Recruitment, Belgian-Style…


This week finally saw an agreement reached on the next instalment of EU and IMF money to prop up the ever-struggling Greek economy. The pan-European reaction to the economic crisis has both been a source of relief and, in part, a root cause of the problem. But the EU’s economic influence on members states is perhaps more wide-ranging that people think.

Brussels, that beating heart of capitalism and business… of law-making and regulation, of farming subsidies for French sausage makers and legislation on overly-phallic cucumbers and the world capital of bureaucracy is home to EURES, the European Employment Service. EURES acts as a public sector recruitment agency, encouraging the unemployed of struggling economies in Southern Europe to migrate north where conditions are a little less grim (in terms of job markets as opposed to climate). The organisation originally existed as an information portal but now works to match and place candidates in the same way that a normal recruitment agency might.

The idea is to take individuals from economies with low levels of employment, such as Portugal where the unemployment rate is 15% and place them in the north in more buoyant economies such as the UK and Belgium, where the unemployment rates stand between 7% and 8%.

Its successes however are, at best, limited. After almost a decade of operation, the successes of EURES are difficult to pinpoint. Despite the rapid process of globalisation and the ongoing demand for linguists and culturally-aware candidates, it is estimated that only 3% of adults in Europe of working age live and work outside of their country of origin. To put that into absolute figures, only 5,500 people across the whole of Europe have actually managed to find work through EURES between January 2009 and present day. This is bad news for employers with an international focus and even worse news for candidates looking to move abroad to find work.

The chief reason for this is not a lack of demand for the service; hundreds of thousands of individuals move between member states, either permanently or for a significant length of time, every year. Instead, it is due to both employers and job-seeking individuals themselves choosing to put their faith in specialist, private sector recruitment agencies. The level of accuracy in candidate matching and, above all, the speed at which they work are the two reasons most often cited as to why EURES struggles to keep up with its privately-owned counterparts.

One thing is for sure – the demand from employers for multi-skilled and multilingual candidates only looks set to grow, particularly given the attempts of EU member states to forge trading links with the wider world. What’s more, EU migration looks set to keep increasing. Therefore, as globalisation continues and businesses are called upon, not only to adapt their service to suit various territories, but also to be able to respond flexibly and rapidly to their clients’ demands, their dependence on specialist recruitment consultants will need to grow.

The business world is voting with its feet and so whilst busy times may be ahead for recruiters across the continent, it looks like it might be back to chocolate and lace for our Belgian cousins…