High unemployment rates, increasingly precarious jobs and industry restructuring are just some of the elements characterising today's labour markets. A network of EU-funded researchers is studying socio-economic and social trends to better understand current developments.
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According to Eurostat estimates, nearly 24.5 million people in the EU's 28 member countries were unemployed in November 2014, corresponding to an overall unemployment rate of 10%. While jobless numbers have fallen below crisis peaks, recent employment growth is concentrated in the temporary or part-time labour markets, suggesting an increase in job insecurity.
However, high unemployment rates and more precarious working conditions are not the only ways in which the economic crisis, globalisation and other developments are reshaping the working world in Europe. An ageing population, migration, and industry restructuring also have an impact on European labour markets and thus on people's work relations and working life.
The CHANGINGEMPLOYMENT project brings together 15 researchers at the beginning of their career (12 PhD and three postdoctoral students) who are training in a cross-European, interdisciplinary network of policy-focused scientists to understand, analyse and respond to employment changes.
Under the guidance of renowned senior academics and with support from the European Trade Union Institute, a consultant group and other associate partners, the students are exploring the question of how European labour markets and economies are evolving with a focus on three areas: management and employee relations, inclusion and exclusion at work, as well as employee well-being and work-life quality.
“The associates have been really engaged and excited by the work of our student researchers,” says project coordinator Paul Stewart of the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.
“There are themes emerging in terms of how work regimes are changing on the European continent,” notes Stewart. “It is not a complete rupture with the past. But there are changes taking place that are making it more difficult for people to work and live the way they did before, both in white-collar and blue-collar jobs, due to a lengthening of the working day and an intensification of the work that they do.”
In part, this is due to a weakening of work regulations that was not foreseeable 5 or 10 years ago. Global developments are making regulating work in a European context an ever-greater challenge, amplified by variation between EU countries.
Migrant experiences, in particular, reflect this variation: policy-makers often treat migration as if it is one phenomenon, whereas people's experiences depend on their own background as much as on where they end up.
Some of the CHANGINGEMPLOYMENT students are looking at migrants in Britain, Spain, France and Belgium, for instance. Their findings so far underline the effect of wider societal issues and the way migrants are received in the community. Both can have a very profound impact on how they see their own life and employment prospects.
While the results of the individual studies will only be known towards the end of the project, which will run until November 2016, one outcome is already making itself felt: the participants are building an international academic network.
“Normally, you will be in academia for 10 or 15 years before you even make an international network, if at all,” Stewart emphasises. “Our students now have this experience of working internationally with colleagues across disciplines in a way that can take people a long time to learn. And there are all kinds of synergies that have evolved between them that you could not have anticipated. It is extraordinary.”
The same is true of the senior academics in charge of the students: the collaboration on CHANGINGEMPLOYMENT has had a noticeable impact on relationships between colleagues, says Stewart.