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German Workers Fill French Building Gaps

It's not just science and technology specialists who leave Germany for better jobs. Construction workers, too, have a good prospects abroad. In France, for example, experience counts more than age.

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Eastern Germans are especially open to finding work abroad

These days, employment specialists say life-long learning, mobility, and intercultural competence are essential qualifications for job seeker.

But Hans-Christian Wolf doesn't have a college degree, and he's never taken a single business trip. What he has done, however, is to take the "success principle" seriously. In his late forties, the man from the depressed industrial city of Duisburg packed his bags and moved to where the work was waiting for him: in the southern French town of Fos-sur-Mer.

'Work is important'

Wolf is a trained falsework setter, building supports to carry a structure as it is being built. Up to now, he spent his life pouring concrete foundations in his native Ruhr Valley. He never dreamed of working abroad. But economic realities forced him to it. "It is important to work," said Wolf pragmatically.

Bauarbeiter Konjunktur p178

Scaffold builders are especially sought after.

He was jobless for six months when a job offer at a German-French employment agency, ECC France, came to his attention. He applied, took a French course in Duisburg, and got the job from the French employer.

ECC France specializes in placing German construction workers in French jobs.

Filling a gap

"In France, this area is short around 300,000 specialists," said Christine Zahn, who runs the agency. Masons and carpenters are especially easy to place. The country also lacks scaffolding builders, falsework setters like Wolf and gas-water installers.

Flughafen Paris Deckeneinsturz Charles de Gaulle

Debris of collapsed passenger terminal at Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris.

In recent years, France has had to deal with a number of construction scandals. The best-known involved the collapse of the roof of one of the terminals of Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport.

French politicians are trying to lure youths into learning the construction trade in order to close the gap in the need for trade specialists, but with little success.

"They all would rather work in chic offices. They don't want to get their hands dirty," Zahn said.

"It really is an opportunity for the many German craftsmen who are out of work. Especially in eastern Germany, there are so many experienced building specialists who are out of work."

Easterners well suited

ECC France has had especially good experience in placing eastern Germans in jobs. Because they have so few options, they are especially flexible, mobile and don't demand excessive pay.

Bauarbeiter auf der Baustelle

In eastern Germany, construction workers have a hard time finding jobs.

Germany's International Employment Agency (ZAV) placed more than 2,500 craftsmen from the building industry in 2004. Overall, ZAV placed more than 4,000 German jobless in neighboring countries. Miguel Peromingo is the coordinator for European Employment Services at the Bonn-based ZAV. He combs foreign newspapers for job descriptions and makes contact with employers.

Positive experience

Sending Germans to Austria and the Netherlands is especially easy because there is no language barrier, says Peromingo. (The Dutch and German languages have many similarities, and many Dutch speak German well.) But workers have shown themselves to be ready to learn a new language.

Peromingo describes his experience placing German construction workers abroad as quite positive. For one thing, in other countries, people who would be considered "too old" for the job often get another chance.

"Outside Germany, qualification and experience still count more than they do here," he said. "Here, the age of a job seeker is often the most important criterion."

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