Antti Kapanen, a 36-year-old Finn living in Berlin since 2004, has been educating international students since 2007 in the postgraduate programme Master of Business Administration and Engineering at the HTW Berlin. Since 2014, he researches the employability of German universities foreign graduates. In August 2015, he launched on iversity.org the Employability Skills MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) to help migrants integrate better to the German labour market. An updated version of the course will be re-launched in June 2016.
Germany is right now a favourite destination for immigrants, not just for refugees. The German labour market seems to be very attractive. Why is that?
One important reason is certainly the momentary outstanding situation on the German labour market. Unemployment is at a record low and businesses are looking for workforce. People abroad look at Germany and see concrete chances to find relatively well paid work and develop further. But it’s not only economic factors that matter; it’s also the culture and image of the country. Germany has strongly profiled itself as a welcoming and fair country to live and work in. A third factor is that Germany is already very international. Migration to a country with a community from one’s home country is easier; migration tends to create more migration.
What are the main reasons why candidates from India, China or Latin America have problems to enter the German labour market?
Language is and remains the key issue. German universities educate more and more in English and therefore German is not required from candidates. This attracts more international candidates but has the effect that the graduates’ German level can be really quite low. In Berlin and other big cities, you can actually live quite conveniently as student using English only. Nevertheless, some of those people are surprised to see that much of business works in German and most employers require a reasonable fluency around the C1 level.
Another issue is that without the German language there is little integration to the German society. Contacts are important on the job market and employers expect you to fit in to the workplace. Students living in an “international bubble” may lack these skills later.
How can you help them?
The candidates need to know what expects them. Clear and comprehensive information about job market conditions, language requirements and so forth will help in managing expectations. Most information is available but not everyone looks for it proactively. For example, universities could improve the information packages they publish on their websites and send together with admission documents. For example, English language programmes should make it more clear that without good German language skills, job chances are really not that good.
On its part, the Employability Skills MOOC addresses exactly this issue: Those completing the course should have a clear picture of what is needed to start a career in Germany.
What would be your 3 recommendations before coming to Germany that a student should consider if he wants to stay in Germany after his studies?
First, start getting familiar with the German language as early as possible. Take courses online or offline, do exercise books, find a learning partner, watch web TV, listen to radio and work your way through newspaper articles with a dictionary.
Second, read a lot about Germany in English or another language you speak. Go through materials provided by the DAAD and your university, as well as websites like Make It In Germany. Knowing as much as possible about the country will allow you to integrate faster and enjoy your stay more from the beginning on.
Third, spend time on career planning. What kind of career are you after and why? What can you do during your studies to move toward this career? What kind of internship or thesis should you complete? What job positions, functions and sectors should you target? What are the most promising employers in the area? What are their key expectations of graduate candidates, especially foreign ones? If you can answer these questions, your career efforts will be much more effective.
You yourself came to Germany in 2004 from Finland. Was it is easy for you to find a jobs?
Yes. I started working part-time during my studies. My German got better quickly during that time. Already in 2007 I joined the HTW Berlin where I still work, though I have done work for a variety of businesses during the years, as well.
What did change since then?
The German job market got much better. When I came, Germany was known as the “sick man of Europe”. Now, Germany is the country with the most attractive job market in Europe.
We had many years of growth, but how do you see the Economic situation right now in Germany?
Will the refugee situation worsen the possibilities of foreign students to find after their graduation a job in Germany?
In my opinion, no. Those two groups are mostly competing for different jobs. I do hope, though, that many refugees who have a perspective to stay and sufficient qualifications will enter higher education. Granting them early access to higher education will either improve their career chances here or allow them to make a difference upon returning to their countries after things have calmed down.
How do you see the chances for engineers from around the world in Germany?
Germany is lacking engineers. There are consistently over 60,000 jobs unfilled, that means over two open jobs per one available candidates. Much of the occupational skills are also the same across cultures. Those who commit to Germany, learn the language, become familiar with the culture and job market and come well prepared can tap to a great pool of job opportunities. The preparation effort is a serious amount of work, however.
If they do not succeed in Germany, where in Europe could they try their luck?
Identifying industry clusters is a good starting point. Wherever economic activity in a certain sector is concentrated, the job market is typically more dynamic and new positions open faster. There are also more career opportunities for the years to come.
One possibly good strategy to find engineering employment is to pick a strong industrial cluster and follow the job market there while continuing to learn about the local language and culture. Visit the area to see how life is like there and try to organise tours at some of the companies to learn about the culture. Finding a good job with good future options is much more about planning and preparation than luck.