The Precariousness of the Employable. Highly Skilled Professionals in Contemporary Romania

The workforce around the world has been subjected to undeniable crises in the last years, visible in the high levels of unemployment and in the protests that have been mushrooming globally. It is little wonder in this context that the concept of employability has received increasing attention not only from its promoters that are ubiquitous among policy makers and governors, but also from critical scholars trying to pin down the tensions and dangers of current employment (for example Berglund, 2013, Chertkovskaya , 2013, Vesterberg, 2013, de Sá Mello da Costa and Saraiva, 2012, Cremin, 2010). Several recent articles such as those in the special issue of Ephemera have examined both theoretically and empirically important aspects of this consequential reality (see for example Berglund, 2013, Chertkovskaya , 2013, Vesterberg, 2013,). Best understood as a technology for disciplining the workers through shifting the responsibility of the outcome and conditions of employment from the state and the employer to the worker herself (Chertkovskaya et al, 2013), employability promises to be a fruitful entry point in any attempt to critically grasp the current situation.

This paper is intended as a contribution to the recent discussions about the consequences of the radical switch towards an individual(centered understanding of work and employment. I will use the case of highly skilled workers in a middle scale city in Romania, Cluj, in order to empirically describe the types of situations, choices and understandings that a labor market operating under the wider umbrella of employability result in. I will show that even for the most privileged categories of workers, those who manage to secure a relatively decent living for themselves, the framework of employability results in precarious situations. After a short review of the main strands of literature that has dealt with various aspects of the normative pressures that current workers are subjected to and the methodological considerations, I will proceed to an ethnographic description of the main tension lines in the career fields (Mayrhofer et al, 2003) of Information Technology and Human Resources employees. The description gives empirical flash to my argument that despite the variety of definitions and understandings that actors have of what career success, advancement and legitimate strategies are, they all share an understanding of themselves as workers who can increase the security of their livelihoods only by relying on themselves and their increased employability.

Anca Simionca

PhD Candidate in Sociology and Social Anthropology, CEU

  • Topic of the paper:Career flexibility between labour market precariousness and personal choice: The case of middle managers in Romania
  • Research interests: