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Southern Europeans look for work in Germany

As unemployment rises in debt-stricken Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal, some residents of these countries are moving to Germany. But their numbers are considerably lower than some experts would have expected.

According to Germany's Federal Employment Agency, the number of employed people in Germany from Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal has risen sharply. In May, there were 11.5 percent more Spaniards and nearly 10 percent more Greeks working in Germany than at the same time last year. The rate of Italian and Portuguese workers had increased by around half that amount.

"The increase itself is not surprising," said Herbert Brücker, a migration expert at the Institute for Employment Research in Nuremberg. "What does surprise me is that these numbers are so low."

The statistics reflect an influx of around 30,000 migrants from the four countries combined. In comparison, the number of Polish migrants in Germany rose by more than 160,000 last year, while the number of Romanians rose by nearly 100,000. The southern European arrivals total very few in comparison.

One reason for this, Brücker said, could be the fact that those who do have jobs in Spain and Greece earn more than those with jobs in Poland and Romania. He has found that "wage levels have more influence on work-related migration than unemployment." This explains why jobless southern Europeans tend to place more hope on finding work at home than on opportunities abroad.

Not an easy labor market to tackle

Another reason could be that these migrants find it hard to find jobs in Germany. They may lack the language skills that are necessary in many professions, or their expectations may be too high as many of them are university graduates. The latter is the reason why some German employers often decide against applicants from Spain or Greece, said Brücker.

Apprenticeship-based jobs, meanwhile, present a different hurdle. In many countries, the vocational training system is theory-based and offers little work experience. Germany, however, takes a dual approach, which combines formal education with on-the-job training.

Annette Schavan and Jose Ignacio Wert Ortega (Franziska Kraufmann dpa/lsw)

Schavan and Wert Ortega discussed introducing a German-style vocational training system in Spain

All in all, Germany has only limited appeal for unemployed Spaniards and Greeks.

For this to function, compromises would have to be made on both sides," said Brücker. This would mean that the migrants would have to stop assuming that they will immediately find paid jobs in their fields of expertise. At the same time, German employers would have to become more open to applicants with qualifications gained abroad.

In July, a German-Spanish vocational training conference took place in Stuttgart. There, Germany's minister for education, Annette Schavan, promised her Spanish counterpart, Jose Ignacio Wert Ortega, assistance in developing a dual education system in Spain. She also offered similar assistance to Greece saying, "Germany sees itself as an engine for Europe."

Setting the standard in Europe

German electronics conglomerate Siemens has taken an original approach to the issue. Since the start of August it has been training 29 vocational-school students from 14 EU countries within the framework of Germany's dual system. The three-and-a-half-year apprenticeship begins with six weeks of language lessons. While some English is involved in the training, the final exams are in German.

Europeans@Siemens trainees (Siemens)

Siemens hopes to set an example with its training program

Although the project is not officially targeted at the southern European countries currently going through a financial crisis, it has aroused a great deal of interest there. One-third of the trainees are from Greece, Spain and Portugal. According to project head Martin Stöckmann, Siemens wanted to make a positive contribution.

"It's only a drop in the ocean, but it could set an example," said Stöckmann.

In the meantime, Brücker said he does not foresee any large waves of migrants from southern Europe in the near future. While the numbers will still rise slightly throughout the course of this year, "the peak has already been reached."

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