As in the United States, where the number of people getting paid in April was much lower than expected, Europe will struggle to reconcile job seekers with job vacancies. Even an unemployment rate of over 7 per cent in the European Union – which is more than twice as high in Greece and Spain – should only help to a limited extent.
In the short term, travel restrictions due to the pandemic continue to prevent many workers within the European Union from working across borders as usual. But many of the skilled workers in the environmental and digital industries, who are the focus of the European Union, often do not live where they will work in the future.
Qualifications and job fairs are not working the same way they used to be before the pandemic. The number of young people starting vocational training is declining, as is the number of foreign students in universities. Brexit is another obstacle to free movement of workers. The new trade agreement between the UK and the European Union only includes limited mutual recognition of some qualifications.
“The problems in Europe are more structural,” said Axel Blonecke, an economist at the German Economic Institute in Cologne. “There will be a great need for qualified workers, especially in technical occupations such as digitization and decarbonization.” Border closures during a pandemic are noticeable. Net immigration to Germany decreased by about a third in 2020.
A report by the European Union in December identified bottlenecks in personnel in construction, between engineers and software developers – more clearly than in the past – in care. According to the Federal Statistical Office, enrollment in vocational training in Germany decreased by more than 9% last year due to the epidemic. Austria, which has a similar system, had more than 8,000 vacant apprenticeships at the end of April. Austrian Chambers of Commerce have already used virtual reality goggles to literally bring young people to lesser-known professional training. The number of foreign students at German universities was almost 30 percent less in 2020.
However, economies such as Poland, Romania, and Italy – the main countries of origin for eligible migrants from the European Union in 2019 – should benefit if the crisis prevents their best forces from leaving. In the long run, Europe is also fighting demographic development. In Germany, for example, the workforce is expected to shrink by about 4 million by 2030 when the baby boomers retire.
The Brussels-based Institute for Migration Policy in Europe wrote in a report released in February that the political challenge of hiring more foreign workers from outside the European Union despite high domestic unemployment rates is likely to be a balancing act.