As noted by the European Commission, “Today, migration is characterised by mixed flows and mixed motives” (EPSC, 10 Trends Shaping Migration, 2017). The last two decades have seen a rise in several new types of migration, some of which have been spurred by the ever-expanding global marketplace and the arrival of new generations of employees. While it remains true that each person’s experience is different, the development of certain tendencies have become apparent.
Today’s technology savvy, flexible professionals have proved to be more mobile than any generation before and hence more willing to undertake overseas assignments or even self-initiate their relocation to another country. Although most moves tend to be motivated by better career prospects, aspects such as personal development or intercultural experience have also come to the fore. In HSBC’s 2017 Expat Explorer report, two in five surveyed expats declared they were seeking new challenges abroad, whereas one third of respondents hoped to improve the quality of their life. In a candidate – driven labour market, employees appear to be more open to exploring new career paths and searching for employers that align with their interests and values – even if said employers operate in foreign markets. Understanding the impact of this change is key for today’s businesses – but so is embracing all the opportunities that come along the way.
It is an obvious cliche that travel broadens the mind but the timeworn maxim can hardly be denied. Irrespective of its form or purpose, each relocation offers unique exposure to other workplace cultures, viewpoints or novel concepts, to which the young seem particularly responsive: “The experience of working or simply living in a different country always leaves its mark,” observes Justyna Sarnowska, a sociologist and coordinator at the Youth Research Center of SWPS University. “Regardless of whether we become part of a diverse or a more homogeneous working environment, we are given a chance to come into contact with some norms, values or perspectives which are unlike our own. In terms of cultural exchange, young people are like sponges: having little or no prior experience on the job market, they start as blank slates and absorb everything that is happening around them. The knowledge then serves as a basis for their future professional activities”.
With that reflection comes another thought: how can such cultural observations and human interactions be translated into career-related skills or competencies relevant to the person’s professional development? Fluency in foreign languages is, without doubt, indispensable in today’s job market but our expert points to other valuable abilities, shaped by the experience of working abroad – such as self-reliance or resourcefulness: “It is worth emphasizing that the great majority of young people who are just beginning their relocation process are not fully aware of all the challenges they are about to face. Therefore, it is vital that they learn to be independent and responsible while adjusting to the new surroundings, where they cannot rely on their parents’ help anymore”.
However, in order to familiarise oneself with another country’s ways and habits, it is first necessary to engage in intercultural communication, thus building skills which are of critical importance in today’s multinational organisations: “Other competencies are related to the person’s adaptability to a new environment and ability to cooperate with people of various cultural backgrounds. Those who have experienced working abroad, tend to be more empathetic towards others and show better understanding of people’s actions and behaviour, often influenced by different cultural contexts,” says Justyna Sarnowska.
As we move towards an increasingly AI driven world, it is the soft skills such as empathy, cultural awareness or social intelligence that add human value to performed tasks and processes. International relocation usually requires stepping outside one’s comfort zone, which in turn accelerates the acquisition of said competencies. In a constantly changing labour market, making projections about future jobs resembles gazing into the crystal ball of technology trends. Nevertheless, it seems safe to assume that the human factor will never be outdated.
A NEW DIRECTION
As the world becomes increasingly interconnected and accessible, younger generations of workers seek new destinations for professional and personal growth. Over the last decade, Poland has seen a considerable rise in foreign employees, drawn by the country’s stable economic growth, safety and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the European Union. While the great majority of residence permits are invariably issued to citizens of Poland’s neighbouring countries – most notably Ukraine and Belarus – there has been an observable increase in young employees from various other parts of the world, including Western European countries. According to the data published by the Polish Office for Foreigners, most EU citizens who apply for residence permits in Poland come from Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. The immigration flow has not gone unnoticed and, as reported by the Polish Social Insurance Institution (ZUS) in 2018, the number of EU nationals covered by the social security scheme in Poland has doubled in the last ten years. Thus, a question arises: what motivation can be ascribed to this group of employees, whose reasons for relocation cannot be explained in economic terms? Naturally, the role of Poland’s flourishing and fast evolving business services scene, which brings together professionals of various nationalities, should not be overlooked in the discussion. However, Justyna Sarnowska mentions another important factor which seems to resonate with today’s generation of expatriates:
“Poland has the potential for further economic and social growth, which means young newcomers are given an opportunity to contribute to the country’s development. The idea that they can learn and create an impact in a new place, acts as an additional incentive to relocate.“
New generations of employees, whether foreign or nativeborn workers, always bring their own sets of values to the workplace. Nowadays, young professionals are more likely to prioritise a sense of purpose and satisfaction derived from a job over a single-minded pursuit of a career. The Polish labour market can, however, accommodate the needs of different job seekers, including the most career-minded individuals. The country’s business landscape is being shaped by modern, innovative organisations, performing ever more advanced business processes or paving the way for cutting-edge solutions. It is noticeable that the rise of the KPO industry (Knowledge Process Outsourcing) has prompted a growing need for highly skilled professionals, foreign nationals included. Indeed, as indicated by the Polish Ministry of Investment and Economic Development, the demand for expat workers in Poland is bound to grow successively in the coming years. Similarly to other European countries, Poland will face a decline in the working age population and it is estimated that in 2030, around four million job vacancies may be left unfilled. It becomes evident then that in order to meet future market demands, Poland will need to respond to the changing expectations of young expat workers and provide them with the necessary scope for continued growth, thus leading to their professional and self-fulfilment.
Justyna Sarnowska, PhD
Youth Research Center, SWPS University