Crisis, Employment and Opportunity – Intra-EU Mobility of Professional Women & Challenges to Integration into the Labour Market: A Bridge We Must Cross

2015 was perhaps the year in which Europeans heard repeatedly the word crisis. First the Euro crisis, and more recently the refugee crisis, and yet one acute issue not so visible in the media is the critical matter of EU demographic deficit in relation to employment, productivity, economic growth and prosperity in Europe. Only time will tell, but the EU demographic deficit and its consequences, combined with the on-going challenges in the economy and the changes in the labour market, may prove to have a much wider and long-lasting impact for the well-being of Europeans in comparison to other crises.

In 2013 the European Commission published a thought-provoking working paper on the “Growth potential of EU human resources and policy implications for future economic growthfocusing on the demographic shift of an aging population and its potential meaning for future employment growth over the period 2010-2060.

 “Europe is confronted with important socio-economic challenges due to demographic ageing. Their impact on the size and structure of the European workforce represents one of the key challenges in this context … [A]nalysis shows that some of the economically strongest EU Member States will find themselves confronted with serious employment growth constraints due to labour supply bottlenecks already within the next 5 years, even under extremely high activity assumptions. Several other Member States will face labour constrains over the next decade. Given the strong inertia of demographics, even total EU employment will start shrinking in 10 to 20 years from now. Labour supply constrains will arise considerably earlier in the case of highly educated workers. The authors conclude that if European economies are to continue growing at a welfare-maintaining pace, the focus must be on productivity growth which will remain the only renewable source of economic growth in the long run. EU productivity growth will have to more than double within the next decade compared to the last two decades’ relatively modest performance. How could these important productivity gains be generated in a socially sustainable manner?”[1]

In fact, one of the key messages of this paper is a plea to stop the current underutilization of human capital in Europe. Henceforth, a call for better use of European human resources, through increased participation and inclusion of groups deemed less active in the labour market, in order to foster greater productivity and economic growth for the region in the years ahead. In sum, the paper highlights that given the demographic deficit in the EU, sooner or later productivity has to be multiplied in order to generate the kind of growth rate necessary for a prosperous Europe. All I can say after reading the paper and in line with the aims of this webpage, is that I consider the issues discussed a challenge worthy of significant attention and concerted effort.

As much as we have been flooded with unpleasant news in 2015 of an ever growing chain of crisis after crisis, one must recognized that there is also a wealth of information and empirical-evidence pointing towards possible solutions and ways-forward, thus out of a mind-set of crisis and into one of opportunities. In line with the aims of this page, I support the report’s suggestion that greater effort be made towards increasing the participation and inclusion of groups deemed to be currently less active in the EU labour market (i.e., women, intra-EU mobiles, older workers, as well as the better utilization of legal migration channels matching labour market demands). However, for the purpose of this piece, I will limit my contribution by focusing on intra-EU mobility of professional women in relation to the challenges of integration into the labour market in positions commensurable to their skills and qualifications. To begin with, I consider that one of the first challenges to overcome in relation to the subject of intra-EU mobility of professional women and their integration into the labour market is the lack of knowledge and visibility of the problem in terms of – the disadvantages experienced by this group, outcomes of their experiences, followed by the need to devise concrete measures to tackle the issue. But before delving into the issue of invisibility and disadvantages, let’s look at the broad picture.

European Labour Market – Unemployment


Since integration into the labour market (i.e. employment) in another EU Member State is one of the main reasons for mobility within the Union, it is important to consider the state of the labour market at the regional level. According to the 2014 Eurostat report on Labour Market, “In the wake of the financial and economic crisis, the EU’s labour market displayed falling employment and rising unemployment through to 2012 [along with] considerable labour market disparities persist[ing] across EU Member States and between regions within the same Member State.” In 2012 there were 25.3 million unemployed persons in the EU-28[2]; meanwhile, job vacancies remained unfilled due to mismatching in the labour market, related to skills and lack of mobility of jobseekers. Such regional disparities[3] could be one of the indicators for increasing levels of mobility of EU citizens from regions or countries most affected by unemployment to more prosperous ones. For example, in 2014 the unemployment figure for Spain was 25.5%, while Germany had 5%. In 2013 The Guardian reported[4]in the first half of 2012, the number of emigrants from Spain to Germany was up on the same period of the previous year by 53%. Among Greeks the figure was 78% higher. Germany’s International Placement Service (ZAV), which is responsible for recruiting foreign workers to fill the gaps in the country’s job market, is feverishly scouring southern Europe for skilled workers such as engineers and scientists, nurses and care workers.” Based on the Eurostat 2014 report, besides youth unemployment, long-term (structural) unemployment (those who remain unemployed for 12 months or more) also remains a concern of policy makers “because the longer people remain unemployed, the less attractive they become for employees and, consequently, the higher their risk of remaining even longer outside of employment. In 2012, the long-term unemployment rate (for persons aged 15–74) was 4.7 % in the EU-28”.[5]

