Austria woos refugees amid labour shortage

Austria’s right-wing government might defend tough anti-immigration policies but employers were out to attract refugees at a special jobs fair last week as the country faced pressing labour shortages.
“Would you like to work in security? Please leave your CV with us” was a typical pitch.
The event in Vienna attracted bosses from virtually all of Austria’s leading employers, from the national railway OeBB to construction giant Porr, the postal service and Telekom Austria.
Doughnuts, drinks and gadgets were also offered to 1,200 refugees selected by Austria’s public employment service AMS.
They were mainly Syrians and Afghans who had arrived in Austria during the 2015 migrant crisis.
The government-sponsored event aimed to help Austrian firms deal with a chronic labour shortage.
In a country of 8.7 million people there are around 160,000 job vacancies, with unemployment expected to fall to 4.6 per cent this year from 4.9 per cent in 2018.
Economic growth was steady at 2.7 per cent in 2018, but “the biggest brake on growth at the moment is lack of labour”, the head of Austria’s Chamber of Commerce (WKOe) Karlheinz Kopf, said.
“There is an urgent need for more labour in almost every sector, from manufacturing to tourism,” he explained.
According to official figures, 30,000 refugees are unemployed, a third of whom are less than 25 years old.
“These are people who can be trained and who have enormous potential,” Kopf argued.
While many of the jobs on offer were fairly low-paid, the range of opportunities was wider than it might appear said Gerhard Zummer, head of training at the Austrian subsidiary of German engineering giant Siemens.
His company had hundreds of posts vacant, spanning fields “from electrical engineering to cloud technology to the internet of things.
“The important thing for us is to attract good candidates. Whether they’re refugees or not isn’t important,” Zummer said.
But for those who came to Austria with advanced skills, it can be hard to find work matching their qualifications.
“I was a maths teacher in my country,” recalls Sherihan, originally from Hassake, northeastern Syria.
“But I can’t get my degree recognised here so I’m looking for an administrative post,” she said.
Some are able to put their qualifications to use meanwhile: AMS head Johannes Kopf said that around 50 Middle Eastern doctors had been hired by Austrian hospitals. — AFP

Philippe Schwab