Why jobs are going unfilled in a country with 18% unemployment

Spanish companies complain they are often unable to fill positions due to a lack of suitable candidates

Pedro Gorospe

In a country with an unemployment rate that exceeds 18% of the active population, and that has been battered by years of ongoing economic crisis, it’s not uncommon for any job offer in Spain to receive hundreds of applications. But it’s also a regular occurrence for hundreds of positions to remain unfilled due to a lack of properly qualified candidates.

Foil manufacturer Iberfoil complains that it can’t get the staff.
Foil manufacturer Iberfoil complains that it can’t get the staff.L. RICO

A growing number of Spanish firms are reporting to their respective trade associations that they are not able to hire staff who meet their specific needs, and on the conditions they are offering. Iberfoil, for example, a specialized aluminum foil manufacturer, has had problems filling 100 technical positions. “We have detected problems when it comes to finding qualified staff for the Iberfoil lamination plant in Sabiñánigo [Aragón],” explains the company’s chairman, Clemente González Soler.

In 2014, the business sector predicted that this imbalance would leave more than 80,000 jobs unfilled over the coming years

“There is an imbalance between supply and demand,” says Juan Carlos Tejera, the head of training at the CEOE, the association that represents the business community across Spain. It’s an imbalance that the business sector in 2014 predicted would leave more than 80,000 jobs unfilled in Spain over the coming years given the disconnect between the education system and the job market, and that could drag down productivity and competitiveness in the process.

A worker in a plant belonging to the Mondragón group.
A worker in a plant belonging to the Mondragón group.Gorka Lejarcegi

Iberfoil is not the only company with such problems. In the Basque Country, a Spanish region famed for its industry, companies such as Mercedes and Tubacex (which makes tubes and pipes) joined forces with the trade association Confebask and the regional education department in 2011 to try to correct the imbalance. They believed that the problem was going to worsen as companies tried to seek out products offering greater added value. So they set up a scheme known as Dual Professional Training, which now benefits thousands of students and companies.

A 2016 study found that 44% of companies in the Basque Country “have difficulties hiring”

“In 2017, nearly 1,300 Basque students are participating in the Dual Professional Training scheme, while 800 companies are also taking part,” explains the head of training at Confebask, Asier Aloria. Major groups such as the huge Mondragón cooperative, Danobatgroup (which makes machine tools) and Petronor (an oil and gas company) have become involved. According to Aloria, “the rate of hiring of these students is 80-100% in the industrial sector.” But even so, a study carried out by Confebask in 2016 found that 44% of companies “have difficulties hiring,” given the lack of candidates out there with the technical profiles they need.

For Juan Carlos Tejera with the CEOE, the problem is likely to get worse in Spain, given the speed with which the job market is changing. “Around 80% of the jobs of the future have not even been created yet,” he explains.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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