The gift of migration

For the last few years, I’ve been teaching employability and social media skills to groups of Spanish graduates, who are on organised internships to introduce them to the UK workplace – and hopefully find work here. This has been a popular class, and the students are always exemplary in their engagement. It’s clear – they are here to find jobs. I normally happily do my part, give them the information they need, and hopefully instill in them the drive to become noticeable and exceptional candidates. Recently though, something else happened – it got a bit more personal than that. At the end of the class (taking it a whole 30 minutes over the usual 2h in the evening), the questions didn’t end – and it turned into a discussion how they see themselves: as migrants, trying to escape the misery of the Spanish youth unemployment crisis to better shores into another EU country, where conditions are more friendly – and where they will be allowed to contribute. This touched something in me – the gratitude to both the UK (for giving me a home more than 10 years ago), and to the EU which has given me the freedom to move and the right to abode here. As a proud EU citizen (yes, proud), I have done the same journey as they have – just 10 years earlier. As I always say to non-native English speakers seeking advice: “you won’t get your first job for your English, but for the other languages you speak”. For those who are worried about us migrants, taking away ‘British jobs from British people’ (or however the populist narrative goes), I raise that the UK has a recognised skills gap – people who speak foreign languages, and who have had genuine international experience. I see this in daily practice – we don’t take away, we fill a gap to the benefit of the UK economy. Even (or perhaps especially) a UK drifting away from the EU will need to fill this gap – it will probably get worse, seriously impacting the UK’s global competitiveness. UK universities struggle to reach a 20% international study and work engagement rate – while other European nations work on a 50% target. If you look at unemployment – it’s not graduates who struggle most, it’s the medium and lower skilled (which is why I support the CIPD’s Learning to Work policy initiative as an advisor), whose jobs have been restructured away, or casualised beyond affordability (for them). And as long as the UK lives with that skills gap – we will need migrants like my Spanish students – and like me in days of yore – to enrich the UK employment market, to do the jobs that can’t be done ‘in-house’. I work for an organisation that prides itself for its international outlook, for the multilingualism of its students – and rightly so. I admit that in the light of recent debates on the EU, I have been starting to feel slightly unwelcome on occasion – and just writing that I’m a proud EU citizen on a public blog feels weird (as it should go without saying). But I am, and so should my Spanish students be. They bring nothing but the best to this country, offering the flexibility and mobility so regularly bemoaned as lacking by UK employers. They are ultimately not here to take – they are here to give.


April 9th, 2013 by