Gender Dimension


In terms of the gender dimension of unemployment, Eurostat figures for 2014[6] show a positive breakdown for women 45.9 % compared to men 54.1% of the total population. However, when taking into consideration figures for underemployment, women are affected twice as much compared to men (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. In addition, one must consider that mobility to another member state without an offer of employment, may also lead to a period of unemployment (including long-term) as observed in the case of professional women who accompanied their partner. For example, as stated in the City Report Frankfurt[7], intra-EU mobility may pose a mismatch in terms of employment opportunities for spouses or partners “who can face own integration challenges around language acquisition and qualification recognition if they don’t hold a job offer themselves”.

“War for Talent” or the “Mismatch of Talent”?


In the EU the mismatching of job offers and skills available in a given geographic area accounts, among other factors, for a possible explanation in relation to the disparity of unemployment figures in the face of skills shortage and unfulfilled job vacancies. In light of this fact, in recent years, especially after 2008 with the economic crisis, there seems to be a resurgence of discussions on strengthening measures that could improve intra-EU labour mobility in order to decrease unemployment and fill vacancies within the EU labour market[8]. Major EU capitals continue to attract a growing number of highly skilled European citizens, who benefit from free labour movement within the European Union. Highly skilled migrants are considered by major stakeholders (i.e., governments, the European Commission, private sector, and academia) as critical players in the success of the EU economy in an increasingly competitive global market for talent, innovation and economic growth. Traditional countries of immigration, such as Australia, Canada, and the United States, have a long tradition of attracting highly skilled migrants as a critical element aimed at socio-economic success. However, despite long standing academic credentials and work experience, highly skilled female migrant workers[9] experience many difficulties in re-entering the labour market, as well as periods of unemployment and de-skilling in the host country, both in North America and also in the European Union[10]. Based on the literature review[11] and anecdotal experiences gathered in the past four years, this researcher has noted apparent dissonance between what is considered “desirable” by major stakeholders, (at least in the level of discourse – “the need and search for talent”) and the reality of available mobile EU citizens (highly skilled workers) who are unemployed or have their skills underutilized[12]. Moreover, in the general discourse on the highly skilled there is a tendency by the private sector, policy makers and even scholars to simply use the term “highly skilled”, instead of qualifying which sector and industry one is specifically speaking of or referring to (i.e. graduates/professionals in the social sciences, management, humanities, IT, etc.), as well as treating this category as an “elite” or privileged workers. Nonetheless, the work of sociologist Favell[13] on intra-EU mobility shows that despite the rights acquired by European citizens to integrate into the host society, mobility is not frictionless as is claimed by some scholars on highly skilled migrants. The scholars based their assumptions on the adequacy of human capital endowment as the main element for the success in the labour market and beyond for highly skilled migrants. However, given the complexities of mobility, labour market integration and employment, in particular after the 2008 economic crisis, in order to gain a greater qualitative knowledge of the issue, it is important to take a closer look into the category and experiences of the “highly skilled” in order to identify the gaps in knowledge and have a better representation of the issue (i.e. integration of a highly skilled mobile population into the labour market).

Changing world of labour and the persistence of old assumptions


We are well aware of the fact that the world of work is changing, in particular labour market arrangements, but some of us are still working under old assumptions of accrued privileges based on educational qualification, meritocracy, linear career paths or even more controversial … the “war for talent”. These assumptions can influence not only our perception of problems related to highly skilled unemployment, but it can also narrow our responses to tackle unemployment mainly within the categories of vulnerable groups. However, as the world of employment is an ever more complex “puzzle”, it is important to consider the vast array of disadvantages faced by individual or groups within the active working population which may lead to barriers in accessing the labour market. When considering migrant/mobile professional women (i.e., self-initiators or those accompanying family members), it is important to consider a number of disadvantages that they may be subject to as part of the mobility process and labour market integration. For example: 1. Lack of language proficiency (i.e., professional level) in relation to expectation by potential employers, including preference for “native speakers”, 2. Loss of professional networks/social capital left behind as an outcome of mobility, 3. Lack of recognition of degrees, work experience acquired abroad, as well as occasional unintentional bias by potential employers; 4. Lack of understanding of their professional experience and qualification acquired abroad by local public service providers, which may hinder the likelihood of them receiving appropriate advice on job-search; and 5. Lack of appropriate knowledge on how the local labour market operates, including access to information on “hidden job” opportunities, delivered by professionals with a credible track record on counselling highly skilled jobseekers’. As acknowledged in the work of Favell and others, barriers to the integration of EU citizens may not be formal, but rather concealed in way that makes it a challenge for those to succeed despite their human capital endowment[14], the absence of legal barriers and de juri acceptance of credentials.

Perhaps, one of the most prevalent assumptions by many stakeholders is that mobile highly skilled workers are either served by “head-hunters” or are capable of finding jobs on their own, provided they have access to a good database. Maybe we would do well to review this and other assumptions in light of the current mismatching and underutilization of skills, as well as the length of time which may be needed for an intra-EU mobile worker to search and gain employment in another EU Member State. Findings from “Matching skills and jobs in Europe: Insights from Cedefop’s European skills and jobs survey”, show that “The economic crisis has made skills mismatch worse. Due to weak employment demand, more people are taking jobs below their qualification or skills level. The survey shows that, in the EU, around 25% of highly qualified young adult employees are overqualified for their job[…]The worry is that the economic downturn will undermine the long-term potential of EU’s skilled workforce. Unemployed people returning to work are also more likely to enter less skill-intensive jobs that may not develop their skills; 42% of adult workers looking for a job in the years following the crisis had few opportunities to find jobs suitable for their skills and qualifications”[15].

Crossing the bridge on unemployment and productivity


The EC Proposal [COM(2015) 462 final] on greater integration of the long-term unemployed[17], along with the excellent analytical papers and reports produced by the “PES to PES Dialogue[18], constitutes a rich contribution to the discussion and efforts to address unemployment. States are certainly confronted with a major challenge of a new dimension as they deal with the aftermath of an economic crisis where economic growth is treading side-by-side with unemployment. However, I take this opportunity to stress that given the disadvantages experienced by highly skilled mobile workers in relation to labour market integration, perhaps more in terms of support programmes should be devised for this group along the lines recommended by the EC Communication on the long-term unemployed and “PES to PES Dialogue” reports, such as: promotion of individual plans and support services; strengthening the capacity of PES workers to deal with cases, including those of highly skilled workers; as well as strengthening the matching services by concrete partnerships with the private sector towards employment. In view of the fact that good job skills and a consistent track record is important for employers, keeping the participation of women and highly skilled workers in the labour market is paramount, especially within the process of intra-EU mobility.

Moreover, as illustrated by several surveys on intra-EU mobility, despite the services offered by EURES, this entity is still overlooked by mobile EU workers searching for employment. Meanwhile, several reports, including the “Socio-economic inclusion of migrant EU workers in 4 cities[19] recommend the establishment/or strengthening of a “one-stop-shop” to serve intra-EU workers more effectively, ranging from registration to information on public services. Since employment is the cornerstone of intra-EU mobility, and funding a scarce commodity, perhaps EURES should become the designated ‘one-stop-shop’ or the first point of contact for intra-EU workers, based on the principles of first-rate information and active supporting services aimed at effective matching jobseekers to employers [20]. In relation to the highly skilled, this would demand greater knowledge of the issues involving in the matching of professionals, trust on the side of users that such services can deliver concrete opportunities in relation to labour market integration (i.e., a pathway to employment), as well as partnership with professional and employers’ associations, networks, city authorities and other key stakeholders, such as chambers of commerce. As expressed in the OECD 2015 paper for the G20 Employment Working Group “… [M]any countries are looking to adapt the intensity of support and prioritisation of services to better match the changing needs of job seekers and employers. Efforts to strengthening public employment services across G20 countries include expanding their reach beyond traditional clients (i.e. beyond benefit claimants); prioritizing and targeting services to disadvantaged population groups and places employing multiple services delivery channels; reaching out to employers to build buy in; and better utilizing labour market information and data to improve overall service delivery and performance”[21] .

