Spain’s self-employed suffer skills shortage

Spain's 2.9 million-strong army of self-employed people is among the least skilled in Europe, a new study by employment human resources agency Adecco shows.

Spain's self-employed suffer skills shortage
According to Adecco, only 38.2 percent of Spanish women working for themselves carry out specialized tasks. Photo: Victor1558/Flickr

The European Union (EU) could boast of 23.8 million self-employed people in 2012, or 15.2 percent of the region's workforce.

In Spain, meanwhile, a slightly higher then average 16.8 percent of people — or around one in six people — are their own boss.

This puts the Iberian country mid-table in the self-employed stakes: out in front is Italy where 23.4 percent work for themselves.

At the other end of the scale is Sweden where just 10.2 percent of people are in this situation.

In Germany and France, meanwhile, this rate is 11 percent.

These are some of the figures presented in a study by employment agency Adecco into self-employment in ten EU countries. 

Based on figures from the European stats office Eurostat  and from Spain's national statistic institute (the INE), the HR company's study also provides a detailed snapshot of Spain's self-employed workers.

It shows that in Spain — as elsewhere in Europe — the older you are, the more likely it is you are working for yourself.  

Among 25 to 49-year-olds, 14.6 percent of workers are self-employed, against 13.9 across the EU.

"Most of Spain's autónomos (self-employed workers) pay a minimum flat rate of around €250 a month," Sebastián Reyna, the President of the Union of Professional and Working Self-employed  People (UPTA) told The Local recently.

"In exchange, these registered self-employed people receive health care and pension entitlements — at least once you have paid into the system for 15 years."

These costs can appear prohibitive to younger less-established workers given that they have to be paid every month.

But Reina says new reduced tariffs for self-employed people under 30 have helped boosted the number of self-employed workers in Spain.

Spain saw over 17,000 new self-employed workers in the first half of 2013 according to a study carried out by entrepreneur association ATA.

At the other end of the age spectrum, the percentage of workers aged 65 and over who are self-employed workers jumps to 51 percent.

"This is partly because older people are topping up their pension payments," Reyna from UPTA said.

The Adecco study also shows that just under one in three self-employed Spanish workers (31.4 percent) have contracted other staff.

This is slightly above the European average of 28.3 percent.

In Germany, that figure is 42.9 percent, while in the UK it's 17.7 percent.

"Given the economic situation, Spain's self-employed workers are very unlikely to take on new staff," said Reyna of UPTA.

"Those contracts that are signed are likely to be only temporary," he added.

The Adecco study also provides a breakdown of Europe's self-employed workers by sector, with industry, agriculture and services represented.

Spain self-employed workers are much more likely to work in service industries than their European colleagues, with 57.6 percent of the country's autónomos in this sector.

Italy has a similar figure at 56.1 percent while the study average is ten points lower at 46.1 percent.

Another finding of the Adecco study is that there is a very high rate of unskilled workers among Spain's self-employed army with this figure hitting 32.5 percent.

"This includes everyone from taxi-drivers to people working in transport or sales as well as people in the leisure sector," Reina from UPTA explained.

Among men, this rate is 23 percent but among women it's almost double at 43.9 percent.

According to Adecco, only 38.2 percent of Spanish women working for themselves carry out specialized tasks.

That's against an average of 50.3 across the European Union. 

The gap is narrower for men: 68.2 percent of self-employed men in Spain are doing specialized work that requires training.

That's against a European average of 72.5 percent.

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‘Hard to stay afloat’: Is working for an English language academy in Spain worth it?

It's the go-to work option for countless anglophones in Spain, but is teaching at an English language academy still enough to pay the bills in a climate of rising prices, stagnant wages and a shift to online learning platforms?

'Hard to stay afloat': Is working for an English language academy in Spain worth it?

Traditionally seen as a type of gap-year experience for recent graduates and/or those seeking adventure before settling down to a more traditional career path, English language teaching in Spain has becoming increasingly popular as a long-term career.

A high quality of life, a more favourable climate and generally lower living costs have always made Spain a popular destination for English language teachers, with Spain posting the highest number of job advertisements for teachers among European countries.

As a result, many of those working in the industry see it as somewhere to further both their professional and personal lives.

However, poor job security, stagnant salaries and issues surrounding the long-term sustainability of language academies have plagued the sector for years.

The recent impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the current rise in inflation has further compounded these issues, with many teachers considering their long-term careers in Spain.

Teachers working for private language academies in large cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Sevilla can expect to earn between €800 to €1,400 a month after tax for about 20 to 30 hours of class time per week.

One teacher told The Local Spain that despite working as a profesor de inglés for almost a decade, his academy salary had gone down dramatically in real wage terms, following a salary cut during the pandemic which made it “hard to keep my head above water”.

“I was working as a teacher for nine years but felt the need to leave the profession as the hours I needed to work were affecting my mental health. During my first three years in Spain, I was able to get by on my salary. Since then, I have increased the number of private classes gradually, I save the same a month as I did when I first moved here, but have to work an extra eight hours a week to be in that situation”.

READ ALSO: The pros and cons of being an English language assistant in Spain

As of 2022, the minimum monthly salary stands at €1,166 gross for a 40-hour working week, meaning that someone working as an English teacher can expect to earn more or less the minimum wage based on their contact hours, with many opting to teach privately in order to supplement their income.

In addition to this, most teachers are hired on short-term indefinido contracts, meaning that they only earn a monthly salary for nine months of the year, resulting in many taking on summer work to maintain a year-round monthly income.

While short-term informal contracts and a relatively manageable monthly salary may have appealed to single, twenty-somethings seeking a few years of fun and adventure in Spain, for those looking to support a family or get on the property ladder the precarious economic reality of English language teaching has seen many reconsider their long-term career goals.

“I rented when I initially moved here but now I’m paying off a mortgage which has gone up due to interest rate rises,” another English teacher told The Local Spain. 

A traditionally in-person industry, the pandemic forced many academies online and, due to increased competition from online language learning platforms along with a paradigm shift in terms of hybrid and remote study and work, academies have struggled to replace students lost to this new language learning environment.

As a result of this, some teachers have seen their weekly teaching hours reduced as academies simply cannot guarantee a full schedule, putting further financial pressure on teachers.

teaching english spain

Poor job security, stagnant salaries and issues surrounding the long-term sustainability of language academies have been plaguing the industry for years in Spain. Photo: Thirdman/Pexels

One teacher with over seven years working experience for a large English academy in Madrid told The Local that “a few years ago our company began the long process of trying to cut our supplements and basic wage”.

“We were backed up by our comité, (representative group) but after about a year of negotiations, reductions (and redundancies) were made. At the time it cut about €250 from my meagre wages.”

As is the case across Europe, the level of inflation in Spain has risen sharply to about 10.5 percent as of September 2022. Combined with rising energy prices, more and more teachers are finding it increasingly difficult to live off a salary in some cases of just over €1,000 a month.

With the average cost of renting a room ranging from €400 to €500 in large cities, some teachers are choosing to cut costs in terms of their living standards to make their salaries stretch further.

Another teacher told The Local how “while I still go out at the weekend and buy the food I want at supermarkets, the increase in rental prices has meant that I’ve stayed in a less-than-ideal room, rather than finding a better room – due to not wanting to pay significantly more in rent”.

While the challenges facing English teachers in Spain are not unique to their line of work, this latest set of drawbacks should be factored in by anyone considering making a move here or teaching long-term.

Such economic realities are difficult to ignore, but that’s not to say there isn’t a lot English teaching can offer someone looking to gain some valuable work and life experience while also enjoying the hustle and bustle of life in Spain.

Article by Cormac Breen