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EU Freedom of Movement Is Good for British Businesses - And for Your Career

18/04/2016 22:42

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The debate surrounding the upcoming EU referendum has pushed many issues to the forefront, and one that shouldn't be forgotten is the matter of international talent mobility.

We can look at international talent mobility both as an issue for the national economy, and as a key factor in career progression. The national agenda is the macro, and the individual importance (in simple words; your career) represents the micro-level.

To start with the first, our prosperity is highly dependent on a steady influx of talented people. A knowledge-based economy like ours is desperate to attract the world's 'best and brightest'. The reason for that is obvious; we need brilliant minds to push the boundaries of knowledge, to invent and to innovate. Though the numbers involved are small, the economic impact can be massive. Society also has a much broader need, namely for employees with the right skillset.

Attracting people from abroad with the right skills is not always fully appreciated, yet has great economic importance. It is often impossible to find a perfect match between those who are available in the labour market, and the particular type of skilled employees that are urgently needed. Talented, gifted and skilled people from abroad filling that shortage tend to be the lifeblood for a booming economy.

Recently researchers interviewed over 90,000 establishments in the UK at part of the Employer Skills Survey from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. They concluded that despite a surge in job openings, the number of positions left vacant because employers cannot find the right people to fill them has risen by 130% since 2011. The survey shows that so-called "skills shortage vacancies" now make up nearly a quarter of all job openings, leaping from 91,000 in 2011, to 209,000 in 2015. The long term solution is the upskilling of present and future employees, but the economy cannot be that patient.

So mobility - offering attractive salaries to tempt those with the right skills to relocate - is the quickest fix. It is the key reason why free movement of people within the EU is considered - by economists - so essential for sustainable prosperity in Europe. It enables a quicker and more efficient matching of human supply and demand.

At micro-level - meaning: you - mobility is no less important. There is a wide range of evidence showing that those who have studied or worked abroad, are in a much stronger position in the labour market. Those who have worked in at least two countries by and large have a much more successful career.

The main explanation for that is obvious - by studying and/or working abroad you are likely to have gained the intercultural skills required to operate effectively in a modern globalised economy. But also, for employers your CV signals something crucially important: that you have guts. You have left your comfort zone in order to experience life in a much less familiar environment. With experience abroad you demonstrate that you have an attitude that most employers really value, especially for more senior positions.

One of the benefits of modern Europe is that there is free mobility for EU citizens. So unlike for most of the rest of the world, you do not need work permits. Language proficiency helps when taking a job in another European country, though the most important qualification for working abroad is your mindset. A word of advice; when you return, make sure you are able to express the benefits from your work or study abroad: what did you learn from it, how did it change you, why was it valuable? This question is guaranteed to come up during any job interview, and it gives you an opportunity to shine.

The European 'career booster' works best when you act for positive reasons instead of escapism. Those who go to work/live abroad in order to run away from an unsatisfactory domestic situation can easily be disappointed. Those who go abroad because they cherish a challenge are much more likely to be rewarded.

Finally, if you want to engage in some international talent mobility yourself, there is the ERASMUS scheme for students. Some three million have joined that scheme so far, but it is unfortunately still painfully under-utilised by British students. Currently a follow-up is being piloted for those who have finished their studies and would now like some work experience abroad, it is called Check-in Europe.

Let's not forget, international talent and skills mobility is what makes the modern world function economically. It is an important message that easily gets overshadowed by discussions about the current refugee crisis or a Brexit. It might even be an important message in regards to your own career ambitions.


Professor Maurits van Rooijen is Rector and Chief Executive at London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) and Chief Academic Officer of Global University Systems (GUS).

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