Spaniards find El Dorado in Germany, but only temporarily

Germany's solid job market has attracted tens of thousands of southern Europeans seeking an El Dorado while crisis strangles their home economies, but few view Europe's biggest economy as a permanent home.

Spaniards find El Dorado in Germany, but only temporarily
Jose Ramon Avendano Fuentes at his workplace at the Electrical systems company "Zach Elektroanlagen". Photo: Christof Stache/ AFP

As Spain, Portugal and Greece plunged into deep recession in the global financial crisis of 2008, unemployment rates urged, reaching 50 percent in Spain and Greece among the youth.

Faced with a glut of unfilled jobs in Germany, where the economy is booming and the working population is ageing, Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2011 launched a call for young Spaniards to seek employment here.

In 2013, Berlin and Madrid signed a deal reserving 5,000 apprenticeship spots and full-time posts for Spanish school-leavers.

Between 2008 and 2015, more than 47,000 Spaniards and 27,500 Greeks aged 18 to 25 arrived in Germany seeking work, according to figures from Germany's statistics office Destatis.

But several years on, the immigration trend appears to be inversing.

The number of young Spaniards who have left Germany soared from 2,800 in 2012 to 4,300 in 2015, according to Destatis, as their home economy started to recover.

Albert del Barrio from Valencia was among those who benefited from Germany's welcome.

After a year's exchange programme at a Prague university where he met his Italian girlfriend, he decided to move to Berlin, where “we can speak English” in his sector, he told AFP.

He found work quickly in a start-up for smartphone industry marketing.

“Clearly there are many more job opportunities in Germany,” he said.

Some 600 kilometres (400 miles) to the south of Berlin, another Spanish national, 31-year-old Jose Ramon Avendano Fuentes is in an apprenticeship at an electricity firm.

The idea of trying his luck in Germany came from his employment agency in Albacete in 2014, after he failed to land a job at home.

“They told me that it's possible to find a job in Germany where they really need people,” he said in halting German.

Since then, Fuentes has managed to integrate into life in Tacherting, a small south-eastern village with 5,000 people located close to the Austrian border.

He now plays in a local orchestra and has no qualms about walking around in traditional Bavarian men's wear — lederhosen.

“I have about 500 colleagues, most of them are great,” he said.

But some are returning to their home countries, disillusioned after struggling to fit in in Germany, where they sometimes find themselves with precarious contracts.

Even del Barrio and Fuentes, who have found what they were seeking in Germany, don't see themselves living here in the long run.

“I would like to stay another two or three years in Germany, but after, well, life can change a lot,” said Fuentes, who will finish his job training in February but is still waiting to land a full-time post.

Del Barrio is also eyeing a return to his homeland.

Although the Spanish economy has been recovering, with growth expected to reach 3.1 percent this year, del Barrio acknowledged that the recovery remains fragile.

Nevertheless, he added: “I'm sure it will improve.”

In fact, as more southern Europeans mull packing their bags and heading home, some have even set up consulting services to help them ease back into their local job markets.

Sebastian Sanz, co-founder of a Madrid-based help group called “Volvemos” (“We're coming back”), told AFP that there is an “enormous desire” from the part of Spaniards to return.

Those who fail to find a footing in Germany's vital engineering or high-tech manufacturing industries often find themselves having to re-examine their ambitions, he said.

Some are increasingly “disillusioned” after spending some time in the north, said Sanz, pointing to nurses for instance, who he said found that they are “more valued in Spain than in Germany”.

Javier Alarcon is one of those who went back to Spain after four years in Germany with his wife and children.

“We were alone there while our families were back in Spain. With two babies, it just got too complicated,” Alarcon, who was a project leader in the German auto industry, told German public radio.

READ ALSO: Spain's labour reform delivers jobs but at a cost

For members


‘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