Friday, August 20, 2010

Talent Attraction And Trailing Spouses

Concerning talent attraction, I think US metros could learn a lot from nation-states. This is especially true when tracking the migration of highly-skilled workers, who tend to enjoy much more geographic mobility. One factor many countries have overlooked in the war for talent is the plight of the trailing spouse:

Europe is missing out on a potentially large number of high-skilled workers by provisionally not allowing the spouses of migrant workers to join their partners and also seek employment in the EU, Kathleen van der Wilk-Carlton, a board member at the Permits Foundation, told EurActiv in an interview.

While 85% of unskilled labour migration goes to the EU and 5% to the US, only 5% of skilled labour lands in the EU, recent surveys show. According to a Permit Foundation survey, a quarter of international staff are said to have turned down jobs due to concerns over their partner's chances of working in the host country.

The research flips around conventional wisdom that the United States suffers economically from its family reunification immigration policy. At least, I've made the critique here relative to policy innovations such as the EU Blue Card. That's not an endorsement of the H-1B visa program, which is so dysfunctional that no one thinks it is a good idea.

Spending a decade as an undergraduate and graduate student, I'm familiar with the trailing spouse problem. One professor even suggested to avoid getting involved with other academics because of the logistical problems associated with managing two similar career tracks. Some very talented scholars rejected job offers thanks to fears about the significant other failing to find a good job in that region. Few places can offer viable options for both members of the couple.

I've translated the above observations to the return home of prodigal sons and daughters. It's hard enough to find gainful employment for one person in an area desperately seeking to attract expatriates. But what about the spouse? A household might be anxious to move back, but the job prospects for the couple are poor to nonexistent. I don't know much about the talent recruiting industry. Are there agencies that specialize in trailing spouses? A policy aimed at this dynamic might prove to be a winner in the war for talent.


Stephen Gross said...

In higher end academic recruitments, it is common practice to offer placement services for the spouse.

Ausmerica said...


I agree that there is a latent opportunity for regions in the attraction of talent through the Trailing Spouse diaspora.

The Trailing Spouse Network is primarily concerned with assisting people in the Foreign Service community deployed to expatriate assignments overseas but I've gone as far as to approach various Regional and Economic development bodies in the USA as well as US Federal government agencies to help develop programs that recognize the talent available in the Trailing Spouse.

It's documented in various surveys that:
1 - Successful Academic and Career minded people tend to attract educated and successful partners.
2 - People turn down assignments because of the lack of employment opportunities for those partner.

Regional development organizations should consider the double benefit of attracting Trailing Spouses along with their academic or career partners.

I'm not aware of any Recruitment Agencies that target Trailing Spouses specifically but our Network is undertaking a 'Find a...' program, we are networking with and documenting a database of Recruiters, Coaches and Networks in major cities around the world to assist trailing spouses with their job search efforts.

Jeff Porter