30 Jun 2016

How mobile is tech talent?

A case study of IT professionals based on data from LinkedIn

Mikkel Barslund / Matthias Busse

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Authors: Mikkel Barslund and Matthias Busse

Series: CEPS Special Report No. 140      No. of pp: 40

Skills, labour mobility and Information technology (IT) all rank high on the European policy agenda and feature among the key priorities of the European Commission. Better skills promote employment and growth. Enhanced labour mobility expands employment and growth opportunities by fostering more efficient allocation of resources within the EU and by attracting and retaining talented individuals. And IT expertise enhances employment and growth prospects, since IT is a high-growth sector in its own right, the largest recipient of FDI inflows and an important driver of overall productivity increases.

This report aims to produce new insights into how IT professionals move from one region to another within Europe and beyond, using the sizeable collection of data amassed by the business networking site LinkedIn, aggregated by region and provided to us in anonymised and relative terms

The study looks in detail at both the quantity and quality of the global interchange of IT professionals and investigates the behaviour of recent graduates and asks to what extent are they more likely to move – and where to.

The key findings can be summarised as follows:

  • Intra-EU flows of IT professionals follow a general pattern of mobility: from east and south to west and north. Net flows are substantial and more so for recent graduates.
  • The EU is losing tech skills to the US – especially those possessed by new graduates.
  • The EU is also losing on quality – the best educated are more likely to leave. This is also the case for intra-EU flows.
  • Big data sources offer great potential to inform the policy-making process – but obstacles remain on the path to achieving this potential.

Based on these findings, the authors call for the following policy measures:

  • Ease access to visas for students who graduate from an EU university (automatic visa for, say, 6-9 months upon graduation across the EU). This would provide time for non-EU citizens to find a job after graduation.
  • Reform of the Blue Card Directive to allow non-EU citizens to view the EU as one common labour market.
  • Improve the standing and reputation of European universities in general to attract talent early on.
  • Pay attention to persistent net flows of talented people within the EU.
  • Further experiment with the use of big data sources for monitoring mobility trends, focusing on skills and return mobility.

Mikkel Barslund is Research Fellow and Matthias Busse is Researcher in the Economic Policy research unit at CEPS.