Europe is a one-way street for job-seekers

10th October 1997 at 01:00
Strawberry-picking in Scandinavia is a tremendous growth industry. Along with bilingual secretaries and building workers, the demand for staff is mushrooming.

Unfortunately, the opportunities are lost on most little Englanders and parochial Welsh. While other Europeans are storming our shores for new jobs, home-grown Europhobes often wander no further south than the dwindling hop fields of Kent.

Five years after the abolition of border controls on the movement of workers across Europe, the migration is virtually all one-way.

Resistance among UK nationals to learning other languages remains a central problem, according to careers advisers.

Reports from a Bradford-based careers agency are typical of UK careers services. It receives 30,000 enquiries a year, with a substantial proportion coming from overseas employers and people in other EU countries seeking work in the UK.

Mike Carey, manager of the agency Careers Europe, said: "The barriers are down. But people in the UK don't take as much advantage of opportunities as our European neighbours. It is a concern that UK people are not very well represented in jobs at the European Commission."

There are signs of a change but they are slight, and usually in counties such as Kent and Sussex, close to France.

Sussex Careers Service has links with a centre in Normandy. Sue Shoesmith,an adviser, said: "Each year I may get a dozen enquiries from sixth-formers looking to spend time working abroad, mainly as a prelude to higher education."

Mr Carey, too, has seen growing interest in taking advantage of the 1992 Single European Act, which made it easier to live and work elsewhere in the EU.

But the slowness of changing attitudes is illustrated by the recent Radio 1 campaign to highlight job chances earlier this year. It attracted 10,000 calls compared with 8,000 in 1995.

"When I used to work as a careers adviser I was never asked about Europe, but it's clear from the enquiries we receive from careers services that interest is increasing.

"We have been asked how to become an opera singer in Denmark, while another person wanted to work in Italy restoring frescos," said Mr Carey.

Accurate and sound advice to those seeking work abroad is essential, according to Terry Caine, an adviser on Europe with the Employment Service."If you are talking about freedom of movement, you must back that up and tell people about living and working conditions in other countries," she said.

While Careers Europe provides general job information, her unit keeps and circulates nationwide details advertised by employers outside the UK. The unit also tells job-seekers about the qualifications and other documents they require to move from the UK.

Mrs Caine therefore has a thorough overview of trends, and she reckons more UK citizens are beginning to consider the option of a short or longer period working outside Britain. "More job-seekers are realising that there are jobs available for a whole range of people with languages who are ready to work abroad," she said.

Employment service officials, as much as counsellors and guidance officers, agree that the key is a high-quality careers service.

Tony Watts, director of the Cambridge-based National Institute for Careers Education and Counselling, said UK services compared reasonably with the rest of Europe but there were lessons to learn.

"We are among the leading group of countries but each one has its strengths and weaknesses," he said. Careers service partnerships with education, particularly the FE colleges, were one of the strongest features of the UK system.

"In France and Germany the main services are outside the education system," said Mr Watts. The UK was one of the first to exploit information technology and the Internet for jobs and essential advice but others had particular strengths.

France, for example, was renowned for its adult guidance system, including assessment centres which people have the right to attend whenever they change job. It was a system the UK should study.

A recent report, Mapping the Future, from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, concluded that effective guidance was increasingly important throughout the world. It was no longer seen as something which is only necessary in "problem cases".

While there was good practice in most countries, the report showed, guidance systems were generally incoherent or incomplete and often threatened by cuts in public spending. It pointed to the "general dearth of good guidance materials" and suggested all teacher-training courses include careers guidance.

Tony Watts admitted that the professional structure in the UK was patchy. "While we have got a professional structure for careers advisers, there are a lot of careers teachers and people working in higher education who have received very little in the way of training in guidance skills."

Finland had a much more structured system which included trainee student counsellors and highly-qualified vocational psychologists who staff its guidance service.

An exchange scheme run by Careers Europe gave UK advisers first-hand experience of services abroad. Simon Moore, an adviser with Leicestershire Careers and Guidance Services, found the Dutch culture was more geared to work. "Information about working life is deeply embedded into the curriculum and so guidance is only needed for people who can't identify what they are aiming to do. There is a natural progression towards work with people encouraged to look for a role."

Allison Bailie, who works for VT Southern Careers in Hampshire, found Belgian careers guidance was more education-centred. Advisers tended to look at students' poor performanc e as well as any social problems they faced in school or college.

A separate agency, similar to the UK Employment Service, was responsible for training and work placements. "We are dealing with two different cultures," she said. "I was very impressed by the quality of their work and the commitment and respectful approach of Flemish advisers."

But, as the recent TESInstitute of Careers Guidance survey showed (TES, September 12), changes to the careers service will not help significantly unless young adults take a more positive view of work on mainland Europe and learn a foreign language.

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