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EXPLAINED: Spain’s plans to recruit thousands of foreigners for construction and trade jobs 

Spain recently changed its migration laws to recruit more foreigners from overseas for industries with labour shortages, and its primary focus for 2023 is to hire carpenters, plumbers, electricians and other workers involved in construction.  

spain recruiting construction workers
Spain wants trade and construction workers with the skills needed to help with refurbishing and building to the latest energy efficient standards. Photo by Kat Wade/Getty Images/AFP

It may seem strange that a country with 12.7 percent unemployment is struggling to find workers for a number of sectors, from doctors to waiters, but this is indeed the case in Spain. 

READ MORE: The ‘Big Quit’ hits Spain despite high unemployment and huge job vacancies

Last August, the Spanish government amended its laws relating to the rights and freedoms of non-EU foreigners in the country, as a means of resolving the bureaucratic obstacles which often prevent Spain from using migrants to cover labour shortages.

The legislation changes are mainly aimed at addressing blue-collar work shortages, including those deemed high-skilled and low-skilled. 

Over the summer, the primary need was to find more waiters. Now the Spanish government is looking to find all manner of workers involved in the construction industry. 

The official list, although not published yet by the Spanish government, is reportedly made up of 31 different occupations including plumbers, foremen, welders, electricians, plasterers, waterproofing installers, bricklayers and forklift operators.

READ MORE: How it’s now easier for non-EU foreigners to work in Spain

Up until now, the only way for third-country nationals to be hired from overseas for a contract job was if employers could not find an EU candidate for the position or if the job was on Spain’s shortage occupation list.

Since 2008, this has been made up almost entirely of jobs in the maritime and shipping industry, but Spanish authorities have now realised that there are many industries that are central to Spain’s economy that are struggling to find workers.

The recruitment plan, spearheaded by Spain’s Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, also stems from the need to cover jobs that comply with the country’s Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan, which the EU is funding with billions of euros through its Next Generation scheme.

spain construction trade jobs

Some construction associations are calling for young Spaniards to be encouraged to learn a trade, but Spain’s construction industry needs highly skilled and experienced workers as soon as possible. (Photo by NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP)

That means finding trade and construction workers with the skills needed to help with refurbishing and building to the latest energy efficiency standards.

According to leading Spanish daily El País, ministry figures point to as many as 246,000 new jobs being up for grabs. The minimum number of craftsmen and other construction workers needed to cover the shortages is 62,000, Spain’s Ministry of Migration reports.

It has not yet been announced how the recruitment process will be carried out. 

The measure doesn’t have the support of Spain’s main trade unions, who criticised that the skills shortage list had been amended “unilaterally and without negotiation”, and even Spain’s Labour Ministry has not given the changes their seal of approval. 

CCOO and UGT union representatives are also sceptical about bringing over workers from overseas for industries which are known for their job instability and sometimes low pay. 

Up to 3.8 million construction jobs were lost when Spain’s property bubble burst in 2008. 

The industry has gradually recovered since then and has around half the workforce as it did back then, but there is still a shortage of workers in specific high-skilled fields and there are currently 42,200 foreign construction workers who are now unemployed in Spain.

Spain also needs to resolve the huge bureaucratic backlogs which are preventing thousands of foreign doctors, engineers, nurses and other skilled workers in regulated professions from working for years, even though the country has serious shortages in those fields as well.

If you are a non-EU national with qualifications and/or experience in a trade or construction job that the Spanish government is looking for, make sure to visit our Working in Spain page to familiarise yourself with salaries, tax and other aspects of having a job in Spain. 

Keep in mind that the majority of foreigners who move to Spain from Europe, North America or Australia do so to enjoy the benefits of the Spanish quality of life, whilst career prospects and jobs are renowned for not being as abundant and well-paid as in other neighbouring countries. 

READ ALSO: The downsides of moving to Spain for work

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‘Spain must invest in Spaniards rather than turning to migrants’: EU work chief

The European Commission’s head for jobs and social rights has said Spain “must first find a solution for young people, women and the elderly” with regard to its labour market and “see later if they need immigrants”.

