Roman Sobczak, a 46-year-old Polish carpenter, has a one-word explanation for why he is sitting in a classroom in a rural corner of his country listening to a CD of Norwegian phrases. "Money," he says. Skilled workers like Sobczak are in big demand in oil-rich Norway. And Swiss employment agency Adecco is cashing in by teaching him and his comrades basic Norwegian and putting them to work on Norwegian construction sites.
Adecco is building a business around Europe's surprising labor mobility. And no Europeans are more mobile than the Poles, more than 300,000 of whom are working in other European countries. In Szaflary, a village south of Krakow, Adecco has converted a tourist hotel into a campus where welders, pipe fitters, and other craftsmen get a five-week crash course in Norwegian and basic tips about coping in Norway. Adecco has sent more than 5,000 Polish workers there since 2002.
A skilled Norwegian construction worker earns at least $21 an hour, compared with about $11.50 in Poland. But beyond the money, Poles in the Adecco program say they also like Norway for its friendly treatment of outsiders. "They're people after my own heart," says Andrzej Wolanski, a 44-year-old joiner-carpenter.
The competition for spots at the Adecco campus is keen. At a former meatpacking plant nearby, carpenters furiously work to hammer together window frames under the critical gaze of an Adecco tester from Norway. Only those who accurately follow architectural drawings will get in. Once in Norway, the carpenters become full-time employees of Adecco, with the same pay and benefits as Norwegian workers. Adecco earns fees from employers for providing the workers and for handling payrolls. There's no limit on how long the Poles can remain in Norway, though the average stay is 15 months.
As Polish wages rise, however, not quite as many Poles are lining up to compete for entry into Adecco's program as a few years ago. That's why the company is casting a wider net, to countries including Serbia and Ukraine, where local wages are still just a fraction of Norway's. Many, no doubt, dream of staying for the long haul. Says Miroslav Goc, a 22-year-old from Slovakia: "Maybe I will find a Norwegian girl."By Jack EwingJOB SEEKERS' CZECH POINTFormer East bloc workers are finding opportunities amid the republic's investment boom
In the Czech Republic, where labor is tight, new factories are recruiting engineers and assembly-line workers from Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and other former East bloc nations. Engineer Pavel Shtaferun is one of them.
He had never been outside Ukraine when he decided last year to leave his family behind for a job abroad. "My dream was to combine high-tech electronics development with scientific research," says the 32-year-old native of Poltava, a city with a population of 320,000.
Lucky for him, Taiwanese electronics subcontractor Foxconn was short of engineers at its fast-growing European headquarters in the Czech Republic. Company recruiters in the Ukraine quickly hired Shtaferun, who arrived last October at Foxconn's sprawling campus in Pardubice without speaking a word of Czech. He's now one of a growing number of Ukrainian engineers at the company.
Shtaferun is working on improving production-line efficiency and hopes that his lab will be tapped to redesign any faulty components for Foxconn customers such as Hewlett-Packard (HPQ
), IBM (IBM
), and Apple (AAPL
Recently, Shtaferun's wife, Anna Velychko, 30, also came on board at Foxconn as a human resources manager. In fact, nearly half of the subcontractor's 5,000 employees hail from former East bloc countries and elsewhere. And that number could increase when Foxconn inaugurates its second Czech plant this coming January. More and more Eastern Europeans are heading to Central Europe for a good job.By Gail EdmondsonCONTINENTAL DRIFTGlasgow, tapping a vibrant expatriate community, has become a call center hub for Europe
Jean-François Calvet, a native Parisian, spends his days remotely fixing glitches in ATMs at Paris banks. But after work he drives home to a village in the rolling green lowlands of Scotland. He is one of nearly 300 foreigners employed by U.S. tech company NCR (NCR
)at a center near Glasgow to handle customer calls from across Europe. "There's a nice quality of life here," says Calvet, 32, who moved abroad because of bleak job prospects in France.
Workers like Calvet are dislodging one of the most stubborn obstacles to Old World economic growth. Western Europeans were long reluctant to work outside their native countries, even when they couldn't find jobs at home. Now, a new generation views their world differently. Multilingual, well-educated, and adventuresome, today's young Western European workers are crossing borders to find jobs from Glasgow to Barcelona.
Glasgow, once an ailing industrial city, has become a European call center hub for more than 50 companies, from local whisky distillers to global giants such as IBM (IBM
) and Dell. (DELL
) Many of its 18,000 call center workers are from the Continent, able to process an insurance claim in Swedish or solve a computer problem in Portuguese.
Salaries at Glasgow's call centers are modest, starting at about $25,000 a year. But employers say it's not hard to find young foreigners already in Scotland to fill the jobs. Says Anne Marie Forsyth, who heads a Glasgow trade association for call center operators: "So many more people are on the move, looking for service-sector jobs and following the big brand names."By Carol Matlack