Last week a new colleague started working with us as project manager for a EU-funded research project and I took the opportunity to ask her how had she found this job. “Too complicated” she said. She is not alone: an extremely common problem for project managers working on EU-funded projects is that they don’t know what will happen to them when the project ends.
Most usually their contract ends. If one is lucky the scientist for whom one worked for will have succeeded in getting more funding from the EU in the form of a new project, in which case one most probably can continue working with the same community. Even if one has such luck, it is not necessarily possible for this person to continue working there: public organisations in the EU usually put restrictions on how many years someone can work for them on temporary contracts. In the French public sector it is 6 years for example. If you have reached this 6 year limit they either open a permanent position for you (in which case you become a civil servant) or you are out, no matter how good or bad you are at your job. And since it is very difficult to justify new positions, especially in the time of crisis, then most usually you have to go.
So the question is how do you find a new job if you love being an EU-funded project manager?
I searched extensively online and I found no appropriate solution. I still cannot believe that those hiring personnel to work on EU-funded projects are not obliged by the EC to advertise the position in a central place so that all Europeans can apply! I have been working for example for an ERANET project: there is nowhere I can find if there are any other ERANETs looking for a project manager! I have to look at hundreds of websites in order to find this information and in this search some inside knowledge is necessary to succeed in obtaining it.
In the context of a course on “Innovation in the Public Sector” for my MSc in Public Policy and Management I decided to focus on this very important issue. I came up with the idea of HorizonTap, whose full business model you can read/download below. I would like however to summarize some of the main points here:
A small percentage of EU-funded project managers have been occupying positions internal to organisations receiving EU funding, most usually as public or civil servants, or on long-term contracts. The majority, however, of EU-funded project managers has been employed directly on these projects, facing thus job insecurity at the end of project funding. At that point, they either choose to work on a different research project in the same organisation – if such an opportunity exists – or seek project manager positions outside the research sector. What is missing is a way for all these highly trained project managers to learn about and apply for research project management jobs in different parts of their organisation or different organisations altogether, in the same or a different country. In this way, they will be able to continue to contribute with their knowledge and skills to the development of the European Research Area.
HorizonTap is an e-recruitment website (which should ideally be hosted by the European Commission and funded by Horizon2020), specific for the recruitment of EU-funded research project managers aiming at taping into the knowledge and skills of this specialised labour force. It is believed that such a website will benefit the Horizon2020 programme, the organisations seeking skilled personnel for project management as well as the research managers in their career progression:
- research project managers will consume less time in looking for a new job, their job hunting will be a lot easier and they will benefit from finding employment appropriate for their skillset.
- the value given to research organisations receiving EU funding is twofold: efficient operational and financial management. On the one hand, hiring the highly experienced managers will lead to a smooth running of their projects, timely submission of deliverables and will ensure an appropriate environment for scientists, that allows them to dedicate most of the time carrying out their research. At the same time, an experienced project manager will be able to manage the project’s financial aspects in such a way as to maximally use the EC contribution.
- The launch of Horizon2020 has been recognised as a unique opportunity to further simplify funding procedures in a fundamental way. But the success of all simplifications and changes heavily depends on their understanding and implementation by project managers. What the EC thus needs is efficient and skilled project managers spread in all EU-funded organisations. It is in the EC’s interests to make sure that research project managers are not lost from the community once projects come to an end and that the best allocation of human capital is taking place at both the National and European levels.
- Such a tool is contributing to the Europe2020 Strategy goals, related to the knowledge-based economy and society but also to mobility of the european labour force, since project managers will be able to move more easily from city to city and country to country.
I have sent this proposal to many members of the EC’s DG Research and Innovation. Some of them told me they found this proposal really interesting but I have not heard back from them. This is however a crucial issue that should not be left unnoticed, especially now that are into the transition gap: most FP7 projects are finishing and Horizon2020 calls have not started yet so a great majority project managers will be out of job soon.
There is an urgency that these people are not lost just because something like HorizonTap does not yet exist so please share this post with people that might be interested in this issue!
UPDATE: in the meantime I invite all those that have been managing EU-funded projects to join this specialised Linkedin group: http://lnkd.in/tYwCgj