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Where Bulgarians Would Like To Work – New Zealand Off The Radar

21/11/2011

The main Bulgarian job-seeking portal, http://www.jobs.bg, has published results of an online survey conducted earlier in 2011 of what it claims was a total of nearly 38,000 Bulgarians who visit the jobs.bg website, of whom nearly 8,000 living and working outside the country.  The results, presented in graphs and pie-charts, can be accessed free here after a simple registration process (scroll down to and click the hyperlink ‘Резултати от Проучването’ – results of the survey).  It’s in Bulgarian of course but users of Google’s Chrome browser can have at least the html text translated automatically into English.  Regrettably this doesn’t apply to the embedded text in the graphs and pie-charts.

I was interested to see the survey results for two main reasons.  First, as a provider of English-language tuition here in Bulgaria, to glean whatever insights I could into the importance of English proficiency to the Bulgarian workforce.  Secondly, as a New Zealander, to see if my country has any kind of profile with this large group of respondents.

There were a wide range of questions in the survey, addressing both existing workers, currently employed and currently seeking, and tertiary-level students and with responses in many instances broken out into those from respondents currently resident in Bulgaria and those living abroad.

I focused on the survey questions which touched in some way on my areas of interest, as just outlined.  I was on the lookout for, and was surprised not to find, any question directed to the attributes which a job-seeker believed he or she needed to have to optimise employment prospects.  I would have expected bilingualism to have featured, perhaps with the identification of particular languages thought to be necessary.  But as I say, no such question was asked.

What was asked in this respect was, what factors did a respondent consider most important in deciding on a prospective job?  Not surprisingly perhaps, the most ‘ticked’ response was ‘good pay’, with 83% of resident and 69% of ex-patriate Bulgarians selecting this as an important factor.  Incidentally, the next most selected factor – chosen by roughly half of both groups – was ‘good prospects for career development’.

No, where the importance of English as a second language featured was in the questions about most-preferred countries and cities in which to work.  Just over two-thirds of resident respondents answered ‘agree’ or ‘totally agree’ when asked if they would work outside Bulgaria.  Worker mobility has been a feature of, and a much-debated issue for, the country’s demographics since all restrictions on migration were removed with the end of the communist regime over two decades ago.

As for preferred country, it was comforting as an English language provider to see that the leading choice was the United Kingdom, with 51% of all respondents identifying it as the place they’d like to live and work in.   Germany came in a solid second at 47%, followed by the United States at 41%.  And, as regards preferred city, London was the overwhelming favourite, selected by one in every three respondents across the two groups, actually closer to two in every five amongst Bulgaria-resident respondents.  Next most popular choice was New York City, with roughly one in five in both groups choosing the Big Apple, similarly with Berlin.

The point here is that, of the three most desirable countries and cities in the world for Bulgarian workers, two of them require proficiency in English.  Whilst there may be no formal benchmark – or legal requirement – in either the UK or the US, the reality is that lack of a functional command of English will be a major hurdle in either gaining good employment or in subsequent career advancement.

What then of the other English-speaking countries?  Canada was chosen by one in four respondents (26%) and Australia scored well at one in five (21%).  Of their respective cities, Toronto and Sydney featured most strongly in the responses, sharing a three to five percent score amongst a range of other major ‘western’ – and non-English speaking – cities around the world.

And New Zealand?  Well, to the extent this survey is any guide, it doesn’t register on the radar of either resident or ex-patriate Bulgarians of tertiary study and working age.  New Zealand-Aotearoa doesn’t appear amongst the 59 specific countries selected by respondents, though perhaps – or perhaps not – was in the mind of the five percent who ticked ‘other’ as one of their choices.  What the survey results don’t indicate is whether a list of countries was provided in the survey question, and didn’t include New Zealand, or whether it was a free choice.  It probably doesn’t matter much either way.

And, needless to say, neither Auckland nor any other New Zealand city appears in the list of 63 cities selected.

Should this matter to New Zealand?  On one view, not at all – Bulgaria is a very small country whose migrant citizens would make minimal impact on the New Zealand economy.  We have much bigger fish to fry when it comes to attracting quality migrants.  But on another view, yes, it should matter.  Time and again, in first-time contacts with Bulgarians, I have encountered only positive impressions of New Zealand.  They are typically poorly informed impressions, though nonetheless valid for that – green, peaceful, well-off, home of the Hobbits, etc.  Almost mythical, in fact.

And for me therein lies the issue.  Again, to the extent this jobs.bg survey is a guide, whilst New Zealand might be held in high regard by young, educated and resourceful Bulgarians interested in living and working in another country, it is simply not seen as a realistic prospect.  And if that holds for Bulgarians, it might reasonably be supposed that it holds for the citizens of similar countries, both in south-eastern Europe and elsewhere in the world.  I’m referring here to the likes of Serbia, Croatia, Romania, Czech Republic, Poland, the Baltic countries, without needing to venture further afield.

In Bulgaria’s case, things are not helped by the fact that until as recently as 2008, there was no diplomatic relationship with New Zealand – ever.  And it only happened then because of the New Zealand government’s policy of having diplomatic ties with all European Union countries (Bulgaria and its neighbour Romania having joined in 2007).  So we now have an accredited ambassador in Brussels – of course – he being New Zealand’s ambassador to the EU.  But there is zero in-country representation, not even an honorary consul.  And vice versa of course – neither country much cares about the other.

And perhaps there’s another factor in play.  A perception amongst would-be Bulgarian (and other) migrants that New Zealand is – with its rigid points system, its picking and choosing of skills,  its constant fine-tuning of the rules – or moving of the goal-posts, its insistence on a high level of English proficiency – just too tough a nut to crack.

PS:   Having said all that, I was delighted to hear The Mutton Birds’ “Don’t Fear The Reaper” playing on Star FM here in Sofia the other evening.  Somebody in their playlist selection – perhaps at wit’s end? a Peter Jackson fan?* – made that choice and so, a little bit of New Zealand here in the Balkans – not that anyone would’ve known, because they hardly ever identify individual songs.  But still …

*  The song was written for Jackson’s first commercial success, “The Frighteners”, filmed  in Wellington but starring the then prominent Michael J Fox.

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