The challenge of addressing job creation and opportunities is viewed by many, including the G20 Labour Ministers, as a crucial aspect in promoting innovation, growth, productivity and development – in essence the starting point of this piece in relation to EU demographic deficit and long-term well-being in Europe. Perhaps the contribution of intra-EU mobility of female professionals vis-à-vis a regional economic growth is small in percentage, but not so insignificant in quality to go unaddressed.

Furthermore, alongside the need to address skill mismatching and services to jobseekers, it is paramount to increase the level of good jobs in Europe, also in view of productivity and long-term economic growth. As pointed by the CEDEFOP survey “good jobs develop good skills. Skills-intensive jobs with complex tasks that provide opportunities to acquire skills continuously are a sign of a healthy labour market. Europe needs more jobs that fully use and develop the skills of its workforce[22], including those Europeans in the mobile career path.

Finally, while there is a segment which still like to focus on the “dark side” or better the unintended consequences of intra-EU mobility, empirical-evidence and political will may be the only torchlight available nowadays in order to tackle obscurity, myths and misconceptions based on present adjustments. In the process of migration/mobility, there is always a period of transition in which some form of stir happens, but there is also a great opportunity to harness the human drive forward, to foster talent, and most of all to see “the opportunity(ies) within the crisis”.   At one level it is important to acknowledge the “dark side”, but it is equally important to highlight, document, discuss and strengthen the opportunities we may have, otherwise intra-EU mobility would continue to be perceived, especially by non-mobile EU citizens, as a problem, despite the fact that economic opportunities is the main motto in this movement. As such, to the critics and sceptics – vision can only manifest where there is clarity, so let evidence-based policy making and good will be the force guiding us in the path towards an Enlightened EU 2060!


[1] Jorg Peschner and Constantinos Fotakis, “Growth potential of EU human resources and policy implications for future economic growth”, Working Paper 3/2013, Social Europe, European Commission, page 4.

[2] Eurostat Statistics Explained, 2014 “Labour Markets at Regional Level” Access online 07/11/2014

[3] Eurostat Statistics Explained, 2014 “Labour Markets at Regional Level” Access online 07/11/2014. “The highest regional employment rates in the EU-28 were predominantly recorded in north-western and central Europe, particularly in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden and the United Kingdom, and to a lesser degree in Denmark and Finland, while the capital regions of the Czech Republic and Slovakia also reported employment rates of more than 75.0 %, as did the autonomous region of Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano/Bozen in the north of Italy”, page 8.

[4] The Guardian (3/07/2013) Young Spaniards flock to Germany to escape economic misery back home

[5] Eurostat Statistics Explained, 2014 “Labour Markets at Regional Level” Access online 07/11/2014, page 20.

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

[7] Socio-economic inclusion of migrant EU workers in 4 cities – City Report Frankfurt, Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion, European Commission, May 2015 (page 10).

[8] EuroForum Report 2014.

[9] EU Citizens and third country nationals

[10] See REFERENCE: Koffman, Riano, Salaff, Preston and Gilles


[12] For example, Galgoczi 2011 & 2012

[13] A. Favell, “Eurostars and Eurocities”, 2008.

[14] Pedersen, Dorte, “Towards an Improved Understanding of Incorporation Dynamics of Highly Skilled Migrants in Vienna”, Vienna, 2012

[15] CEDEFOP “Matching skills and jobs in Europe: Insights from Cedefop’s European skills and jobs survey”, 2015 (page 2).

[17] 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.

[18] PES to PES Dialogue

[19] “Social-economic inclusion of migrant EU workers in 4 cities: Synthesis report”, European Commission – Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, May 2015.

[20] “PES to PES Dialogue” analytical reports, and IZA DP No. 3005, Behncke, S., M. Frolich and M. Lechner, “Public Employment Services and Employers: How important are Networks with Firms?”, 2007

[21] “ Strengthening public employment services”, Paper prepared for the G20 Employment Working Group Istanbul, Turkey, OECD, 2015

[22] CEDEFOP “Matching skills and jobs in Europe: Insights from Cedefop’s European skills and jobs survey”, 2015 (page 4).