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Movers and Stayers: Social Mobility, Migration and Skills

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Izabela Grabowska

The author examines social mobility in the enlarged EU by analysing the work sequences of 1865 movers and stayers in Poland. Using indicators of upward and downward social mobility, she explores the role of migration in careers. Her research shows that migration adds dynamism to work paths and contributes to the improvement of people’s working lives. It also suggests that agency and reflexivity guide the acquisition of tacit skills during migration, resulting in various patterns of social mobility.
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Introduction: Making the way through the world on the move

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It is connected to whether you are flexible and you want to go for a change or not, this is the factor differentiating people who decide to go abroad from those who remain sedentary, recounted Lucjan, a 33 year old machine construction engineer from Cracow. He left Poland after graduation where he could not find a decent job and, in fact, his first serious job was by chance in the UK. Lucjan, like many other young Poles after 2004 EU enlargement, went to work abroad without earlier planning, just like that. His first job, getting his foot into the British labour market, was in a sausage factory. After his initial anchoring and getting a sense of some of the ‘rules of the game’ of the UK low-skilled work space, he started searching for new jobs but still below the level of his formal skills obtained at the technical university in Poland. But this time he made a plan and went to a recruitment agency where he received job advice and offers. He even decided on internal migration within the UK to undertake still rather manual jobs in a logistics company. He worked with commitment and very effectively, building his reputation in British workplaces. Supervisors quickly recognised his work efficiency and he felt that his work was getting appreciated. Even though, he insisted that his UK jobs were only for the money, he managed to build up self-confidence, some awareness of the world around him, linguistic skills. On returning...

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