Jobs Go Begging

The Austrian Economy is Booming; So Why Send the Immigrants Home?

Opinion | Colin Leigh Peters | April 2007

Encouraging news: According to figures released in March, the unemployment rate in Austria has reached its lowest levels since 2001 – coupled with the largest year-on-year decrease in the numbers out of work since 1999. The economy is booming, but it’s left the job market gasping for breath: Vacancies for skilled workers just aren’t being filled quickly enough.

To partly remedy the situation, the Employment Service (Arbeitsmarktservice AMS) has already responded by signaling its intention to double the number of training courses in selected skill areas: for metalworkers, for example, from 5,000 to 10,000.

However, if the skilled labour shortage is really to be addressed, then changes have to be made at the grass root level, that is, in the schools.

These changes need to include more than just improvements or increases in job training schemes. If the economy continues to grow as it has been, there simply won’t be enough home-grown talent to support domestic demand.

According to Johannes Buchinger, head of the AMS, the archetypal skilled worker of the future will have a migrant background.

However, Buchinger points out that the school system just isn’t equipped to deal with the education of immigrants, and the lack of German language skills may ultimately prove the downfall of those who would otherwise be perfect for a job.

One has to wonder, however, if the motivation to implement the necessary changes exists, as these would most likely have to come, or at least be okayed by, the country’s decision makers.

Unfortunately, these politicians made their attitude towards immigration quite clear in the recent debate over Turkey’s accession to the EU. One of the main concerns cited for blocking the process was the fear of an influx of migrants, and immigration remains a bone of contention.

Nobody in their right mind would suggest the complete opening of borders to anyone from anywhere. Austria is a small country and is right to modulate the scale of the problems it takes on. But, as has been pointed out before in this newspaper, a relaxation of attitudes towards immigration, migrants, and their working rights would be beneficial, not detrimental, to the country and its economy.

Let’s keep on booming!

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    the vienna review April 2007