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/

 

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

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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

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/07/spanish-youth-germany-unemployment-crisis

[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

[11] See REFERENCE

[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). http://www.cedefop.europe.eu

[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 http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=964

[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). http://www.cedefop.europe.eu

Is Better Service to Intra-EU Mobile Citizens a Medium to Foster Greater Mobility in the EU? Service, Recommendations and an Outlook on Strengthening Opportunities & Partnerships

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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

 

Intra-EU Mobility and the Highly Skilled: Is Europeans’ Preferred Type and Length of Employment the ‘Missing’ Element Towards Increasing Labour Mobility?

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Notwithstanding – and in part prompted by – the economic crisis, the flow of mobile people searching for work continues to grow in the European Union; from 4.7 million in 2005 to 8 million in 2013, mainly driven by job opportunities in countries of destination[1]. If a great deal of discussion on this issue is dominated either by focusing on the ‘modest’ numbers of intra-EU mobility compared to other well-established hubs of labour mobility (i.e. North America and Australia), or on the obstacles for greater mobility in Europe (i.e. linguistic diversity and institutional differences), for the purpose of this post I would like to take a more encouraging approach. I would like to focus on the characteristics of this mobility flow (i.e. skilled workers), which may have a greater potential to contribute towards substantial socio-economic gains, reduce unemployment and geographical mismatches, as well as to increase the well-being of mobile EU citizens. Yet, gains are usually conditional also on improvement in some areas, in particular integration of workers into the labour market through adequate opportunities for entry, stay, growth and career development.

As identified in the 2014 EU Employment and Social Situation report[2], compared to the pre-crisis period there has been a striking change towards an “increase in the overall level of education [of mobile workers in which 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”, thus reflecting both the overall up-skilling of the EU’s labour force, along with changes in demand for labour in the region.

“Labour Mobility in the European Union – The Inconvenient Truth”, Lecture at University of Bristol, UK, 10 February 2014This should be considered as a positive trend in view of the new economy. Nonetheless, studies show that a large percentage of mobile workers, in particular Central and Eastern Europeans, are employed in jobs for which they are over-qualified[3]. In fact, over-qualification was true of more than 50% of those with a tertiary education in 2012.”[4] This represents a loss of human capital and revenue for the region, as well as having a negative impact on the well-being of mobile workers and their families.

Consequently, if we look at the current trends of increasing intra-EU mobility of tertiary educated workers and on the evidence-based materials available on this group, it is vital to consider adequate responses to some of the core issues related to labour market integration, such as: de-skilling of workers, availability of quality jobs along with steady career prospects, and services in support of intra-EU jobseekers. Services that may go beyond existing programmes which place greater emphasis on specific age groups (i.e. traineeship) or actions which are mainly based on provision of information. There are examples of positive initiatives on services for the highly skilled, which unfortunately do not get much attention, compared to the negative coverage on intra-EU mobility (i.e. ‘welfare tourism’). More on services in future posts.

Moreover, in line with the issue of employment and intra-EU mobility, I take this opportunity to refer to the Euroforum Report on Intra-EU Migration and Labour Market as a very insightful work, which provides the reader with some key elements in the discussion, including useful statistics, a legal and historical account of intra-EU mobility, as well as indicators of barriers to mobility. This report, along with other relevant news, studies and initiatives, can continue to serve as an on-going force towards a greater dialogue on the subject based on evidence, in particular as a space-opener to gather and understand individuals as well as the collective experiences of European professionals working in another EU member state.

Despite the rich data derived from a number of surveys on the intention to move within the EU for employment purposes, it is in the actual experience of those who have moved that we find the evidence on barriers to be addressed, as well as the opportunities for advancement in relation to workers’ integration into the labour market. Integration into the labour market goes beyond economic growth and competition; it speaks in particular to many professionals regarding their yearning to contribute to their communities, to utilize their talents and to realize their professional path.

In general, mobility of highly skilled workers is one of those subjects that wield a number of positive opinions from key stakeholders. However, it is important to consider one’s view on the subject in relation to facts and specific context in order to avoid having an opinion based on perceptions and assumptions that may be outdated. This includes over-optimistic views of transferability of human capital in relation to internationally mobile workers, especially for self-initiators. If flexibility of workers is the state of play, so should be our capacity for critical thinking in questioning textbook theories and paradigms, such as the War for Talent, which may need some adjustment. There may or may not be a war for talent among some segments of the economy; in my opinion, what should be of greater concern is the focus on the realities of the highly skilled already on the move, that is the 41% (2013) and the potential ones in all sectors of the economy, not only those in the high demand categories.

