Brain drain in Spain: interview with one of the young professionals who has left the country.

In an article about “Spain’s lost generation of graduates“, The Guardian recently reported that rising unemployment was leading to an exodus of young Spaniards looking for better opportunities abroad on a scale not seen since the 1960s. This massive departure of educated and professional young people looking for better pay or living conditions is a source of concern for many, although the exact numbers are not easy to figure out according to a recent article in Actualidad Económica (in Spanish).

Experts disagree both on the volume and the consequences of this “brain drain”. They agree on the causes as unemployment among graduates aged 29 or under is running at 19%. Regarding the consequences, some experts are extremely pessimistic, considering that the amount of money spent on the education of those graduates is lost as many will tend to stay abroad, while others believe that those young people will some day come back to Spain with a set of personal, professional and languages skills that will benefit to the economy and to the society.

Sustainability is directly affected by this “exodus” as Human Capital Management is a key element to build a sustainable business. Companies should include in their sustainability strategy the way they plan to get the resources they need in the long-term. Nothing can confirm the prediction that those young professionals will come back to Spain after they’ve developed their skills abroad. At least, a company shouldn’t rely this hope. Instead, a sustainable business should include in their recruitment strategies how they will target Spanish professionals who live abroad.

I’ve interviewed Alex, one of those young professional who recently decided to move to Germany, to understand why he decided to leave Spain and what spanish companies  can learn from this:

Aequology: Hello Alex, can you tell us who you are and where you work?
AM: Hi, my name is Alejandro Martinez, and I am employed by, Spanish division of ,  German leader in online sales for prescription glasses, sunglasses, and contact lenses. The company, a personal project launched by Dirk Graber with little capital investment, currently has over 140 employees. A successful business story and a new capital injection has led Mister Spex to venture on an international strategy. After launching projects in France and the UK, the company has recently placed its eye on the Spanish market because of its promising future in e-commerce on a mid-term basis. Mister Spex’s headquarters, located in Berlin, host fully autonomous IT, logistics, customer service and marketing departments. I personally work in the marketing department as an SEO specialist, and combine these tasks with website content creation and management.

Aequology: Why did you decided to move to Germany?
AM: Coming to Germany was both a personal and a professional project. Although I had been in love with Berlin for a few years, I wasn’t strong or brave enough to go for it. The tremendous financial crisis in Spain and the fact that I wasn’t enjoying my personal project as a translator brought me to travel to the only European that enjoyed economic growth in 2010. Besides a promising environment, numerous government aids and an alternative lifestyle that I am extremely attracted to, Berlin hosts numerous start-ups that make the effort of taking risks and train motivated people who are eager to learn and renew themselves. My experience tells me that this kind of approach would be absolutely inconceivable in Spain. Generally, German companies do not focus on short term benefit, but undertake actions believing they will be positive in the long run.

Aequology: How’s the workplace in Germany compared to Spain?
AM: Besides German companies’ predisposition to undertake risks, I have sensed that managers and administration boards are much more open to suggestions. If you have a good idea, they will take it and make the best possible effort to execute it. Besides, I feel lucky because, although I work in the marketing department and Scrum methodology was initially conceived for the IT departments, Mister Spex decided to apply it to the whole company. This method allows projects coming from management to be carried out in a transversal way, communication is 100% open, and, consequently, motivating your peers, feeling integrated in the group, and identifying mistakes becomes much easier. To some extent, this reflects that, indeed, innovating in Germany is much easier than in Spain.
I would also like to highlight that e-commerce, an incredibly attractive field for all countries due to its low investment costs and high profitability, was solidly established in Germany quite some time ago and is now working at full speed. Te constant news informing about the German’s urgent need for technicians and computer engineers are the best indication of this fact. Focusing earlier on this sector has allowed Germany to remain one of most powerful and solid economies, since they have managed to diversify their economy.
Last, I would like to highlight that in Germany it is the companies who assume the biggest risk. In order to have a hired person with a net monthly wage of 1.000 Euro, companies must provide private insurance, pay higher taxes, and provide social benefits, among other things. This does not only allow workers (who, in turn, pay 40% of their salary in taxes) to be aware of the social network supporting them and preventing them from being socially excluded if they become unemployed, but is also a useful tool for the German economy to maneuver because the government always has available funds. In my opinion, the German’s financial system is the key to them being, by large, the strongest country in Europe despite the high immigration rate and tremendous social costs, which would be inconceivable for other countries. I can’t think of a better place to be in Berlin right now!

