To move or not to move – is that the question? The fairy tale of mobility

Posted on 22. March 2014

by Estefanía Almenta

estefania-almenta-lopez-modifiedMove! If you can’t find a job in Spain, you should move. There are lots of opportunities for people like you’ – I’ve heard these sentences so many times lately that for a moment I almost believed this is the magic solution to move my career forward.

I even heard this from German Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, during a public debate entitled ‘The future is us! Young Europeans discuss with Wolfgang Schäuble’. He gave me a very strong recommendation: “Move. Highly educated young people must be flexible and mobile. It’s more difficult for those who are not highly educated.” I was clearly not satisfied with this reply. “I have already moved. I spent my Erasmus year in England and I’ve worked in the Netherlands and Scotland. I completely agree international experience gives you more opportunities, but it is not enough. ” Minister Schäuble responded: “As soon as the economy recovers, you will find more jobs in Spain. The Spanish economy is doing well and is on a good path to economic recovery. The same is true of Ireland, Portugal and Greece.” After this, it was clear to me that Schäuble’s advice was to move and wait till things get better. I insisted: “How is economy going to recover in peripheral countries if their most prepared young people migrate to Northern and Western Europe?” Minister Schäuble answered: “Young people will leave, get better ideas in other countries and then return to their home country with better ideas and money. That will be beneficial for their home countries.” I reacted: “That is exactly what I did. I left my country, worked abroad and then I returned to Spain, but there aren’t opportunities for me there. How will my country ever benefit from me, then?”

I’m a young Spanish woman, highly educated, and with work experience in several European countries. Despite all that, I found myself incapable of finding a job in Spain. The truth is I have considered the  possibility of moving as my only opportunity. Fortunately, soon enough I realised it is not. Let me explain, why.

To move or not to move – is that really the question?

Apparently it all comes down to being flexible and mobile. If you have good qualifications and you can’t find a job where you live, move somewhere else. On the surface it makes sense, but don’t let appearances fool you. It is not that simple.

1. The legal and linguistic obstacles

Let’s imagine I decide to move to Germany. I could be an English and Spanish teacher in a secondary school. In that case, the first thing I’d need would be to gain domestic recognition of my foreign degrees. Besides, I may be asked to undertake an aptitude test or an adaptation period before my qualification is validated. Of course I’ll also be required to learn German and prove I’m a fully proficient speaker. A friend of mine went through this process and it took her three years to complete it. This is three years in Germany before she could actually work as a teacher. How should I finance this long period of time?

2. Kiss your personal life goodbye

When you move, what happens to your personal life? Your professional career and your personal projects should be compatible, but this is not always the case when you move. I have lived abroad and I had to start my life from scratch several times. This has never been a problem for me because I actually enjoy the feeling of starting over and I can make friends easily. However, when you reach a certain age – in my case, 30 – you may want to settle down and start a family. Unfortunately, moving makes my prospects so uncertain that I cannot afford to even think about having personal projects.

3. The brain drain

It is highly educated professionals who actually have better chances if they migrate to other EU countries. In the case of Spain, politicians want to convey a positive message reporting that our emigrants used to be low-skilled workers, but now are the most prepared ones. “We export talent”, they say proudly. This would be good news if we had plenty of it, but the truth is that we have to ‘export’ our most talented candidates because our economy is not ready to take advantage of them. No wonder I’ve heard so many times lately: “You’re overqualified for this position.” Politicians keep saying young people should study science – especifically engineering or medicine – rather than humanities, and actually these professions show a lower rate of unemployment, but due to the crisis, their working conditions are very precarious. So in the end no professions are recession-proof and a high qualification is no guarantee for a good job.

How to tackle this problem? In the case of Spain, a lot of reforms have already been put into practice, but no transformations at all. If Spain, together with other European countries, wants to attain a sustainable competitiveness, it needs to invest more on R+D (Research and Development), instead of focusing so much on reactivating the traditional dominant sectors of its economy (tourism, construction and agriculture). Otherwise, the economy may recover, but it will remain deeply dependent and fragile, making it particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in global markets and handicapping the creation of high-skill jobs.

Should I stay or should I go?

I acknowledge that encouraging mobility is essential and beneficial to the European labour market, but it is definitely not sufficient. The question of how to tackle youth joblessness ought to go beyond moving or not moving abroad, and certainly mobility needs to be easier and at all cases it must remain a right and not become an obligation for young Europeans. Mobility is neither the only solution nor the most advantageous one.

After being unemployed for several months without finding any career opportunities, I decided it was time to create the opportunities myself. ‘That is very risky!’ – I heard. And actually, it is. I have struggled with my risk-aversion and with the fear of failure (and probably I will always do). As a matter of fact, I don’t know any Spaniard who does not long for stability. Beside that, Spain does not provide an entrepreneur-friendly atmosphere – bureaucracy and tax liability are simply a nightmare.

Despite all the disencouraging factors, I’ve come to the conclusion that the risk of waiting is actually higher than the risk of trying. After my career in academia, I understood I had to reinvent myself, but also realised that I could deploy my experience and knowledge as a lecturer and researcher on bilingual education to start working as a freelance trainer and consultant. The crisis made very evident for everyone in Spain that improving foreign language proficiency is an urgent need, and I saw a business opportunity here. This is why now I’m an independent professional, with my own – very humble but promising – foreign language training business. Beginnings are always difficult, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity of a crisis like this.

This article is part a part of a series of reflections by young Europeans, prepared in cooperation between FutureLab and Süddeutsche Zeitung Online. To read the original click here.