European Union Labour Mobility Challenge

For those with qualifications, talent and determination and willing to invest in themselves the prospect of unemployment within Europe should be put in perspective if people can master English and are willing to be be flexible and mobile.

European Worker

While average unemployment across the EU’s 27 countries reached 9.6% in 2011, considerable variation exists between individual nations, with 4.1% unemployment in Austria, for example, versus 21.8% unemployment in Spain.

Simultaneously, many EU countries are suffering growing shortages of skilled labour, due to aging populations even with high unemployment. Healthcare, Engineering, Education and Natural Resources are always seeking talent with specific countries struggling for trade skills such as welders and electricians.

The OECD report said Europe’s leaders could help fix this problem by encouraging workers to migrate within the European Union. It is equally true of migration from the European Union to places like Australia that has a crippling skills shortage, as it creates room for emerging talent.

“High unemployment, particularly among young people, and low labour mobility coexist with skill and labour shortages in other regions… Greater mobility between EU countries would help meet imbalances in supply and demand, as well as making it easier for workers and firms to make the right job matches,” the OECD report states.

The report notes that even though EU nationals are legally entitled to work anywhere within the union, only 3% of working-age citizens currently do so. Most of these will be the famous Polish Workers from Eastern Europe. In contrast, non-EU nationals account for around 5% of the EU’s working-age population.

While language differences present a bar to intra-EU migration, citizens are also deterred by remediable administrative barriers, said the reports. Those include poor cross-country recognition of professional and academic qualifications, inability to transfer pensions, and difficulties in obtaining information about foreign job opportunities.

In addition, EU citizens are often “de facto barred” from accessing public sector jobs that are reserved for nationals, despite EU law forbidding this except in limited circumstances.

However, the reports warned that removing these barriers would not provide a panacea for high unemployment. “Ultimately, a return to strong and sustainable growth is needed to bring unemployment down,” they said.

However, at an individual level the 18th century advice of “go west young man” may now be replaced by “go east young man” or perhaps down under. Mass emigration has sorted out imbalances within Europe in the past but today it is more symptom then cure.


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