Changing places? Watch out your career path!

Posted: May 2, 2013 in Careers for graduates
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Life is not easy for those on the move. This also applies to graduates of home universities from Central and Eastern Europe, who for various reasons move to the “old European Member States“.

Based on my own experiences, as well as further education within the area of migration and higher and further education – a graduate migrant’s career life will greatly depend on set goals and ambitions and the level of SELF-CONFIDENCE. This is not to mention the obtained to date human and personal capital,the knowledge of the new place, and any networks that they may have (friends, family, or perhaps organisational links).

However, the most important of all is KNOW HOW, which refers to FINDING A RELEVANT JOB THAT WILL HELP YOU TO PROGRESS TOWARDS YOUR GOALS SET, OR INSPIRE TO SWITCH INTO A NEW FIELD.

“Because everybody is saying that Polish education is so good, and you are just amazing, and then you start doing something and you learn the most. And then you realise that you are really not that amazing. I think I was just wearing my pink glasses when I was migrating, and then I just became more realistic” (Grad. 19).

“I know more about life in the UK now, but on the other hand it made me to realise that my chances are not as good as I thought earlier. So maybe it was a false confidence, or maybe it was just a dream, I would say I was more than sure that I will be successful with my career…” (Grad. 17).

My doctoral research carried out on Polish graduate migrants in England and my very own steps as a graduate migrant to that country show that ‘the-know-how’ to enter the labour market is often misinformed. This often derives from individuals’ imagination of what it is like to be a graduate job seeker in the UK, rather than being familiar with how the labour market in the UK really works.

Those who are new to the labour market due to their migrant and graduate statuses may find themselves in a trap: they need to find a job fast and any type of job. Thus the time for reflection on who I am and what realistic steps I could take to make my career and life dreams come true, is scrapped to a bare minimum.  This in turn may postpone, or in some cases even prevent them from using their strengths, skills and abilities gained at Higher Education Institutions, not mentioning the actual knowledge, or specialisation.

However, some can argue, that HEI is not equal to another, with many differences across countries, including Member States of the EU. This is clearly seen in the responses of the majority of graduate respondents interviewed for my research, who upon graduation from Polish universities felt HIGHLY EDUCATED, but NOT SKILLED. This referred to both, social sciences and engineering graduates, but most health and therapy graduates felt skilled and educated.

Belonging to any of those who perceived themselves as educated with theories, but lacking experience of their application in real life-case scenarios sets a false start into a labour market. This refers to both, the level of confidence stemming from graduates understanding of their strengths and weaknesses at work, and shows as lack of evidence on their Curriculum Vitae. This may be multiplied by employers’ problems with foreign degrees recognition which does not provide much room of manoeuvre for those who are freshly graduated and eager to commence a new life in a Western European country.

So, how to set your foot right?

As my doctoral research shows, there are different types of graduates adjusting to the labour market after migration. Some of them continued with education in the UK right after arrival, and then into a profession within the chosen career path before they even left their home countries. This is not to say that they will remain in their chosen field forever, but they seem to be very lucky ones. They already set objectives of what they want to do, doing the research prior to migration, and implementing it through further and higher education in a destination country. Often education was the driving force behind migration of graduates of their home countries to the UK, and once they enrolled in HE courses, they were safe to continue career development.

Universities in the UK offer a top-notch support for students, graduates and Alumni not only though provision of academic teaching that is often a mix of theory and practice, but they also run excellent Career and Employability Centres. At those hubs, graduates and students can expect an individual and very much tailored advice on their career progression, they can learn of what personality types they are, and what types of jobs would suit them most. The Centres organise various career events, such as employers’ presentations, workshops, and assessment centres. They provide relevant educational material on how to write a CV, fill in an application, and write a cover letter. They also run mock interviews for individuals to understand how to present and respond, and gain necessary self-confidence.

The celebration of skills within British universities does not come as a surprise, since employability skills have been supported by various governmental initiatives for the past 30 years. There were numerous the UK-governments funded and designed to support the development of employability skills programmes, including Higher Education for Capability (1988), Enterprise in Higher Education (1989), and the most important one – the Dearing Report (1997). The Report recommends the development of key employability skills as a central aim of HE. Overall, the Report mentions a list of the following skills that ought to be developed at the HE to ensure ‘the future success of graduates whatever they intend to do in later life’:

  • Communication
  • Numeracy
  • The use of information technology and learning how to learn
  • Cognitive skills, such as an understanding of methodologies or ability in critical analysis
  • Subject specific skills, such as laboratory skills
  • Self-management and planning
  • To be flexible and adaptable
  • To work in teams
  • To manage their own development and career

But it seems plain that an effective strategy will involve guiding and enabling students to be effective learners, to understand their own learning styles, and to manage their own learning. We see this as not only directly relevant to enhancing the quality of their learning while in higher education, but also to equipping them to be effective lifelong learners. Staff will increasingly be engaged in the management of students’ learning, using a range of appropriate strategies’”(The Dearing Report, 1997)

Thus, those graduate migrants who once again enter HE, this time in the country of destination, profit in terms of own career management skills, forward thinking and designing life and career trajectories, more down to earth approach than the pure theory of their home country HE obtained. As one graduate concluded:

“I would say I was really well qualified in terms of theoretical knowledge, because my education in Poland was more kind of broad, but in terms of practical skills, I was rubbish […]So things like writing abstracts, like you know, practical skills – applying for grants, sending abstracts, applying for funding, so all this wasn’t there at all! So theoretically, I was well prepared, but that is it, but the other stuff was like…you know. In the UK they can talk about themselves, they are self-confident, they know how to present themselves, how to sell themselves, and I was like not even close to where they were (Grad. 16).

What can we learn from those graduates?

Since the primary motive for migration was further HE education predominantly on post-graduate courses, they only had to do their homework – decide what their interests are in, how they can afford HE in the UK, where to look for funding and above all make the decision on migration. Since majority of graduates interviewed arrived in the UK and commenced their education because they already had some funding secured, indicates that finances are the major part in continuation of HE abroad.

However, not every graduate migrant wants to get back to university once again, at least not immediately after graduation. Therefore, migration for any other reasons than education and brain training may become problematic for making well-balanced steps towards full career development. Such graduates have to do equally difficult homework, but this time focused more on what is the labour market like, what skills have they got, and how could these be transferred across the borders.

Doing the research on Polish graduates and trying to set my first steps in the UK, there were not many information points for new arrivals on how they can fit into the broad labour market, and not only in basic skilled jobs. Once in the UK there are citizen advice bureau, and other organisations dealing with migrants’ rights in the UK, offering legal help, with some providing free service supported by volunteers. There are organisations dealing with housing rights information, support for migrants in distress, which is often focused in some regions of the UK, more than in others.

Unfortunately, there is a lack of accessible online resource serving information for East and Central European graduates, supporting them in their career development within the EU. This blog’s intention is to bring relevant information for prospective graduate migrants willing to advance their careers outside of their home countries, in another EU Member Country, on the example of the UK.

Referring to European Commission strategies such as Europe 2020, and policy initiatives to improve young people’s education and employability in Europe, for example “Youth on the Move“, or “New Skills for New Jobs“, this blog aims to provide relevant information for young in their stepping-stone journey, running away from the black hole of “Europe’s Lost Generation” .

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