Posts Tagged ‘higher education’

Image of the UK only - England

Image of the UK only – England (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The issues described in ‘How to get in the loop? -part 2‘ can refer to external constraints, that are not directly dependent to your actions, but form a background story to your life. However, there may also be internal constraints that will depend on your upholding values, fears, human and personal capital obtained, level of confidence, preferences and so on. Making a list of the likely constraints could help you focus on planning of your career route, which is never straightforward. Therefore, I would encourage getting to know yourself better prior to migration (personal capital, who you are and what you want, what are your values and so on). This activity could save you time and other resources (financial) when actively and intensively working on your labour market adjustment upon arrival in the UK.

Following my doctoral research (Stepping Stone Migration – the concept explained here), I have differentiated two major career development constraints for graduate migrants in the UK:

  •     Differences in level of education and skills obtained across the Higher  Education Institutions in the UK and in Poland (Szewczyk, 2012)
  •     Lack of know-how to search for jobs and sell yourself in the marketplace, or how to ‘Market Yourself’ 

Referring to differences in education, majority of Polish graduates interviewed in the UK for my doctoral research stated that it was not until they have migrated to the UK, when they realised that the focus within the graduate labour market is more on skills and experience than on qualifications exclusively. This is visible through the culture and British society’s perception of HE, where holding Masters Degree is still not as common as in Poland. However, as the Skills and Employment Survey suggests (BBC, 24/04/2013):

“the number of jobs in the UK requiring a degree has overtaken the total of posts not needing any qualifications […] The fall in jobs without qualifications has accelerated since 2006 and this latest survey places it at a “historic low” of 23% of the labour market, compared with 26% for graduate jobs”.

Even though, the job market in the UK makes a favorable shift towards those with higher education, the levels in HE are differently valued (and pursued) by Polish and British society. As one Polish graduate concluded:

“Masters here are not the same as Masters in Poland. I didn’t realise that Bachelor is the main degree here, it’s like all my teachers here they’ve got bachelors here, they do not have Masters, whereas in Poland everybody needs to have Masters to be qualified” (Grad. 25).

So, why so many young Polish graduates in the UK, with Masters obtained at Polish HEIs, start in basic skilled jobs after migration, and prolong in those, often for a significant time?

My doctoral research suggests that one of the main reasons why Polish educated migrants prolong their stay in basic skilled jobs in England is a lack of preparation, skills, and adjustment to the system of searching for professional jobs before they migrated to England, and lack of confidence. Please read below a very informative quote, provided by one of the graduates interviewed:

“You have to prepare yourself, you have to see how they are writing CVs, motivation letters for the UK employers, you have to think of qualifications that are going to be interesting for your future employer, and it’s not like ‘hop siup’ (easy-peasy). You won’t do it in 1 day or 2 days, you have to prepare yourself, you have to be patient, you have to know for which jobs you can apply, where you have a chance, with your degree” (Grad. 18).

Nonetheless, this is not only about the preparation, but as Green and McIntosh (2007) recognise, there is a growing number of seemingly over-qualified people, who often do not convey appropriate levels of skills required to perform in higher skilled jobs. Furthermore, Hartog (2000) notices that over-education is generally higher in the time of transition from school to work.

Since you, as a graduate of your home country, will be moving to another, this transition will not only be from university to a labour market, but a struggle to acquire the knowledge of the new labour culture and market, and then a transition into it – all in one. To be successful in such a transition, a realistic outlook on your standing (language knowledge, understanding the value of your knowledge and skills gained so far, including your personal capital), the destination country labour market situation and current social attitudes towards new comers are a must. These will allow you to build a self – confidence, recognised in my research as one of the major barriers for full involvement in the labour market upon migration. 

The level of graduates’ confidence stems from unfamiliarity with the system, level of competition for jobs, and for some the language barrier, which confirms other research on language proficiency as one of the most important factors for increasing chances of migrants’ involvement in the labour market (i.e. Rooth and Ekberg, 2006). This is also graduates’ “personality package that needs to be sold in a tough-entry competition for jobs” (Brown et al., 2000:25),  which is related to both meeting the requirements for the job, and positioning towards other job seekers in a hierarchy.

For some Polish graduates interviewed, gaining a desired level of confidence to be able to position oneself among competitors was unthought-of. A few respondents indicated that it originated from a lack of confidence in communication in English, influencing migrants’ self-value as not deserving a better paid position, therefore erasing themselves from the pool of seekers for better employment:

 “Here I think it still might be this language barrier, and I believe that even though they work, they (*Polish graduates in the UK) could find this willingness and time to study further here. But I think it’s the confidence and language barrier” (Grad. 38).

“They (*Polish graduates in the UK) think that their English is not good enough…and that they are not worth more money” (Grad.11).

“People are just too afraid, they think, ‘my English is not good enough, I won’t stand a chance they won’t accept my qualifications’…” (Grad. 18).

In some instances the situation of self-confidence was reversed. There were graduates who arrived in England overconfident, as they had obtained high qualifications in Poland and expected to find relevant/professional jobs easily after arrival, which was not successful.

“So language problems, lack of confidence, or overconfidence, because sometimes they come to the UK thinking that I’ve got a degree and I’m going to smash the world. The job offers are going to come to me, in hundreds that I do not have to do anything…” (Grad. 18).

This shows that a self- confidence should derive from the thorough preparation, understanding of the reality of the destination country, knowledge of the labour market and one’s position towards other candidates for the desired jobs. Therefore, I would suggest to All prospective graduate migrants to build up a self- confidence for migration and transition into the labour market prior to changing places, and look at all the aspects that I have highlighted in ‘How to get in the loop, part 1,2 and 3’. 

To summarise, the main points are: 

  • look deeper into who you are, what do you want to do, and BE HONEST TO YOURSELF
  • how does that relate to your previous education and experience gained, and your blurred, or perhaps a well defined vision of what you would like to do in the future 
  • when considering migration, do the thorough research of the place you want to migrate to (culture, siocial attitudes, class system, migrants position within the society, labour market in general, for graduates and within specific sector of your interest)
  • inspect all the potential constraints, those that are external, deriving from the reality around you, and  internal – referring to who you are, your values held, human and personal capital obtained


Brown, P., Hesketh, A. and Williams, S. (2000), Employability in a knowledge economy, Journal of Education and Work, 16 (2): 107–126

Green, F.  and McIntosh, S.  (2007), Is there a Genuine Underutilisation of Skills Amongst the Over-qualified?, Applied Economics, 39 (4): 427-439

Hartog, J. (2000), Overeducation and earnings: where are we, where should we go?, Economics of Education Review, 19 (2): 131-147

Rooth, D., Ekberg, J. (2006), Occupational Mobility for Immigrants in Sweden, International Migration, 44(2): 57-77

Szewczyk, A. (2012), New and Old Middle Class Polish Graduates’ ‘Brain Training’ in England, Studia Migracyjne – Przegląd Polonijny, PAN, z.3 (145), 151-166.