WHY EMPLOYMENT IS ONE OF OUR MAIN CONCERNS
Nowadays, dual careers has become the norm in Europe whereby in almost 70% of cases both partners are working. This trend, rising steadily since the 1990s, can be explained on one hand by the willingness to work of both partners and, on the other hand, by financial and economic factors. Indeed, it has become very difficult in Europe to maintain an adequate standard of living with only one income. Furthermore, working does not only play an important role in social integration; it also means access to health insurance, unemployment allowances and pension funds.
- When it comes to families of Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Officers in EU countries, the percentage with a dual income is much lower than the European average, and this is especially the case for families posted abroad. The MFA transfer policy makes the career path of spouses difficult, sometimes barely possible. This issue has to be seen in the context where spouses and partners have a high level of education (60% of female partners hold a university degree) and speak several languages.
- MFAs are aware of this situation; working towards finding solutions for this concern would give MFAs a clear added-value for recruiting and retaining diplomats. But Governments are cost-conscious and budgets are limited. It is up to spouses’ associations such as EUFASA and its members to find appropriate solutions to try and solve this problem.
- In 2007, EUFASA took the decision to add again this topic to the agenda and created a working group “Working Abroad”. The objectives of “Working Abroad” were: 1) to raise the awareness of MFAs for this concern 2) to collect European statistics 3) to share information and best practice 4) to find appropriate solutions It is obvious that spouses and partners of MFA officers actually want to work when they are back in the home country. For this reason, the EUFASA 2009 Prague Conference had the overall theme “Working”.
- In 2010, a working group on “Establishing Links with the private sector” was created to collect ideas and best practice for spouses and associations. The work of this group continued in 2011 and 2012, when it was decided that a “Permanent Working group on Employment” be created and this topic became a permanent feature of EUFASA Annual Conferences. Offering information and guidance is a priority for EUFASA. After all, it is widely acknowledged that spouses and families are a key success factor in foreign assignments.
WHAT EUFASA HAS DONE ABOUT THIS CONCERN
- EUFASA has created an “employment platform” on its internal webpage, with useful tools, links and examples of best practice, as well as an interactive forum where job ads can be posted and shared among all member Associations (2012-2013).
- EUFASA has collected country-specific information and contacts to help spouses in their job search. These “employment start kits” are already available for Austria, Estonia, Finland, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. More countries are expected to provide kits soon (2013).
- EUFASA distributed to all member Associations a CD with professional tools on “How to market yourself”, “How to remain employable” and “Working Self training” (2009).
- EUFASA has established a Directory of European Job Search Websites, aiming at providing useful links to diplomatic spouses and partners who are seeking employment when posted abroad or when they return to their home country. This directory is a first step in a job search (2008).
WHAT AN MFA SPOUSE / PARTNER COULD DO
- Get training to learn to market themselves and the skills they have gained in the years at post (languages, organizational and social skills, ‘soft’ skills, etc.).
- Spouses should consider their unique experience as an “added value” when speaking about their time abroad and when applying for jobs; moving abroad makes one more flexible and adaptable.
- Wherever possible, spouses should try to get a position at the Embassy when posted abroad, even if the position is underpaid or does not reflect their previous position and qualifications. Networking is decisive in a job search.
- Send CVs to recruitment agencies such as Manpower or Adecco. They may assist in writing a CV, give guidance for new directions in the current job search and provide hints on the local job market.
- Be realistic; after being away from the job market for a prolonged period, one has to adjust job and salary expectations.
WHAT NATIONAL ASSOCIATIONS COULD DO
- Encouraging association members to ‘Start Your Own Business’: advantages involve flexible working hours, possibility of working from home and can be adapted to mobile life style.
- See www.autoentrepreneur-france.com (France)
- Organizing round table internal association networking meetings for spouses/partners returning from overseas postings on the topic of international mobility with International Placement Agencies.
Examples of International Placement Agencies:
- Establishing partnerships with Travel Guide Editors who wish to update their guide books in their native language though the employment of spouses/partners who could carry out this work on post.For example: www.guides.gallimard.com (France)
- Developing links with Tour Operators who require guides in specific countries where cultural practices and inside knowledge of country can be applied by spouses/partners in their native language.For example: www.terreentiere.com (France)
BEST PRACTICES in the European Union MFAs:
- MFA training department organises a “Job Day” for spouses (France), as well as training sessions on how to start your own business and become an ‘auto-entrepreneur’.
- MFA subsidises a job service that organises job search seminars, language courses, assists in contacts with the national employment agency and a career network, and keeps track of job openings (Austria, France, United Kingdom).
- MFA provides a budget to assist spouses in training for portable careers (UK).
- MFA organises seminars to encourage and prepare spouses to work at home (Germany) and abroad (France).
- MFA provides language training at post (Germany, Netherlands, Sweden).
- At post, one (transferable) officer is appointed contact person for spouse/partner/families issues and may assist in job search (Sweden, Germany).
- At post, the Embassy assists in job search and supplies lists of available jobs (France, Germany).
- MFA pays subscriptions to job databanks for spouses (UK, France) and contact with career network (Belgium, UK).
- MFA provides financial support for career counseling (Netherlands).
- MFA offers temporary jobs to spouses of diplomats, for example during the EU presidency, NATO summit and other special events (Portugal).
- National associations should:
– Start discussions with their MFA using relevant parts of the reports “Working abroad” and “Establishing Links with the Private Sector for Spouse Employment Opportunities”.
– Encourage their MFA to negotiate more bilateral agreements for work permits for spouses/partners.
– Ask their MFA for more transparency in transfer policy and reliable advance warning of postings to give spouses adequate time to prepare and plan a job search.
– Ask the MFA to actively support hiring spouses, if they qualify, as local employees in embassies or for specific projects.
– Request that the MFA issues a statement for the work performed by the spouse abroad (within the embassy).
– Ask the MFA to give spouses an official status.
– Ask the MFA to actively support spouses’ applications to international organizations.
- Define a country-specific and realistic set of actions:
– Establishing partnerships with job agencies (Adecco, Manpower, etc.).
– Negotiations with individual professional services (Netexpat, Spouse Career Center, etc.) with a possible financial participation of the MFA and the spouse.
– Marketing for free job platforms such as EURES, UN Staff Mobility, EUFASA Directories Job Database.
– Sharing experiences and best practice within associations: capitalize on the experience and contacts of members of your association who are employed. Create an “employment group” to share ideas and establish a network of contacts.
– Create a support system whereby, whenever a working diplomatic spouse has to leave his/her job because of moving to the next posting, it is advertised within the Association or through EUFASA.
– Sharing experiences between Associations.
– Facilitate exchanges between the MFA and multinational corporations.
– Negotiations to improve entitlement to unemployment benefit and/or financial support.
– Managing conflicts with non-working spouses.
- Report: Establishing Links with the private sector for spouse employment opportunities, EUFASA Conference, Budapest 2011
- Report: Working, EUFASA Conference, Prague 2009
- Report: Job Database, EUFASA Conference, Paris 2008
- Report: Working Abroad, EUFASA Conference, Berlin 2007
- Report: Spouse Employment, presentation to PESC/COADM-COPRO, Brussels May 2002