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Fighting the Job Market Crunch

With the depressed labor market showing no signs of an upturn, jobless Germans are now taking matters into their hands -- by seeking their fortunes overseas and turning to self-employment.


Fed up of scouring the papers for work.

According to Germany's Federal Statistical Office, around 110,000 Germans yearly pack up their bags to work abroad, at least for some time.

Much of that is a reaction to the country's persistently high unemployment rate, which hovers around the 11 percent mark. It's not just highly-qualified Germans, but increasingly also casual laborers and seasonal workers who are looking abroad for jobs.

Monika Varnhagen, director of the Bonn-based International Employment Agency (ZAV), which helps German construction workers among others to find jobs for limited periods abroad, says that interest among Germans in overseas jobs has been on the rise in the past few years. "On the one hand it certainly has to do with the state of the labor market, but increasingly, many young people want to acquire additional qualifications by having worked abroad," Varnhagen told Deutsche Welle.

She added that the flexibility of the European Union had facilitated the rise of the phenomenon. "The European labor market is open and thus offers chances to gain qualifications for those interested," Varnhagen said.

Looking for jobs beyond Europe

But jobseekers aren't stopping at the EU's borders in their quest for work. In the past 10 years, the ZAV has helped around 60,000 Germans find employment all over the world.

ZAV spokeswoman Sabine Seidler said that the agency started special programs in the face of increased willingness among Germans to try their luck further away from the European continent. "For instance we find jobs for teachers in specific subjects, like in the U.S. state of Texas, where they have a great demand for teachers of German or other subjects, but can't fulfill that need locally," Seidler explained.

Canada, too, is a coveted destination for German jobseekers according to Seidler, in particular for recent university graduates interested in an internship overseas.

The ZAV's initiatives like the "Young Workers Exchange Program" has sparked much interest in regions where high unemployment prevails, so much so that local job centers in smaller towns and cities have also begun to finance language courses in addition to helping German jobseekers with the move to a foreign country.

Being your own boss

Looking overseas for work isn't the only way Germany's long-term unemployed have found of dragging themselves out of the job market misery. A study released by the German state-owned credit bank Kfw in Frankfurt on Monday concluded that an increasing number of jobless Germans are taking the plunge into self-employment and setting up their own businesses.

Every fourth person opting for self-employment last year, from a total of 1.6 million Germans, was registered as jobless prior to the move, according to the study. In former communist East Germany, where unemployment is highest, every second entrepreneur was unemployed.

The Kfw study also pointed out that the number of people who decided to go it alone with the help of the "Ich-AG" (Me Incorporated) scheme -- a labor market reform introduced by the government which gives financial incentives to unemployed people to start their own businesses -- had doubled within a year to 249,800.

The trend has led to a lowering of the start-up capital, the study said. About 40 percent of the newly self-employed needed a maximum of €1,000 to start their business, while every tenth person who set up shop required more than €50,000.

"An interesting alternative"

Most independent start-ups are in the service industry, followed by the retail and car-repair sectors.

Hans Reich, head of Kfw's supervisory board told a press conference that the numbers prove people are learning to make the best out of a dire situation. "Despite the difficult economic situation, independence is still an interesting alternative for many people," Reich remarked.

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