Spain has one of the highest unemployment rates for young people in Europe. According to a report by ANSAmed.it, the youth unemployment rate is close 50%, “double the European average.” The age groups that are being hit the hardest by the Spanish economic woes range from 16 year old students, to 35 year old college graduates. There has been a loss of around 300,000 well qualified young people in recent years. Many of these young people are finding good jobs in countries such as Germany, France and Poland. Not surprisingly, many of the fleeing young people have found good employment opportunities in South America. Harry Hatton of the San Francisco Chronicle’s online publication the SFGagte.com reported that from June 2009 to November 2010 30,000 Spaniards moved to Argentine, 6,400 moved to Chile, and 6,800 moved to Uruguay looking for employment opportunities.
On January 27, 2012, The Europe Online Magazine reported information from the International Monetary Fund that indicated the Spanish economy would “shrink by 1.7 percent” in 2012. The Spanish economic woes have led to an overall 21.5 percent unemployment rate, the highest in the European Union. The bleak economic future in Spain is causing what many experts have called a brain drain. The most significant consequence for Spain is that the country will experience a lack of highly qualified young people to take up leadership positions in industry and government when the present leaders are ready to retire.
The Southern European brain drain is not a problem exclusive to Spain. Young Italian research scientists are also leaving Italy in large numbers to look for employment opportunities. The following quotation was provided by Alexander Hellemans in a report for naturejobs.com.
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Italy’s problem with patronage is a warning to other countries where a similar culture contributes to the brain drain, especially Spain. “The typical way to make your career is to be next to a professor who is active,” says Enric Banda, Spain’s former secretary of state for universities and research, now secretary general of the European Science Foundation (ESF). “You are in his or her shadow, and if you wait long enough, eventually you will get a position. As we say in Spain, you have to ‘keep your seat warmed’.”
Many are not prepared to wait. Italians form the largest group of foreign scientists at the Space Telescope Science Institute, the Baltimore-based centre of operations for the Hubble Telescope, says Massimo Stiavelli, who joined the institute six years ago. Large Italian research communities also exist at the European Southern Observatory in Garching, Germany, and CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics near Geneva. Some 200 Italian researchers work in the United States for the National Institutes of Health.
The consequences for the future of countries losing their best and brightest scientists, engineers and doctors are significant. A shortage of qualified scientists and engineers can have a significant negative effect on a country’s ability to remain competitive in the global marketplace. In the case of Spain, if the trend of young people leaving the country continues, the concern associated with a lost generation of future leaders will begin gain credibility. An article published by thinkSPAIN.com addresses this idea of a lost generation in Spain.
Joaquín Nieto, director general of the International Labour Organization (ILO) commented that young people are facing a very “uncertain future” because of the economic crisis and although “it’s too early to start talking about a lost generation, the possibility does exist”. In today’s economic context, the possibility of finding work overseas “gives young people some light at the end of the tunnel”.
The migration of highly educated young people to countries with positive employment opportunities highlights the realities of the global economy. If a young person possess the ability to speak more than one language, and is willing to move away from his homeland, a whole world of opportunity will be open to him. Countries with the ability to provide outstanding employment opportunities for the worlds’ best and brightest will have the chance to take the lead in the technological advances of the future. Conversely, countries that lose their young people to the rest of the world will fall further and further behind.
The realities of the global marketplace will force countries such as Spain, Portugal and Italy to find ways to provide economic opportunities their young people that are comparable to what can be found in other counties around the world. If the Spanish economy is unable to grow and open up economic opportunities for its young people, the long term prospects for business and technological leadership in the global economy will grow dimmer and dimmer.
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