How Germans Are Engineering a Reverse Brain Drain

Flash-back to five years ago

In February 2007, the New York Times published an article entitled Germany Agonizes Over a Brain Drain. The piece focused on Mr. Thoma, a German engineer and one of many highly-skilled professionals like doctors, architects, and scientists choosing emigration in the face of unemployment, high taxes, and a lackluster economy. In 2008-2009, Germany faced its worst recession since World War II, and  these problems, coupled with continual low fertility rates, left German citizens fearful of the future.

Flash-forward to 2012

The beginning of the year came with frequent articles about how much control Germany will be able to exert over the EU with its renewed economic power. Germany now has the fifth largest economy in the world and although problems with low birth rates and immigration still trouble the German government, the economy has created the need for more highly skilled workers and allowed companies to entice engineers in the EU to emigrate to Germany. A mere five years later, the New York Times published an article in April with nearly the opposite title of its previous post: Brain Drain Feared as German Jobs Lure Southern Europeans.

Drawing them in

Just this week, Germany finally agreed to raise wages in an agreement with IG Metall, the country’s largest labor union. The step will most likely be followed by similar agreements and shows that Germany is willing to make the changes necessary to bring workers in—and they’re coming. After seeing ads placed in foreign newspapers, many workers have traveled to Germany of their own volition while companies have used online platforms like LinkedIn to swoop in on young, highly skilled workers—especially engineers—and bring them to cities like Schwäbisch Hall. While the name of the town might be a bit hard to pronounce for the many engineers from Spain, Greece, and Portugal (among other countries), one Spanish engineers states “they are very nice here and at the moment there are no jobs in Spain.” New emigrants are leaving behind failing economies and unemployment, just like Mr. Thoma and his fellow German emigrants did in 2007.

The German System

The pattern seems a result of mere chance, and some experts area already predicting Germany’s coming demise when inflation catches up to the expanding GDP; however, Germany has created certain institutions that show insight into setting a standard for the importance of bringing highly skilled workers into the country. The German Academic Exchange Service or Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD) offers a variety of scholarships, stipends, and grant for undergraduates, graduate students, and professors for studying, research, and terms teaching abroad, but they have dedicated one specific set of grants solely to science and engineering.

The DAAD’s Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE) function at all academic and professional levels, offering internships to undergraduates, career-building research and work experience for graduate and PhD students, research assistants for researchers in worldwide colleges and universities. RISE programs are meant to bring the best of world’s talent (especially from America, Canada, and the UK) to Germany, but the German system of education is also tailored to produce highly skilled workers. Unlike the struggling American school system that promotes college degrees universally, German students are tested and divided at a young age, so those destined for skilled labor jobs can enter vocational schools and careers at a younger age, while those who will enter careers like engineering can attend the highly regarded technical universities and face high job certainty.

Five years from now…

Right now it’s difficult to speculate about Germany and the EU in general. Greece threatens to leave the eurozone and Angela Merkel’s ally Nicolas Sarkozy is out as president and replaced by socialist François Hollande. Although Germany is taking steps to secure engineers, the new global job market makes transitioning to a new country easier than ever and citizens have shown in the past that they don’t mind leaving for better opportunities. No matter what the future holds, we can at least enjoy this bizarre feat of German engineering in the meantime.

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