Why Don't More Unemployed Spaniards Get Jobs In Germany?

Aug 10, 2012
Originally published on August 13, 2012 9:22 am

Zoe Chace and Robert Smith are reporting from European borders this week. This is the third story in a four-part series.

The eurozone was supposed to create one big labor market by making it easy to cross borders for work.

But Gerhard Wiegelmann, a CEO in Stuttgart, Germany, can't find enough workers to staff his company — even with unemployment in Spain over 20 percent. He's had to turn down projects because he can't hire enough people.

Ignacio Valero is the company's only Spanish employee. He says that part of the problem is the language barrier — students in Spain learn English, not German. But even if you know the language, there's still a cultural barrier.

"People are not so open here in Germany," Valero says. "Getting along with people is not so easy."

Some German companies are trying to change their culture, to appeal to more workers like Valero. Andreas Rohm is a consultant who coaches German CEOs how to attract foreign workers. He shows them how to be a little less cold, little less aloof.

"You have to send warm signals," he says.

We asked Wiegelmann to make his best pitch to foreign workers.

He said: "If you are a young, highly motivated engineer, you will see that we make a lot of interesting projects."

Really, Gerhard Wiegelmann? That's it? What about the German weather? Or the food?

"You can stay alive here," he says.

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Many countries in Europe have been racing to remove economic barriers between them, which is not easy, but cultural barriers can be even tougher. In parts of Spain, 30 percent of workers do not have jobs. Germany is actually short of workers, with some regions reporting an astonishing three percent unemployment rate.

Which raises a question. Why aren't more Spaniards, or Italians or Greeks, for that matter, moving to Germany? NPR's Planet Money team is reporting this week from the borders that divide Europe.

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: I'm Robert Smith in Stuttgart, Germany, and we're visiting an engineering firm - B&W, it's called - and they design these beautiful little things made out of metal. Look. It's like a little - it's like a little gearbox. I don't really know what they do. Something to do with sports cars. Anti-lock braking sensors. Clutch cases. (Makes car noises)

We're playing with all the products when we meet the CEO, Gerhard Veegelman. He'd like to make more of this stuff, but his company's severely short-staffed. In fact, Veegelman says when a customer comes to them now, this summer, for a new design, he has to break the news to them.

GERHARD VEEGELMAN: Now we cannot do this. We would like and we are able but we can start in December.

SMITH: He has to turn down work because he has unfilled positions for 15 designers. That's a quarter of his entire staff. And think about how wild this is. Unemployment all over Europe, and Veegelman can't get a lot of foreigners to even take a look at his jobs. Why?

There is one Spaniard working here, so we asked him. Ignacio Vallero is from Zaragoza. He says the number one reason more of his countrymen aren't coming to Germany is, well, partially America's fault. Young people in Spain learn English as a second language instead of German.

IGNACIO VALERO: And German it's very difficult. I mean it's not an easy language.

SMITH: But there's something else. Valero says he's had a little trouble adapting to Germany's peculiar social style.

VALERO: People are not so open here in Germany, and getting along with people is not so easy. That's what I think.

SMITH: It wasn't supposed to be this way. The idea of the European Union was to create one big labor market. They figured if they got rid of the legal barriers stopping a French person from working in a German factory, then that would be enough. If there were jobs in Germany for French workers, the French would move there. But as we discovered, that's not the case.

ZOE CHACE, BYLINE: I'm Zoe Chace in a little village just outside the city of Strasbourg, France, and life is pretty sweet. It's beautiful here. You can smell the lavender, the birds are chirping, and every morning the French people who live here pile into cars, busses and trains and they cross the German border to go to work in Karlsruhe, Germany, but at the end of their work day they get back into their cars and they drive back across the border into France. We met Raymond Keith. He works for Siemens just over the border.

RAYMOND KEITH: I like working in Germany because everything is well organized. But for my private life I don't like if everything is organized. It's much better for me to live in France.

CHACE: What's so great about France again? Well, Yannick Pebret - he lives in France, works in Germany - he gave us his most important reason.

YANNICK PEBRET: I eat French bread. I can't eat German bread. It's impossible.

CHACE: I know, it sounds like bad stereotypes, like the Frenchmen who love their bread and the uber-organized Germans. But the cultural issues are very powerful here. Even if legally a Frenchman working in Germany is not an outsider, culturally he feels like one.

SMITH: Back here in Germany, the CEO of the engineering firm, Gerhard Veegelman, says it's hard for Americans to understand how crippling this is to the European economy.

VEEGELMAN: United States people grow up with the idea, if things in the north are better, I will move to the north. And I think European people don't want to move.

SMITH: And so some companies are trying to go beyond what the European Union has done, changing the laws. They're trying to change the culture. Some of them hire Andreas Rohm. He's a consultant that coaches German CEOs in how to attract foreign workers. He shows them how to be a little less cold, a little less aloof, a little more Spanish.

ANDREAS ROHM: You have to send warm signals. For instance, to meet candidates in their country.

SMITH: Do you tell these CEOs when they go to Spain or Italy or Greece, do you tell them to take off the suit, to hug? Or you can't convince them to hug?

ROHM: I tried.

SMITH: I should say Veegelman, the CEO, did not try to hug me. But I asked him to give us his best sales pitch for foreign workers to come to Germany.

VEEGELMAN: If you are a young, high motivated engineer, you will see that we make a lot of interesting projects.

SMITH: Sure, but what about the German weather? What about the German food?

VEEGELMAN: You can stay alive here.


SMITH: Way to sell it.

CHACE: That's quite a pitch.

SMITH: Robert Smith.

CHACE: Zoe Chace, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.