Do you feel that the world gradually becomes more open, countries are less isolated, borders are slowly melting and if, you are European Union citizen, you can travel and most likely work anywhere in EU? Of course you do notice. But why have you not used the possibility to work abroad if you are unemployed or your salary is, for instance, 4 times lower than in some other countries? Lets discuss why you should be a mobile worker to enhance your possibilities.
Just before resolving the case, let me say that the idea to write about labour mobility came as a result of participation in European Youth Labour Mobility training course in Wroclaw, Poland. Participants from Lithuania, Italy, Poland, Croatia, Macedonia, Malta, Romania and UK discussed labor mobility issues on a broader country level and shared some personal experiences. I would like to use some of the findings from a country discussion, but concentrate on a personal level.
To start with, there is huge financial advantage to be a mobile worker. For instance, if you live in Bulgaria and earn an average salary of €461, moving to Denmark and finding a job for an average salary of €4275 brings you a 9.3 times higher earnings. The difference is of course lower if we take into account the difference in expenses and price level, but income after expenses will be still significantly higher. Being mobile means not only moving from country to country, but also within the country, particularly from village to a city. In Romania such move could double or even triple (if you go to capital Bucharest) your salary.
The financial side gets even more important if you are unemployed. In some countries the unemployment is so high (Spain has unemployment rate of 24.4% in August 2014), that the possibilities to find a job are quite limited even giving a lot of effort. At the same time, Germany has unemployment rate only 4.9%, which means they lack workforce in some areas and what is important – Germany would benefit having additional workforce economically (that we will discuss later). Unemployment is even more problematic within youth. The youth unemployment rate exceeded 50% in 24 European Union regions in 2012. Most of them were in Spain (10 regions), Greece (9 regions), France and Italy. Meanwhile Germany had 7.9% youth unemployment rate in 2013.
Working abroad enhances your language skills. There are few doubts, that one of the best ways to learn a language is to be in the environment, where this language is spoken by fluent and native speakers. Language could of course also be a serious barrier to enter the country. In this case, satisfactory language skill needs to be acquired before finding the work, but that could be done either before or after arrival, talking again with locals. There are also working opportunities that require international languages.
Working abroad improves your communication skills. You also gain insights into other culture. Coming to a foreign new country teaches you self reliance – independence, maturity, adaptability. Many companies (particularly international ones) want employees who could think and act on a global scale. You dramatically increase your network of contacts and have a traveling opportunity.
Lets come back to what stops you (or maybe does not stop) from being mobile. Statistics say that only 3.3% of European Union citizens work and live (thus are called mobile workers) in another Member State. We should of course notice that (1) the number of mobile workers is rapidly increasing, from 2% in 2005 to 3.3% in 2013, and (2) the labour mobility is significantly higher in less developed countries, especially the new EU entrants. Labour mobility is lower in developed countries because workers have higher salary and thus have fewer incentives to work abroad.
Lets take one of the most mobile and problematic countries – Lithuania. Mobility or best to say emigration is so high that in just a bit more than 20 years (from 1990 to 2013) Lithuania’s population fell by astonishing 19% (from 3.7 to 3.0 million) and there is something even more dramatic – Eurostat predicts that by 2040 country will loose another 33% population (to less than 2 million)! In the same period European Union’s population is expected to grow 3.2% from 507 million in 2013 to 518 million in 2040. It is important to mention that the decline is partly caused by a very low fertility rate, but emigration is definitely the most important factor. Although emigration in itself is not a negative phenomenon, Lithuania faces huge challenges due to the high rates of emigration: aging population, anticipated labour and skills shortages, brain drain. There are several ways how you could look at this situation: (1) restrict the mobility physically and basically “fight” with this or (2) make country attractive to live and work with innovations and improvements. I will not go into further discussion about this phenomena (unless you want me to?), since our focus is on personal motives. From personal point of view, mobility is rewarding: emigrants earn more money, gain new skills, some return after they reach their goals and potentially benefit society.
Lets see what are the main reasons why you could decide not to be a mobile worker. Aside already mentioned language barrier, you might decide to not to work in a low-skilled occupations or occupations that are different from your skills, you are afraid to loose social security benefits, family ties holds you, culture differences, high real estate prices, uncomfortable weather, loyalty to the employer or fear to loose even a low paid job you have. Some of these reasons are more reasonable, some of them are less, but what is important – (1) to weight them properly according to your personal profile of preferences and (2) understand to what you are exchanging your immobility, or in other words – do reasons of immobility overweight mobility?
Mobility is not homogenous, it has several dimensions and interpretations. For one, you can be less or more mobile, for second, you can be mobile worker by changing countries of work or you can have a work that is mobile, meaning you are flexible to work from home and anywhere else. Here we concentrate mostly on geographical (changing cities or countries), but also on vertical (changing from one profession/activity to another, lets say from a job to creating your own business) mobility. The level of mobility is also important – balanced mobility is healthy, while extreme mobility can cause loss of values, loss of trust or respect from employers, colleagues and friends.
Another critical and multidimensional issue is under and over qualification. Without going deep into many aspects of it, mobility is a solution for both cases. If you just finished the high school in Croatia and want some unqualified experience or to earn (pocket) money before enrolling to further studies, why not to participate in the European Voluntary Service program or go to Malta to work in a low skilled but quite well paid jobs that Malta has plenty to offer? If you are over-qualified and can not or do not want to find a job in the industry you qualified, why not to be flexible and fill the gaps in other countries (geographical movement) or fields (vertical movement), lets say try entrepreneurship or even other job.
Of course, easier said than done. Without doubt there could be much more support from the government and perhaps the whole system should be different. But lets not focus on what others should do, lets focus on what you could do with what you have, now, here, and that is practically manageable. My answer is – be mobile!