The worldwide demand for skills is changing. Since 2007, OECD countries, especially those in Europe, have lost almost half of their manufacturing jobs. Greening, outsourcing and technological change are, at the same time, driving the demand for new sets of skills and competencies in the global labour market. Ageing populations in both developed and emerging economies are compounding these trends.
Whilst governments are beginning to recognize the importance of making their education, skills and employment systems more demand led and of encouraging wider participation in the labour market, less attention is paid to the role that geographical and occupational mobility can play to meet these challenges. According to latest figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), only 3% of the world’s population is moving to another country for work reasons. Up to 90% of people in countries with severe skills shortages like Canada or the USA are opposed to further opening their borders to immigration. The potential of immigrants already residing in a country can often be overlooked because qualifications are not recognized or because of difficulties integrating transversal skills into the domestic job market.
From a public employment service perspective, managing labour migration needs to be addressed in a practical manner that primarily looks at the skills of mobile workers and how they can best be matched with employer demand.
First, the changing landscape of skills demand is a global issue and can thus not be tackled by national solutions alone. One-sided approaches often fail because they neglect the simple fact that mobility has at least two sides. Countries sending skilled migrants might suffer from knowledge and skills shortages if migration pipelines are not managed within the context of a sensible emigration policy. Equally, migrants who are not well-informed about the work conditions of the country to which they are considering moving might lack opportunities and find they are not recognised for their skills.
Second, the reason why the skills of mobile workers are not always fully exploited is because employers can be reluctant to hire them. In particular, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), often the driving forces of an economy, might avoid employing and training migrants, even if they possess the right skills. Lacking experience of working with people from a migrant background or receiving a personal recommendation from a reliable business partner, SME’s often prefer to work around shortages than open vacancies to foreign workers.
In both cases, a global approach to increasing geographical and skills mobility is needed which balances growing the employment rates of the existing population with managing migration where it is appropriate. The public employment services and their partners can play a key role, for example by using their labour market information systems to support mobile workers and employers through the entire process. Information needs to be accessible -equally from abroad- easy to understand and illustrated with success stories sourced from employers, migrants, and possibly from the sending country. EURES (European Employment Service) provides such a platform to facilitate mobility within the EU/EEA.
Employment services can also play a helpful role by connecting their services to migrant community groups, which often tend to have the most efficient networks to reach out to new, talented workers. Finally, employment services can provide advice concerning the recognition of skills. They understand both the needs of employers and what migrants can offer and can thus help relevant institutions build a bridge to better tap into or up-skill capabilities.
By adjusting their core business models to embrace geographical and skills mobility, public employment services can be a successful manager of transitions. Geographic and skills mobility are high on the agenda of the World Association of Public Employment Services (WAPES) which will offer a number of opportunities to explore this topic further in 2013.
For updates and reports of past conferences on the topic see www.wapes.org