Spaniards seek jobs in Germany

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Germany's economy is leaving Spain's in the dust these days. But Spain has something Germany desperately needs: skilled labor.

Spain's unemployment rate has been twice the European average for more than two years. And it's still rising.

Government figures released last week show that joblessness climbed to over 20 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010. For young Spaniards it's a staggering 44 percent.

This week Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero seemed resigned when discussing it.

"It is not going to be easy to reduce our unemployment level," Zapatero said. "But we can have the conviction that we can overcome the problem."

Conviction is little consolation for Spain's young, especially the well educated — nearly an entire generation that's gone to college but can't find jobs.

At a Barcelona unemployment office on a recent morning there was a brisk
traffic of 20 and 30 somethings filing in with their resumes. Guillermo Garcia Cruz, a 28 year old architect and engineer, said he's been out of work for two years.

"There are no jobs for architects," Cruz said. "But I'll do anything. Right now I have a part time job conducting surveys for the local housing authority."

That brings in about 830 dollars a month. Garcia said he's desperate enough to look for architecture jobs elsewhere.

"I'm thinking of going to Germany," he said. "I heard that they've begun searching for people to fill jobs there."
The labor shortage in Germany

For Garcia the odds might be pretty good. Germany is facing a labor shortage, as its economy heats up and its population ages.

The German government says it will likely need some 800,000 foreign workers in the near future, mostly in highly skilled jobs such as engineering and telecommunications.

Word of the German job shortage reached Spain about a week ago. But with German Chancellor Angela Merkel arriving tomorrow, the buzz over jobs abroad has grown quickly.

In one recent television skit, a man in a wig dressed as Chancellor Merkel, said for Spaniards to escape their current employment crisis they needed to be conquered by Germany. Radio commentators have begun to speak of a second "Spanish exodus."

This wouldn't be the first Spanish emigrated en masse to Germany. In the 1960s the Spanish economy was in tatters while Germany's boomed. Hundreds of thousands went north. It spawned a hit Spanish movie, called "Come to Germany Pepe!" that poked fun at the Spanish guest workers.

In one scene Pepe, an uneducated country bumpkin, appears more interested in the tall German blondes than the jobs. Take it easy, another Spaniard tells him. "Here, you start work early and end late. When do you think you'll have time for flirting?"
Spanish brain drain

The big difference with today's potential exodus is that it is Spain's most educated who'd leave. And that has the government worried.

Arnau Soll works at the national employment office in Barcelona, placing Spaniards in jobs abroad. He said the government resents the potential loss of its high caliber workers.

"When the situation improves here we'll need those workers," Soll said. "And it will be hard to get them back."

Or will it?

Economist Atonio Argando̱a, an expert on labor at Barcelona's IESE business school, said Spaniards will return when the economy improves Рas they did after the first exodus. He said the workers' temporary stint abroad will benefit Spain in the long run.

"Because they'll return with them new knowledge and skills," Argandoña said.

Spaniards, as members of the European Union, are free to move to and work in Germany as they please. But there is one thing that might put the brakes on a mass exodus: the German language.

To work in Germany you have to speak German. And relatively few Spaniards study it in school.

Still, Zapatero and Merkel are supposed to discuss their respective labor needs during the summit Thursday.

No doubt many Spaniards will be listening to see if the time has come to follow Merkel back to Germany.