Ageing Germany looks to Spain for workers

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Germany has been quick to lecture southern European countries like Spain in the eurozone crisis, but the government in Berlin would love to have one of Madrid's problems: its surfeit of workers.

Germany may be booming now, but Europe's powerhouse has a shrinking and an ageing population and its education system is failing to produce enough skilled young people to help "Brand Germany" keep its shine.

Employer associations reckon there are currently 150,000 unfilled scientific and technical jobs, whilst Ernst and Young believes Germany will miss out on 30 billion euros ($43 billion) of revenue this year because of staff shortages.

And with a plunging population, Germany will be short of some two million skilled workers by 2020, according to consultancy firm McKinsey.

Germany introduced a "green card" system for qualified non-European Union immigrant workers in 2000, which has enabled some 33,000 people to come to Germany over 10 years, but this is but a drop in the bucket.

Germany in May also opened its labour market to citizens of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, all of which joined the EU in 2004.

But many will be looking for work in construction or the health sectors rather than in engineering, Germany's economic backbone.

In Germany where unemployment stands at seven percent -- its lowest level in 20 years -- "demand for labour is at a record level," according to Heinrich Alt, a labour agency senior official.

Spain meanwhile has the worst unemployment rate in the industrialised world, with the jobless rate hitting 21.2 percent in the first quarter of the year, and the level for young people even worse.

"Nearly half of those aged under 25 (in Spain) are seeking work and are on the dole," says Monika Varnhagen, an official at ZAV, a division of the German labour agency.

The result of the situations in both countries is that Germany has launched a major drive to try and lure qualified workers from Spain, but in large part due to Spaniards not speaking German, pickings so far have been slim.

In February during a visit to Madrid, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on engineers, technicians and computer specialists to move to her country.

And two months ago, Germany's federal labour agency launched its own campaign to recruit Spaniards.

---'Silly to go back to Spain'---

Spain, says Christian Rauch, a director in the Labour Agency, is "interesting for us."

Over the past few months, some 17,000 Spaniards have made enquiries about working in Germany, but this has so far resulted in very few employment contracts being signed, Rauch says.

"The main problem is the language," he admits.

In Spain, schools teaching German have seen the number of students rocket.

Numbers now attending courses offered by the Madrid and Barcelona Goethe Institute "are about twice those who normally register during a normal summer," according to Institute spokesman Christoph Muecher.

In Berlin, Sandra Montes who opened a school to teach Spanish a few year ago has now switched to offering German courses for Spaniards.

Some 20 percent of Spaniards currently attending her school are doing so with a view to staying to work in Germany, she says.

But many do not quite realise what they are letting themselves in for, she adds.

"Many want to move to Berlin, believing there's work here," she says.

But it's in south and southwestern Germany, in Bavaria or Baden-Wuerttemberg, that jobs are to be found rather than in the economically-struggling German capital, she added.

Many of the jobs on offer are in small and medium cities "where there isn't much of a Spanish community ready to welcome and support new arrivals," according to Rauch.

Because of this, many young Spaniards decide against moving to Germany, he adds.

Those who find work here do settle in.

"It would be silly to go back to Spain now as there are no jobs for young people," says Ana Marquez who has been working in Berlin on short-time contracts for the past four years and who would like to find full-time employment in the tourism sector.

But most vacancies are linked to the scientific and health sectors.

© 2011 AFP

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