution to the mobility process of this category was what prompted the initiative of this webpage and my research/activities (upcoming survey results).

In concrete terms, if on the one hand public institutions are to improve their services on recognition of diplomas and work qualification towards the goal of successful employment – perhaps it would be better to facilitate the process whereby employers de facto are made aware of and recognize the skills, qualifications and experience of workers at hand. Studies on the highly skilled shows that after receiving the “stamp of approval” by institutions regarding their degree and qualifications, migrants/mobile EU Citizens still have to “pass” the process of de facto recognition by employers, many times embedded in the latter’s perceptions and lack of knowledge of foreign degrees, qualifications and work experience (even if EU related). As such, apart from improving the rate of positions being advertised by employers at national database or at EU level, perhaps more efforts and activities should be made to raise the awareness of potential employers of EU mobile highly skilled workers, on the basis of their business and human resources needs. Most employers do not have a dedicated human resource person or department, let alone experience and resources to dedicate to recruitment outside their national boundaries; yet this does not make them less of a potential partner towards increasing the engagement of EU highly skilled mobile citizens in their business, thus contributing towards a potential successful job match. It is important to recognize that despite all efforts on transparency of recruitment processes and equal opportunities, disadvantages or favouring of domestically trained workers still persist, sometimes due to the lack of appropriate knowledge on non-native workers’ background or linguistic abilities in relation to job performance. For example, 20 years ago we knew little of Indian IT specialists, whereas nowadays through their work experience, meaningful contribution, research and popular media it is hard to leave this group of workers out of the potential categories for candidates in the field of IT, in fact many policies and programmes aimed at attracting highly skilled migrants are designed with this group in mind.

A balance of approach and activities, as well as creativity and risk, is perhaps necessary, especially in transition times, where there are a growing number of retirees, increased financial gains in the private sector and persistent unemployment/underemployment, despite being the most qualified younger generation in Europe’s history[6]. As a result, programmes in which employers and potential candidates are provided with a vehicle for a better exchange of information, greater understanding of each other’s needs and potentials on a “one-on-one basis” (if possible or through intermediaries) may yield an additional matching mechanism along with a ‘state of the art’ internet portal. The Internet is a wonderful tool, but we still live in a real world where personal relationships and exchange count, and as such we need to increase the level and opportunity of contact and interaction between potential employers and job seekers, including those facilitated by intermediaries (including, qualified employment counsellors). It is a well know fact among jobseekers and human resource experts that a good CV and a database of available jobs is not the real “deal-breaker”, but rather networking, proof of matching experience and a good recommendation from an internal source, be this an employee or another having a degree of influence of opinion. Perhaps in order to counterbalance the usual statement “I know someone perfect for this position”, or reliance on highly specialized headhunters, why not strengthen a system to assist potential employers, in particular SMEs, to better recognize the skills and qualifications of EU mobile highly skilled workers in different fields, for positions which sometimes may not be obvious to both, hence fulfilling the function of a good job-counsellor/labour market expert. This is a big task to fill, but examples of good practice show that constructive advice is possible and sought after by the private sector when it is sound and based on evidence.

There is a tendency by some to view issues related to problems of recruitment of migrants mainly from a discrimination perspective, but this argument (at least from a de juri perspective) may not always hold when considering that EU Citizens hold an extensive set of equal rights in the Union; yet we know that there are de facto problems, such as the high number of underemployed highly skilled mobile EU Citizens (last post). As a result, perhaps we are to take into account the existence of a set of ‘advantages and disadvantages’ (also know as ‘favouring domestically trained/educated workers’) which plays a part in the selection, retention and promotion of the highly skilled mobile workers, while pointing towards the need for a greater understanding of the subject when working with employers. Failure to include and work with these critical partners (i.e. employers/private sector) will render us to continue to seek solutions within institutions which at best can improve the preparation of workers for the labour market, but cannot guarantee their integration into the labour market through employment. Working with employers is a critical component in responding to barriers of intra-EU mobility of highly skilled workers, especially since according to CEDEFOP between now and “2025, most job opportunities, around 24%, in the EU are forecast for professionals (high-level jobs in science, engineering, healthcare, business and education)[7].

Finally, I agree with a number of experts that the European Social Fund and other similar funding instruments should be devoted to intra-EU mobility, with a caveat. First, the focus should not rest mainly on categories defined as vulnerable; otherwise highly skilled/mid-career professional mobile EU citizens would not qualify for supporting programmes. For example, in terms of the gender dimension of underemployment, Eurostat figures for 2014[8] show that women are affected twice as much compared to man (66.3% vs. 33.7%), in the age bracket of 35-54 (53%). The latter figure is explained as possibly linked to childcare obligations, thus limiting the scope of economic activities of mothers. Despite the absence of cross figures for age and education among the 53%, one may speculate that given the age bracket a certain percentage of women in this group would have a high and medium education level, hence a potential economic loss regarding their involvement in the labour market which needs to be considered in the case of female mobile EU citizens. Furthermore, emphasis on youth unemployment programmes based mainly on training initiatives, may miss some critical thinking to the fact that training and skill upgrading is only a piece of the puzzle on employment, while the long-term element still rests on ensuring that the quality of jobs is a reality after the upgrading is completed, otherwise one may be contributing to raising false expectations, especially among recent university graduates.

As a second consideration, if the aim of improving mobility is to create a viable Europe 2020 of prosperity and economic growth, perhaps there are other financial instruments which could be considered or made available for this effort, such as strengthening and prioritizing existing research instruments for more qualitative research on the barriers and opportunities of EU highly skilled mobile citizens. For example, the POCARIM[9] project funded by the EC 7th Framework Programme is an example of excellence in looking at realities, conditions, barriers, opportunities and the undoing of old assumptions of mobility of EU highly skilled (i.e. researchers and Academia), while offering concrete recommendations, including further areas for research. In addition, funding instruments geared towards the private sector under the motto of improving competition, fostering innovation and economic growth, could also consider the inclusion of a component related to selection and retention of mobile EU highly skilled/talent workers of all ages through, for example awareness raising of potential employers about future candidates, strengthening the number of hubs of training, innovation and integration of mobile workers, fostering potential cross-sector/cross-discipline collaboration in view of employment, and so on.

Fostering intra-EU mobility that is beneficial to all involved is a challenge worthy of great effort, within a spirit of collaboration, diversity, evidence-based and partnership. After all, in challenging times leadership is not about being at the top of the pecking order, but leading the way forward.

 

[1] https://eu2015.lv/events/political-meetings/how-to-improve-intra-european-mobility-and-circular-migration-fostering-diaspora-engagement-2015-05-11

[2] See Reference page

[3] This slide is from a PowerPoint presentation “ Intra-EU Mobility: Trends, Policies and Impact”, by Klara Foti, Research Manager, EUROFOUND given at the Conference “Stimulating Mobility of Young Workers through Mentoring”, Lisbon, May 2015, which the writer did not attend; hence I have only the text of the slide on which to base my analysis.

[4] Quote from PowerPoint presentation “Macro-Economic Aspects of People’s Mobility”, by J. Chaloff, May 2015 Conference – based on Jasper (2014) “Migration as an Adjustment Mechanism to the Crisis? A comparison of European and United States”, OECD Publication.

[5] McNulty, Yvonne, The Trailing Spouse Survey: Findings of a 4-year Study of Accompanying Spouse Issues on International Assignments, 2005 Survey Report

[6] CEDEFOP, Briefing Note, June 2015.

[7] CEDEFOP, Briefing Note, June 2015

[8] Underemployment and potential additional labour force statistics. Data Oct 2014, Eurostat Statistics Explained, Eurostat

[9] POCARIM (Mapping the population, careers, mobilities and impacts of advanced research degree graduates in the social sciences and humanities), http://www.salford.ac.uk/nmsw/research/research-projects/pocarim-home/resources