Spanish firms headhunt abroad despite high unemployment

More than half of those hiring say they can’t find the right people for the job at home

Two students specializing in mechanical engineering.
Two students specializing in mechanical engineering.Carlos Rosillo

The Spanish job market is experiencing a paradox. There are 4.5 million unemployed in Spain, according to the Active Population Survey (EPA) statistics for the second quarter of this year. But while people are desperate to find work, companies say that they can’t find candidates to fill their vacancies. The reason? A lack of skills, experience and knowledge.

As Ana Jimeno de la Casa, head of Repsol’s Selection, Performance and Development unit, explains: “We are finding it hard to fill positions that require someone who is highly and recently qualified, who has an international profile, speaks a number of languages, and holds a degree in finance-economics or engineering.”

Meanwhile, the General Workers’ Union (UGT) points out that companies are asking for experience people can’t possibly acquire due to the temporary nature of current contracts.

We are finding it hard to fill positions that require someone highly and recently qualified who has an international profile, various languages and a degree in finance or economy or engineering

A total of 56% of companies recognize there is a gulf between the skills they are looking for and the suitability of applicants, according to the 2016 Guide to the Job Market released by the employment consultancy Hays. Consequently, they are casting their nets further afield.

“We need to hire people who will optimize resources and improve efficiency,” says a spokesperson from global energy operator, Acciona. “We are attracting talent from the UK, America, Canada, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and Australia.”

According to Mari Carmen Barrera, secretary for social policy, employment and social security at labor union UGT, the government is not doing enough to address the discrepancy between what companies need and what young Spaniards can offer them. “The cuts have meant the loss of 3,000 labor counselors whose job it was to study the demands of the job market. The cuts also meant job-training schemes being curbed.”

For the few vacancies that exist in the under-26 age bracket, companies are looking for highly trained and experienced employees. Santiago Soler, from employment agency Adecco, points out that for those over the age of 45, the situation is equally dramatic as their age makes them eligible for only 4% of jobs.

The most employable age group is 26 to 35, which snaps up 61% of the jobs on offer.


But while Spain needs to renew its Education Plan and academic institutions are being asked to adapt courses to meet company requirements, IESE Business School Professor Sandalio Gómez believes that the companies themselves should provide training to suit their own needs. “In Germany, companies assume this responsibility,” he says. “They sign a work contract with their students. That’s why they only have 8% youth unemployment compared to Spain’s 46.5%.”

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Meanwhile, the head of UGT believes the government needs to address the situation by reforming the country’s labor laws. “The lack of balance between supply and demand is due to the fact that companies are asking young people for experience they can’t possibly acquire on temporary contracts [averaging 3.2 years, according to a report from website Infoempleo and Adecco]. Right now, six out of 10 jobs last less than a week and so it’s impossible to accumulate three years experience.”

To reach a solution, Infoempleo’s director general Jorge Guelbenzu says that “companies should develop promotion policies and recycle the skills of employees over the age of 45 without worrying about whether they will go off in search of new challenges. The younger generation needs to be able to multi-task and there should be a lot of focus on digital and technical training.”

English version by Heather Galloway.

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