The objective of the European Union might be to make it easier for people to relocate for jobs, but a recent study has shown that the different languages that are spoken within the EU prevent workers from obtaining positions in companies abroad.
When the European Union was founded, people envisioned one big labour market that allowed people from all over Europe to work in the country where their skills were needed. However, this vision never became a reality. Even though diplomas in the EU are valid all over the European Union, the language barriers between the different countries prevents workers from relocating: only 3% of the people in the European Union that are of a working age live in a country that’s different from their native one. Especially young people are now caught in a so-called ‘language trap’ which prevents them from moving to other European countries. The country that is especially in demand is Germany where, contrary to the southern countries, companies are in desperate need of new employees.
Take for example of a language trap ‘victim’ is Maria Menendez. Maria is 25 years old and lives in Spain. She has a diploma in the vetinarian field and has two master’s degrees, but despite the fact that she has sent out about 1,000 CVs last year, she is struggling to find a job. The vetinarian market in Spain is rapidly declining as Spaniards spend less and less money on their pets. Maria is also qualified to work in an agricultural company as the in-house vet, but this field isn’t hiring new employees either.
The opposite is happening in Germany at the moment: in all of northern Europe, there is a shortage of employees because of low birth rates and the need for workers with specialized skills. Menendez says she has found plenty of jobs that would fit her degree. The only problem? They all require a good command of the German language. Moreover, the knowledge of the German language that is needed for most available jobs is very specialised.
Raimund Becker, head of the German Federal Employment Agency’s division for foreign and specialist recruitment: ‘If you want to work as an engineer you’ll need a certain specialist vocabulary…Even colloquial German isn’t enough.’
Most people from the south of Europe haven’t focussed on German but on English in high school and believe it is the lingua franca of the EU. It is true that most multi-national companies use English, but most smaller companies use the language of the country they are based in. This is why a great deal of people used to move to London to find a job, but as the economy in the United Kingdom is also struggling, this is no longer the case.
However, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel. The German Federal Employment Agency has announced a 40 million Euro investment in programmes that will teach German to Europeans between 18 and 35 to learn German. After this education, people like Maria, whose degrees would be accepted in Germany because of EU rules, will be able to find a job in Germany.
The number of Spaniards that are learning German might be on the rise, but actual the number of Spanish people working in Germany itself is still quite low. According to new research, less than 5,000 Spanish workers have left the country to work in Germany. A very small amount when you compare it to the 4.7 million people in the country that don’t have a job. An explanation for this could be the fact that many Spaniards have turned their focus to South America. As the cultures and languages spoken on the continent are related to Spain, it is easier for Spaniards to adapt to these than to the culture of Germany and the German language, which is fairly difficult to learn for Spanish people.
This trend means much needed labour force is moving away from the European Union. As it would be a little far-fetched for us to replace this work force with employees from outside of the EU, measurements must thus be taken to make employment in the European Union more appealing.
by Elise Kuip