Spain looks abroad to fill thousands of job vacancies

Conor Faulkner
Conor Faulkner - [email protected]
Spain looks abroad to fill thousands of job vacancies
Workers place a block of stone on an exterior pillar of the Expiatory Church of the "Sagrada Familia" (Holy Family) in Barcelona. Photo: PAU BARRENA/AFP.

Despite the fact that Spain has around three million unemployed people, Spanish companies are being forced to look abroad and recruit migrant workers to fill hundreds of thousands of job vacancies.


There is a paradox at the heart of the Spanish labour market. How can it be possible that in a country with around three million unemployed people, there are hundreds of thousands of job vacancies?

In Spain, certain sectors and industries are being forced to look abroad to fill vacancies. In fact, a third of Spanish companies say they have difficulties finding workers, a figure that soars to 50 percent in the hotel and catering and construction industries.

Recently, Spain's Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, José Luis Escrivá, announced plans to simplify the process for immigrants to train for jobs in sectors with labour shortages, allowing companies to recruit directly from abroad, and also to regularise their immigration statuses if necessary.

This method of hiring directly from abroad was launched in the summer of 2022 to ease the incorporation of foreigners into the hardest-hit industries in the labour market, and Escrivá now plans to bolster foreign recruitment, something that will allow business owners and entrepreneurs to hire staff directly in other countries for positions that are difficult to fill in Spain.

This route is most often used to find and hire seasonal workers such as fruit pickers, as well as construction workers.


Job vacancies

The statistical picture on vacancies in Spain, however, is a little more nuanced than it appears.

A survey carried out by Banco de España reported that 35 percent of Spanish companies felt labour shortages were having a negative impact on their business. This figure has doubled since the Covid-19 pandemic began, and in certain sectors rises to 50 percent.

READ ALSO: How a spike in permanent contracts is improving job security in Spain

However, data on job vacancies published by Spain's National Institute of Statistics (INE) and Eurostat show a different trend. The INE figures report a vacancy ratio of 0.9 percent in Spain, compared to an average of 3.1 percent across the wider Eurozone area.

So what's actually happening? It seems that certain sectors are particularly hard hit.

Construction companies report that they have serious problems finding highly-skilled candidates for roles such as construction managers, but there is also a shortage of masons, carpenters and skilled machinery operators.

Pedro Fernández Alén, president of Spain's National Construction Confederation (CNC), backed the government plans, told Spanish news outlet 20minutos that "In Spain, there are almost three million unemployed and we have irregular immigrants whom we could incorporate into sectors lacking in personnel. If this were not enough, it would be appropriate to consider the idea of bringing in workers from abroad". 


High unemployment and a high number of vacancies?

So, how is it possible that Spain simultaneously has such high unemployment and rising job vacancies?

In reality, the answer isn't as simple as giving unemployed jobs in sectors that lack workers, and there are a number of factors compounding the problem.

For example, of the roughly three million unemployed in Spain, 1.2 million are considered 'long-term unemployed', that is, meaning that they have been out of work for more than a year. Within this group many of them are over 50 years old, something that makes retraining more difficult and certain jobs (such as construction) unlikely or impossible.

Equally, 560,000 unemployed people in Spain have no secondary education, something that makes training for employment in technical sectors more difficult.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The planned changes to vocational training in Spain

Geography also plays a role. Spain is a country with significant regional disparities in terms of wealth and employment, and the areas with the most job vacancies do not necessarily coincide with those with the highest unemployment rates.

According to INE data in Spain there are 22 unemployed for each job vacancy, but it varies dramatically throughout the country. In Castilla y León for example that figure is 8, in Extremadura, it's 63.


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