'Spain must invest in Spaniards rather than turning to migrants': EU work chief

The European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit recently took part in a summit on job security in Bilbao, where he spoke with Spain’s Labour Minister and Second Deputy Prime Ministers Yolanda Díaz about the state of affairs for workers in the country. 

When discussing potential solutions to Spain’s high unemployment rate, Schmit explained “I would not exclude immigration, but when I analyse the data, I see youth unemployment of 30 percent, more than double the European average”.  

“The priority for Spain must be to invest in its people,” Schmit continued.

“They must first look at their labour market and find a solution for young people, women and the elderly. They will see later if they need immigrants”.

Despite high unemployment levels which currently amount to three million people, Spain has worker shortages in a wide variety of sectors. 

READ ALSO: The ‘Big Quit’ hits Spain despite high unemployment and huge job vacancies

The Spanish government recently changed its immigration laws to make it easier for employers to hire non-EU citizens for sectors with shortages, from waiters to plumbers, whereas previously recruiters were required to prove that they couldn’t find an EU candidate for the job and the skills shortage list was limited and outdated. 

READ MORE: How spain is making it easier for foreigners to work in Spain

In 2023, Spain’s Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration wants to hire 62,000 third-country workers to cover an array of construction and trades jobs, something the country’s Labour Ministry has not agreed to yet. 

READ ALSO – EXPLAINED: Spain’s plans to recruit thousands of foreigners for construction and trade jobs

The government also recently passed its new startups law to attract foreign investors, digital nomads and talent to the country.

Could Spaniards not be trained to do these jobs as Schmit alludes to? Currently, low wages and unstable working conditions are dissuading many locally trained professionals from staying.

This includes almost 20,000 doctors who have moved abroad in recent years as salaries in other European countries are significantly higher than in Spain, with a newly qualified doctor’s salary only around €1,600 gross per month.

Staff shortages in the health sector are not helped by the fact that foreigners with non-EU qualifications wait for several years for their qualifications to be recognised in Spain through an unnecessarily laborious administrative process known as homologación. This applies to a number of regulated fields, from engineering to dentistry, all of which face shortages. 

READ MORE: How Spain is ruining the careers of thousands of qualified foreigners

Spain’s Socialist-led government has partly addressed some of its labour market issues by reducing the rate of temporary contracts and increasing the minimum wage (SMI), but voices within the opposition have accused Sánchez’s administration of “dressing up” the dire reality.

When asked about the rise in minimum wage, Schmit said that he believes “it will not mean significant changes for Spain, which already has a tradition of updating the minimum wage on a regular basis… but the government must take into account factors such as the cost of living and the economic context”.

“Spain must question whether the SMI allows for a decent life or creates poor workers. Its economy cannot be supported by low wages and low productivity,” he continued.  

When asked if salaries and inflation have to go hand in hand, Schmit argued “wages must be set by collective bargaining. We are experiencing very high inflation because of the explosion in energy and food prices. If there is a large lag between wages and inflation, there will be an impact on demand and the risk of recession will increase”.

With regards to pensions, Schmit explained: “I don’t think that pensions are very high in Spain and if you leave a gap between the rise in benefits and inflation, you can create a situation of poverty among the elderly. Spain has a disadvantage in that it has one of the fastest-ageing societies… The solution is to modernise the economy to make it more productive and attract more people to the job market”.  

Despite these issues, the commissioner acknowledged that the Spanish labour market has surprised many with its resistance this year. “Employment will remain strong if there is no deep recession,” he said.  

“The national plan for access to European funds has a good combination of measures to invest in green energy, digitisation, education and public employment services… Spain experienced its economic miracle due to the real estate boom, which exploded, and now it has to transform to go in the right direction”.

According to a report carried out by human resources company Hays on work trends in Spain in 2022, 77 percent of Spaniards surveyed said they would change jobs if they could. Furthermore, 68 percent of them confessed that they are actively looking for another job and the main reason they argue is to get a better salary. 

According to Eurostat data from January 2021, 37 percent of Spain’s workforce is overqualified, 17 percent higher than the EU average.

READ ALSO: Why more people than ever in Spain are overqualified for their jobs