Aequology: Thanks Alex!


About Frederic Page
Learning & Development professional, based in Barcelona, Spain. Blogging about Corporate Sustainability and Social Responsibility.

4 Responses to Brain drain in Spain: interview with one of the young professionals who has left the country.

  1. jayar says:

    This is my great concern – employment opportunities for people within the country. Brain drain creates unemployment in another country at the same time. Big corporate are without doubt the most important driver to drive the economy engine of profits that would ensure opportunities for all. What one used to comment on govermental functioning, if one looks at it carefully, has well set in the Corporate bureaucratic briefcase. It needs to change and change fast.

    Sustainability will emerge as the primary tool for decision making in Investment, M&A, Financing, Private Equity, Stock Market for measuring companies that would acquire longevity in the high risk business environment. CSR that I call as Corporate MODEM of Social responsibility connecting the corporate to a global audience will trigger value based economic activities sustainable in the long run. CSR will be the channel communicating back and forth between Corporate & the People that I see a revolutionary change forthcoming in re-alignment of Business Strategies, by CSR taking the lead in convincing the management to change course that would accelerate economic activities by shifting the investment from speculative market to tangible transactional activities.

    Global poverty is the utmost concern that Business Model perforce has to focus on sustainability, without loss of time. Agricultural produce must be doubled in 5 years and it has to be the main driver for change. Primarily it is the concern of the governments to trigger this change but now it is quietly been handed over to Corporate. Fortunately Corporate can take this challenge, the last refuge of the humanity.

    • aequology says:

      Thank you for your comment Jayar. In my opinion, brain drain is definitely a CSR issue, which is relevant across all the industries and continents. In Europe, companies don’t really include this topic as a material issue in their strategy, blaming the politics for it and expectng them to take care of the issue. It’s true that workers within the EU have freedom of moverment and to a certain extent this is positive. Germany, for example, sees it as an opportunity rather than a risk. However, the risk exists when countries are not able to coordinate their policies. It is where corporations have a role to play and it all comes down, as you say, to how companies will handle their contribution to a more sustainable development.

  2. Miriam says:

    Very interesting article. Coming from America, I have a very different perspective and actually see Spain as extremely supportive of young people, as well as open to entrepreneurs and taking risks to start a business. It is, however, much harder in Spain to get rid of bad employees than in the USA, and that’s something I think has to change slightly, giving businesses more flexibility but also we must be careful not to lose the amazing rights we have as employees. Appreciate the article and interview, it’s always educational to learn of others’ experiences.

  3. Dear Miriam,

    Your comment is interesting in the context of a bad employee vis-a-vis bad Corporate. I want you to look at a specific historical even of 1970. Quote from my book: “Charles Pettis was an US engineer posted in Chile for overseeing construction activities during Allende’s presidency. During the process of executing the contract he was getting instructions from his employers in US in a way he felt were against Professional Conduct. He had a dilemma whether to go by his professional ethics or by what his employers demanded him to do. He chose to follow his conscience. He was sacked and he returned to US. He started applying for jobs and found he was disqualified when references were made to his previous employers before undertaking the assignment. 39 firms rejected him likewise and finally he decided to migrate to Spain. There he came across the news that US Senate was coming out with a bill
    to restrict the US Companies that indulge in malpractices while executing contracts outside US as they bring bad name to the country. He wrote to the senator dealing with the foreign relations committee as well to Ralph Nader the consumer activist. Ralph Nader took up the issue. Ralph Nader conducted a conference and a book was published, called Whistle Blowing: The Report of the Conference on Professional Responsibility. Ralph Nader, Peter J. Petkas and Kate Blackwell (editors), Whistle Blowing: The Report of the Conference on Professional Responsibility (New York: Grossman, 1972) Unquote

    Charles was happily given an asylum in Spain. Whereas US had failed to given an employee his Human Rights or Labor Rights. UNGC with 10 Principles is the foundation of Sustainability of values for corporate. Such ones that have adopted UNGC wherever they are Spain or US would be assured of a sustainable environment for Business. There are just about 9000 companies worldwide who have adopted sustainability but the fact is multiples of thousands of companies have not. Every company must be persuaded to do so and I want to ask you – in the place you work, have they adopted UNGC Sustainability?

    Fred can possibly check whether Charles Pettis is yet in Spain? He would be an interesting personality.


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