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Global Mobility of Workers

Trends and Issues Alert 35.

by Bettina Lankard Brown

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This project has been funded at least in part with Federal funds from the U.S. Department of Education under Contract No. ED-99-CO-0013. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. ERIC/ACVE publications may be freely reproduced.


Changes in the world economy such as globalization, free trade in services, and unequal demand for some occupations have resulted in increased cross-national movement of workers and emphasized the need for easily transferable or international qualifications. Leading the effort to address the issue of transferable qualifications is the European Union, which was established by the European Economic Community in the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992. The European Union introduced a community vocational training policy to support the free movement of workers across borders and to facilitate the acquisition of skills for transnational employment (Bainbridge and Murray 2000b). Adopting a user-oriented rather than legislative approach to mobility, the European Union emphasizes the acquisition of foreign language skills, intercultural (or transcultural) skills, and transferable job skills that include key qualifications (Kristensen 1999). Although member countries have their own specific national systems for defining vocational qualifications, they are responsible for ensuring congruence between the laws and the organization of vocational training so as to promote mutual recognition of qualifications. Other countries, including Australia (Bohm 2000), are looking to the practices of the European Union regarding internationally recognized qualifications.

The international movement of workers has implications for corporate and national training systems that prepare individuals with qualifications that ensure their employability. Language skills must not only include the ability to interact with members of other language communities but also skills that enable workers to understand practices and behaviors of people in other cultures. The rapid turnover in technology is requiring the continual updating of technical skills and an emphasis on skills of "adaptability, self-reliance, quality-consciousness, independence, creativity, the ability to deal with insecurity, the ability to unlearn old things and learn new ones, etc. These skills are difficult if not impossible to teach in a normal classroom situation. They require new teaching methods, a new pedagogical approach" (Kristensen 1999, p. 130). Work placement, work-linked training, and apprenticeships have been some of the vehicles for enhancing worker mobility, but there is still much to be done in this area.

Not all obstacles to mobility, however, can be resolved through renewed education and training systems and practices. Posing continued difficulty for the mobility of workers across international borders are the potential for unemployed citizens to lose the right to unemployment benefits and social security if they move across borders, difficulty with obtaining housing in the host country, and cultural barriers (Bainbridge and Murray 2000a).

The following resources provide more specific information about transborder mobility of workers.


Bainbridge, S., and Murray, J. An Age of Learning: Vocational Training Policy at European Level. CEDEFOP Vocational Training Policy Report 2000. Thessaloniki, Greece: European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, 2000a. (ED 438 416)

Provides an overview of the development of policy guiding vocational training in Europe over the past 40 years. Discusses ways to facilitate access to vocational training and the movement of workers from one country to another. Describes national systems for defining vocational qualifications in Germany, Austria, France, Spain, Ireland, Norway, and the United Kingdom. Presents issues to stimulate debate among vocational education researchers, policymakers, and practitioners.

Bainbridge, S., and Murray, J. "Political and Legal Framework for the Development of Training Policy in the European Union. Part IóFrom the Treaty of Rome to the Treaty of Maastricht." Vocational Training: European Journal no. 20 (May-August 2000b): 5-18.

Presents the history of vocational training policy from establishment of the European Economic Community in 1957 to the creation of the European Union in1992. Describes the action-oriented approach to vocational training that has evolved since 1992, replacing the centralized legislative approach. Identifies ways in which vocational training has been used to support the transnational employment of workers and emphasizes the importance of mobility programs and initiatives that enable qualifications acquired in one Member State to be used to obtain a job in another.

Bjornavold, J., and Petterson, S. Transparency of Vocational Qualifications. The Leonardo da Vinci Approach. CEDEFOP Panorama Series. Thessaloniki, Greece: European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, 2001. (ED 454 407)

Highlights projects within the European Union's Leonardo da Vinci Program that have addressed the issue of transparency of vocational qualifications across the European community. Presents an overview of the projects and their movement toward a shared European set of qualification requirements.

Blitz, B. K. "Professional Mobility and the Mutual Recognition of Qualifications in the European Union: Two Institutional Approaches." Comparative Education Review 43, no. 3 (August 1999): 311-331.

Examines the role of transnational institutions, i.e., the European Commission and committees of the European Parliament, in facilitating the mutual recognition of professional qualifications among member of the European Economic Community.

Bohm, A. "The Search for Global Mobility: Professional Qualifications Recognition." Paper presented at the 14th IDP Australian International Education Conference, Brisbane, Australia, August 8-11, 2000.

Examines the perspective that Australia must take to develop systems and structures that facilitate the global mobility of international students with Australian qualifications. Describes the Professional Qualifications Recognition Project, which was designed to facilitate the search for global worker mobility in Australia.

Education, Training and Research: Eliminating Obstacles to Transnational Mobility. Green Paper. Brussels, Belgium: European Commission, Directorate-General XXII: Education and Training Youth, 1996. <>

Describes actions that would encourage mobility among students, teachers, researchers, training volunteers, and workers. Highlights the benefits of transnational mobility and describes ways that such mobility contributes to improved training and the professional exchange of knowledge and skills.