When looking at barriers to intra-EU mobility, most writers highlight linguistic and institutional barriers, along with the problems of transferring social entitlements as the key factors for the low level of migration. However, when reading the Eurobarometer 2010 survey on mobility experiences and intentions of EU citizens, while having in mind the highly skilled, I think we are to consider an additional element, which is Europeans’ preferred type and length of employment. As such, “Europeans who envisage working abroad are most likely to be interested in permanent positions in another country (55%), followed at a distant second by other types of work (such as contract) (19%) and a temporary assignment with an employer (17%). Seasonal and traineeship are less popular…Those aged 25-39 are most likely to be interested in permanent work, whilst those aged 40-54 are most likely to be interested in a temporary assignment with their employer… In line with this finding, respondents prefer permanent positions when they move abroad; one in five Europeans who envisage working abroad plan to do so for as long as possible”[5]. Therefore, when considering this additional element in the report, one could reason that linguistic and institutional differences may not be the major deterrent, but rather that EU citizens willing to move seek employment opportunities which are more stable and permanent in nature, hence long term good for themselves, their families, employers and the economy. The benefits, like the costs of mobility may be elusive to measure in macro-economic terms, but they are tangible for those individuals involved in the process of mobility – ask mobile EU citizens or international migrants and they will tell you in great detail.

As we live through a time of significant changes, the demands on us to continuously strive to adapt, act, and innovate – all three traits familiar to professional mobile/migrant workers – are present, along with the pragmatism involved in one’s decision to migrate. Perhaps, instead of looking at differences as barriers to mobility, we might look at current labour market segmentation, the extensive use of short-term contracts, and tangible employment opportunities in member states. If we take the Eurobarometer 2010 findings – provided the quality and length of employment is long term and more stable – perhaps more Europeans will be inclined to move into positions where they can maximize their skills and talents for the benefit of all. Mobility of highly skilled cannot be projected/or worked-out outside the on-going labour market transition, especially given the employers’ critical role in the process of entry and retention of workers, as well as their vital knowledge and acceptance of education, skills and credentials from another country. Otherwise, mobility simply becomes a form of movement rather than an intrinsic element in the socio-economic engine for innovation, sustainability, and inclusive growth. Furthermore, a number of stakeholders still overlook that “with the exception of those at the top rank [as well as intra-corporation/organization transferees], most skilled migrants cannot afford to be rootless, for valid economic and social-cultural reasons. Skilled migrants are not as hypermobile as imagined. They value the cultural attractions and lifestyles associated with particular destinations, and are inclined to put down roots once they have settled in a new place they call home[6].

When comparing hubs of labour migration, it is worthy to consider that if on one hand mobility is a conduit for learning, innovation and growth opportunities, in a long run a “hypermobility” of self-initiators may not always be sustainable/or desirable to certain individuals and/or businesses.  Therefore, perhaps the focus should be less on numbers and more on the quality of contribution (i.e., socio-economic, cultural, personal, and so on) generated as part of a single/or multiple experiences of intra- EU mobility. Evidence based on quality may yield alternative responses when searching for innovative ways to address on-going challenges, after all “No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it. We need to see the world anew” (Albert Einstein)

 

Ps: SURVEY ON MOBILITY OF PROFESSIONAL WOMEN IN THE EU – Seeking Participants: 40 Jobseekers & 20 self-employed/entrepreneurs before closing of the survey (Summer 2015). For those matching the profile (i.e., women, EU citizens, highly skilled, living in another EU Member States) and willing to support this research initiative, please click the page above – Survey Mobility-Highly Skilled.

 

[1] László ANDOR, European Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, “Labour Mobility in the European Union – The Inconvenient Truth”, Lecture at University of Bristol, UK, 10 February 2014, including graphic/slide below (Google search).

[2] EU Employment and Social Situation, Quarterly Review, Supplement June 2014, “Recent trends in the geographical mobility of workers in the EU”, European Commission, 2014, page 23.

[3] A number of studies and articles on the subject of de-skilling highlight this point, in particular Galgoczi, Bela and Janine Leschke, “Intra-EU Labour Migration after Eastern Enlargement and During the Crisis”, Working Paper 2012, 13, European Trade Union Institute.

[4] László ANDOR, European Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, “Labour Mobility in the European Union – The Inconvenient Truth”, Lecture at University of Bristol, UK, 10 February 2014, page 17.

[5] Geographical and Labour Market Mobility Report, Eurobarometer 2010, European Commission

[6] Tseng, Yen-Fen, “Shanghai Rush: Skilled Migrants in a Fantasy City”, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 2011.