By DAVID WOODRUFF
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
When 37-year-old Gerd Niebelschutz finished his hospital residency a year and a half ago, he joined the ranks of some 10,000 other unemployed German doctors. Despite his solid medical-school credentials, the job applications he sent out to prospective German employers all elicited terse rejections.
Then Dr. Niebelschutz read a notice in a German medical journal advertising 99 jobs in Norway. Last year, after three months of intensive language lessons, Mr. Niebelschutz moved to Grong, Norway, population 2,500. There, 186 miles south of the Arctic Circle, he now looks after everyone from newborns to retirees in a community health center.
"I'm interested in general medicine, so this is exactly the right thing for me," he says.
Chalk up another small victory for the New Europe. In a continent known for its stay-at-home attitudes, Dr. Niebelschutz embodies a new reality: Landing a job in another country has become an everyday occurrence, especially among well-educated Europeans in their 20s and 30s.
Many factors are driving this trend, from high unemployment in France and Germany to economic booms in Ireland and Spain to easy job surfing on the Internet. Strong currents in business come into play, too: Some multinational companies, spurred by the advent of the euro, are centralizing their European operations. And smaller firms, as they expand beyond borders, are hiring staff with special language skills.
A Generational Shift
At rock bottom, though, the budding labor mobility reflects a generational shift. From finance specialists to marketing experts, today's young professionals came of age amid Europe's drive toward a common market and common currency. Unlike their parents, these workers view foreign experience as a key to success.
"Over the last decade or so there's been an increase in the number of young people moving within [Western Europe]," says John Salt, head of the Migration Research Institute at University College London. "A lot of this sort of movement is for career development."
European workers still trail their American counterparts. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 5% of all U.S. households make a job-related move within any given five-year period, a migration made simple by a common language and the availability of affordable housing. Although no comparable figures exist for Europe, economists say the rate is much lower. Barriers such as language and lack of portable pensions continue to hinder cross-border mobility. But such hurdles seem less daunting to Europeans just beginning their careers.
Mobility as Safety Valve
Greater mobility is important if Europe is to reap the full benefit of its new common currency. If products and capital can move freely around the Continent, the region's work force must become more flexible, economists say. With the European Central Bank now handling monetary policy for 11 members of the European Union, individual nations have less ability to respond to local economic shocks. Workers' willingness to move where the jobs are has suddenly become an important safety valve.
The euro's arrival on Jan. 1 is prompting more companies to treat Europe as a single market, rather than a loose affiliation of independent states. The result: They are centralizing operations.
Consider, Xerox Corp., which recently chose Dublin as its European headquarters. In an office park north of the city, a cluster of construction cranes swing above the beginnings of a new campus for 1,700 Xerox employees. About 40% of employees will come from outside Ireland, because the company needs people fluent in a variety of European languages and knowledgeable of such things as local accounting regulations, says John Xerri, human-resources director.
Xerox hired Claudia Stryga, a 30-year-old German accountant, this year. Seeking experience at a multinational company, she moved to Dublin from Freiburg, Germany. Her 20-person team, including 13 nationalities, handles financial reporting and other services for Xerox.
"Five or 10 years ago I would never have thought to move out of Germany," says Ms. Stryga during a break. "Now I think it was the best thing to do. There is a greater sense of Europe and people have more opportunities."
Workers migrate from areas where jobs are scarce to where they are plentiful. That's certainly the case with Dr. Niebelschutz and more than 100 other physicians from Germany, France and Austria who have relocated to Norway in the past year and a half. The number is likely to reach 200 by year end, says Ann-Charlotte Hollander, an official at the Norwegian Directorate of Labor, which is trying to attract as many as 800 more foreign physicians.
The Internet Spurs Trend
The Internet is spurring mobility, too, by making it easier for Europe's job seekers to find openings in distant corners of the Continent. Employment agencies in 17 countries share job listings through a network run by the European Commission, called Eures. Cross-border listings, which are available at agency offices and via the Internet, have increased 30% to 150,000 since 1996. The number of job seekers using the network has grown about 40% over the same period, to 500,000 a year.
Amadeus Global Travel Distribution, a Madrid-based travel-reservation company with subsidiaries in France, Germany and the U.S., has seen a five-fold jump in the number of applications it receives since it began posting vacancies on the Web. About 70% of them come from Europeans.
"People realize," says Hans-Henning Quast, Amadeus's human-resources chief, "that without international experience their career path will be limited."
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