Spain's Bruised Workforce Confronts the Need to Change
After almost three years of economic crisis, getting a job offer in Spain is something akin to winning the lottery. Nearly 4.1 million Spaniards were out of work in May, according to the Ministry of Labor and Immigration. Although the number of jobless workers declined for the second straight month, the country’s unemployment rate of about 20% is stillthe highest in the euro zone.
To leave the unemployment rolls, or to keep from getting on them, some workers have had to accept jobs that they would have once turned down, including positions at lower levels and smaller salaries.
Yet a recent study by CVexplorer.com, a web portal for job candidates and headhunters, revealed that 81% of Spain’s workers rejected at least one job offer since the crisis began. Some of those surveyed had jobs and were reluctant to take a chance on a new employer. Others turned down a job even though they had no other prospects.
Spain is on the verge of enacting labor reform legislation that may spur job growth. Nonetheless, the results of the recent survey have employment experts concerned about the resiliency of the country’s workforce and its willingness to face the harsh new realities of the labor market.
In the case of those who still have jobs, says Cristina Simón, dean of psychology at IE University, many are trying to ride out the storm even though they “realize that companies are slowing specific initiatives that involve [career] development, training and/or compensation.” The curtailment of these initiatives, she adds, “generates a generally discouraging corporate climate that can damage the emotional commitment of workers.”
At the same time, in trying to hang on to their jobs, too many workers are not preparing themselves for other positions down the line that might offer them a stronger future.
As for the unemployed who turn down job offers, the concern is even more dire -- that inflexibility and unrealistic expectations will keep many workers on the sidelines longer than necessary. Indeed, labor and employment experts say, unless workers are open to new options, including new training, they may never get back on the playing field.
‘The Real Social Crisis’ That Lies Ahead
Spaniards must be versatile and prepare themselves to do any sort of work because it will be hard for the economy to absorb all of those who have lost jobs, says Carme Mur, president of the Spanish branch of Manpower, the temporary employment agency. Mur believes that “the real social crisis” will arrive when the economy recovers and some people will find they cannot get back into the workforce.
“The worst position is to have no work,” Mur says, so at times it is preferable to “move down a rung” on the ladder. In order to be “reabsorbed” into the labor market, Mur adds, Spaniards will have to “stop thinking that they will devote themselves to the same job for their entire life, and in the same place.”
Not everyone is getting the message, however. “Some unemployed workers are more willing to accept other options even when they are quite different from their ideal jobs,” says Cristina Villa, director of CVexplorer.com. By contrast, she notes, “some specific sectors [such as young people, women and older workers] are holding the crisis responsible. There is no easy way out for them, and they need to accept other job options.”
One such worker is Marta González, 42, who lost her job as an executive at a major company four months ago. “The company needed to make cuts,” she says, although she still can’t believe it. “My job search is going very slowly.” Mario García, a 24-year-old cook, has been unemployed for more than a year. “I have very low expectations about finding work,” he says. “It is very hard for young people.” Antonio Carretero, who is 58 and was self-employed, is even more pessimistic. “There are no expectations, either for myself or for anyone else,” he says.
How can workers improve their prospects?
Flexibility may be the key, says Angel San Segundo, director of the alumni division of the Spanish business school EOI (the School of Industrial Organization). “You have to eliminate barriers when it comes to looking for a job. Workers must be flexible and take advantage of the knowledge they have. You have to analyze your abilities, training level, and the value you can contribute to a company,” explains San Segundo, who provides short-term help for the unemployed. “This is a very good time to invest in yourself. These are good times for self-employment, for independent work and for workers who do not necessarily need [to work in] a group. Although independent employment is fragile, it can address your short-term economic and training needs.”
The Need to Reinvent Yourself
Simón of IE University underscores the need to be competitive: “Remain active, keep learning and keep looking for opportunities – these things are fundamental for dealing with a situation such as the one we now have. You need to understand what the real opportunities for work are as a function of the market and your own skills.” And you need to be prepared to reinvent yourself, Simón adds – to embrace “a radical change in activity.”
Sandra González, 38, is someone who is embracing change. After working for more than 20 years in the hotel business, she has been unemployed for the past seven months. “I don’t have any confidence that things are going to improve short-term,” she says. “In the world of hotel management, things are getting worse and worse, and there are a lot of us who are unemployed.” Five months ago, she decided that she had to become more proactive. “I could not depend on a telephone that rarely rings,” she says. “I signed up for corporate management classes, I attend business training seminars and I try to keep busy without spending a lot.”
Experts give González high marks, saying she is very likely to get firmly back into the labor market once conditions improve. “Trained professionals can be penalized if there is a gap in their CV [résumé],” says Simón, “so participating in temporary projects and activities helps them enhance the content of their professional record.”
Coping With the Psychological Damage
Although the labor market is moving ahead slowly, it is nevertheless moving. When a job offer does come along, says Villa of CVexplorer.com, it is important for those with jobs to respond, even if they are reluctant to consider a change. They should take the tests and do the interviews, she says, “in order to probe [their] own market value at the current time.”
In general, says Eduardo Quero, national coordinator of Randstad Search & Selection, “companies place a positive value on job candidates being active: whether they are working on something not directly related to their [professional] background or [they are] taking advantage of their period of unemployment to improve their CV.”
But what are the psychological repercussions on those looking for work in such a tough market? “They go through emotional cycles,” says Villa. “There are times when a job candidate is in high spirits and has the strength to face the task of ‘finding work.’ But at other times, the same candidate feels as if his or her best efforts are not being rewarded, and is frustrated that this could become a big problem.”
To avoid feeling despair, says Quero, it is important to be methodical about finding a new job and to tackle all possible fronts. “At a time when you least expect it, a good opportunity can show up,” Quero says.
But sometimes the consequences of being out of work can be devastating, Simón adds. “In many cases, it is highly recommended that a person look for professional help. The feeling that you cannot defend yourself against a system that excludes workers after they become unemployed can generate a spiral of highly dysfunctional, depressive conditions.”
“The English-speaking countries,” continues Simón, “have professionalized the position of career advisor. On the one hand, this kind of professional understands very well the options that exist in the market for various kinds of workers. On the other hand, he understands the challenges facing these people, and he can lead [job seekers] in a very practical way toward alternatives for ‘reinventing themselves’ to tackle new projects that require [a high level of] motivation.”
Labor Reform Legislation Comes With Concerns
On June 16, the government announced its definitive reform measures aimed at boosting job creation. The measures will be approved by decree after the various players failed to negotiate an agreement. Key issues that have paralyzed the talks include figuring out how to facilitate part-time labor contracts and lower the cost of layoffs for employers. The outcome will have major repercussions, given the country’s current economic condition. Trade unions have already announced that they will call for a general strike to take place on September 29.
Some employment experts are concerned about the provisions that relate to layoffs. “What could happen if this measure is adopted is an even greater decline in worker morale, which would only make the situation worse,” notes Simón.
If this measure is adopted, she adds, “you would need to link it to other measures that would create incentives for creating jobs and, especially, to focus job growth on those sectors of the economy in which [Spain] is more competitive.”
San Segundo of EOI believes that the legislation will have a positive impact if it lowers the barriers to hiring for both workers and employers. If the job market does become more robust, San Segundo says, then structural change in other areas, such as education and training, “must be tackled with a long-term view.”
What happens to unemployed workers if this sort of advice doesn’t succeed or if the labor market takes even longer to recover than forecasters now expect? In that case, says San Segundo, Spanish workers “can always return to the 1960s, and look for jobs abroad. Skilled workers between 25 and 35 years of age will find it easier to pursue careers in countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand.”