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Unemployed people line up at a job center in Alcala de Henares, near Madrid
Long queues at job centers are a common view in SpainImage: picture alliance/dpa

Hola Deutschland

July 8, 2011

There are easier languages for Spanish speakers to learn, but German language academies are experiencing a surge in student enrollments as more young Spanish professionals see a future for themselves in Germany.


When German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Madrid in February, among the issues she discussed with Spanish authorities was her government's invitation to young Spanish professionals to apply for jobs in her country.

Germany's relatively robust economy, with 7-percent unemployment, contrasts sharply with the situation in Spain, which, at 21 percent, has the highest jobless rate in the European Union.

"Last spring, after the visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel here in Spain, the word spread that Germany is actually looking for high-level skilled people, and this has led to a huge increase, especially from people with backgrounds in engineering, architecture, medicine, who have come to enroll in courses here at the Goethe-Institut," said Manfred Ewel, head of the language department at Madrid's Goethe-Institut.

Strong hike in enrollments

Goethe-Institut has seen a 20-percent increase in student enrollments since Merkel's visit, according to Ewel.

Chancellor Angela Merkel
Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes young Spanish professionalsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"If somebody is really dedicated, he or she can learn enough German to get by, even to start in a job in six months, if they come every day," he said.

Given the growing interest of Spanish professionals in German, Goethe-Institut is adjusting its curriculum. The institute will provide courses that teach students how to write resumes and cover letters and handle job interviews in German. It also plans additional courses aimed at students in fields such as engineering and architecture.

Germany's interest in recruiting professionals from Spain and elsewhere is driven not only by its low unemployment and healthy economy, but also by its demographics.

"The problem really is that we don't have enough population," said Walther von Plettenberg, managing director of the German Chamber of Commerce in Spain, pointing to the country's demographic problem.

Engineering is an area particularly in need of workers. Numerous engineers are either approaching or have already entered retirement. Germany currently lacks 45,000 engineers, according to von Plettenberg.

Highly-qualified Spanish engineers

To that end, the chamber of commerce recently held seminars in Madrid and Barcelona to inform Spaniards about jobs and training in Germany, particularly in engineering. Both events drew an enthusiastic response.

"Spanish engineering has a long tradition of really high-quality engineers," von Plettenberg said, adding that their only handicap in Germany is the language.

Germany needs thousands of engineersImage: ESA

Experts admit that a brain drain could become a problem for the country in the long term. At the moment, however, they view the exodus of skilled workers as a symptom and not the cause of problems in the country's labor market.

Spain's youth unemployment is around 45 percent. Many of those who queue up at the employment centers across the country are often highly skilled people. And of the the few jobs that are available, many are not appealing to them.

Economist Ismael Sanz of Rey Juan Carlos university admits that the current situation for young professionals in Spain is not good, pointing to a lack of permanent contracts and low wages of around 1,000 euros ($1,400) a month. And there are some deeper structural problems as well.

Win-win situation

"We do not have enough businesses that need qualified people," Sanz said. Although Spain, he points out, is strong in tourism, that sector doesn't need highly-qualified people like engineers.

Almudena Marti, a Spanish economics and law student, is currently taking an intensive language course at the Goethe-Institut in Madrid. Her goal is to study in Germany later, and then work there.

Marti believes Germany has handled the economic crisis well. " I think the opportunities to work there are much bigger than here in Spain," she said.

Numerous other young, skilled Spaniards agree. They're learning German in growing numbers, in the hope of finding work in Europe's largest economy.

It appears to be a win-win situation, given the numbers of Spanish professionals out of work and Germany's need for skilled workers.

The only obstacle now are those irregular German verbs.

Author: Guy Hedgecoe (jrb)
Editor: Kate Bowen

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