Graf, P. "Multilingual School Education as a Key Qualification in European Employment Area." Vocational Training: European Journal no. 18 (September-December 1999): 39-46.

Emphasizes the importance of multilingual and intercultural skills as a key to the free movement of workers across borders of Member States in the European Union. Proposes that language teaching be broad based and provided in general education. Recommends the development of bilingual schools and presents guidelines for their development.

Helse, W. "Portability of Qualifications: An Answer to the Qualifications Demands of Globalisation?" Journal of European Industrial Training 22, no. 7 (1998): 289-300.

Explains the portability of qualifications in Europe with examples from industry and the craft trades that demonstrate its importance in the global workplace.

Huws, U.; Jagger, N.; and Bates, P. Where the Butterfly Alights: The Global Location of eWork. EMERGENCE. IES Report 378. Brighton, England: Institute for Employment Studies, University of Sussex, 2001. (ED 452 400)

Describes the EMERGENCE project, emphasizing parts of the project that are designed to map information and communications technology-related employment relocation on a global level. Details factors that influence the location of electronic work (eWork): relative service sector salaries, graduate availability, language, student telecommunications costs, trust or previous contact, Internet access and literacy, economic development, and demographic factors. Categorizes countries according to their ability to engage in and benefit from eWork.

Johnson, J. M., and Regets, M. C. International Mobility of Scientists and Engineers to the United StatesóBrain Drain or Brain Circulation? SRS Issue Brief. Arlington, VA: Division of Science Resources Studies, National Science Foundation, 1998. (ED 422 166)

In the U.S. labor force, 29 percent of students with doctoral degrees in science and engineering fields who are involved in research and development are immigrants. Although the emigration of highly skilled personnel to the United States in past years has represented "one-way mobility," today the movement is more one of "brain circulation" as some international students are returning to their home countries after graduation to take advantage of high-level opportunities.

Kornbeck, J. "Foreign Language Instruction, Vocational Training and Location Securing." Vocational Training: European Journal no. 16 (January-April 1999): 29-38.

The position of language instruction and teacher training should be strengthened in vocational training. Language skills, particularly in developing countries, are fostered through the large degree of social linguistic diversity to which people are exposed. Multilingualism is often developed accidentally in certain cultures because of the social interactions of individuals from diverse cultures. Language abilities are key skills for mobility in the European Union.

Kristensen, S. "Mobility as a Learning Process." Vocational Training: European Journal no. 16 (January-April 1999): 24-28.

Highlights the importance of foreign language skills, intercultural competence, and transferable job skills in obtaining transnational employment and occupational mobility. Describes factors that influence mobility outcomes: (1) time of location in the country; (2) interaction with the people and culture of the host country; and (3) age, which some psychologists believe influences the nature of and capacity for skill acquisition.

Nyyssola, K., ed. New Challenges in the Cooperation between Education and Training and Working Life. Final Report. Conference Proceedings. Brussels, Belgium: Commission of the European Communities, 1999. (ED 449 367)

Contains papers from plenary sessions, forums, and panels conducted at a conference on the new forms of vocational education needed for the world economy of the 21st century. Of particular significance to the topic of worker mobility and the transferability of qualifications are the papers by Margarida Marques, "Promoting Mobility for Persons in Training in the Europass Training" (pp. 24-28), and Soren Kristensen, "Mobility as a Learning Process" (pp. 129-142).

Sassinopoulos, A.; Werner, H.; Kristensen, S. Mobility and Migration of Labour in the European Union and Their Specific Implications for Young People. CEDEFOP Document. Thessaloniki, Greece: European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, 1998. (ED 422 507)

Examines in two papers the mobility and migration of labor in the European Union. The first paper, "Mobility and Migration of Labour in the European Union" by Alexandro Sassinopoulos and Heinz Werner, addresses mobility and migration for education and training. The second paper, "Support for Transnational Mobility for Young People" by Soren Kristensen, addresses transnational mobility among young people within vocational education and training and describes legal, administrative, and social obstacles to mobility.

Sogaard, J., and Wollschlager, N., comps. Internationalising Vocational Education and Training in Europe: Prelude to an Overdue Debate. A Discussion Paper, Conference on Internationalising Vocational Education and Training in Europe. A CEDEFOP Panorama Series. Thessalonki, Greece: European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, May 25-27, 2000. (ED 441 144)

Contains 12 papers that represent different perspectives concerning internationalization of vocational education and training in Europe. Significant among these papers with regard to the global mobility of workers are the following: "Trends in the Internationalisation of Qualifications" by Tim Oates; "Internationalisation: What Are the Possibilities" by Jorn Sogaard, and "Qualification Development of Internationally Active Skilled WorkersóFrom Mobility of Labour to 'Virtual Mobility'" by Peter Wordelmann.

Wickett, D., and McCutcheon, H. "Issues of Qualification Assessment for Nurses in a Global Market." Nurse Education Today 22, no. 1 (January 2002): 44-52.

Discusses issues that relate to the assessment of the qualifications of nurses who wish to migrate to or seek employment in Australia. Some of these issues are English language assessment, qualification assessment, competency assessment, timeliness, cost, and equity.


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