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Germany Rises to Number Two as a Work Destination

This article is part of the series Decoding Global Talent 2018. The series is based on a survey of 366,000 people in 197 countries by The Boston Consulting Group, The Network, and (in Germany) StepStone.

In a change partly propelled by geopolitics, Germany is now the most popular work destination in Europe and ahead of every other country in the world except the US.

Germany’s ascent to the number-two spot, according to a new survey by BCG and The Network, comes at a time when the world’s enthusiasm for working abroad has diminished overall. The drop in enthusiasm is at least partly rooted in the more restrictive approach to immigration that several major economies have been taken or are considering. Germany, by contrast, has presented itself as highly welcoming to people from other countries, and this—combined with a booming economy—goes a long way toward explaining the country’s climb in the workplace destination rankings since 2014, when it was fourth.

Some of the new interest in Germany comes from European countries whose workforces, pre-Brexit, were big fans of the UK. That includes people in Spain, Denmark, Poland, and Romania. Germany is now the number-one work destination for people in those countries, in front of the UK. Non-European countries in which Germany has picked up “votes” from the UK include China and Indonesia. The workforces in both of those countries preferred the UK to Germany in 2014; they don’t anymore.

At the same time, Germany has held onto the popularity it already had as a work destination elsewhere in Europe, including with two neighbors, Austria and the Czech Republic. And it continues to be a popular destination with workforces in the Balkans and North Africa. (See Exhibit 1.) 

Besides bypassing the UK, Germany has jumped past Canada and put more distance between itself and other top European destinations. Its number-two ranking in the world means Germany is now five places ahead of France, six places ahead of Switzerland, and seven places ahead of Italy. 

The Types of Talent Germany Attracts

In reality, it isn’t as easy to start working in Germany as some people believe—it can take a lot of time for nonnatives to get work authorization. But over the last few years Germany has acquired a reputation for being much more open to immigrants than other places in the West. For those who get past the red tape, there are indeed a lot of opportunities.

Among them are the large number of technical jobs in sectors like automotive manufacturing and chemicals, many of them at well-known international companies. These jobs explain why Germany is the most popular destination among respondents in manufacturing or engineering positions. The country is number two—after the US—among people younger than age 30, among those with master’s and doctoral degrees, and among digital experts.

Nahim Jardines, who participated in our survey, is what we would call a digital expert. His master’s in computer engineering has already enabled him to emigrate from his native Mexico to Spain, where he has a senior IT development role at a bank. If he can find the time to learn German, Jardines says, Germany could be his next stop.

“It is a great place to work right now, because of its technology leadership,” Jardines, 42, says. 

People don’t even necessarily have to speak fluent German to get by in the country. In Berlin—which is now the third most popular city for work, after London and New York—business is often conducted in English. 

Quentin Chaleard, a Frenchman who works at one of Berlin’s many startups, is not surprised that Berlin has leapfrogged Paris, which was the number-three city destination in 2014. He sees Berlin as more international, more affordable, and more laid back. What’s more, Chaleard says that if he ever got tired of Berlin but wanted to stay in Germany, he would not be constrained the way he would be in France, where it’s hard to find a good job outside of Paris. “It’s different in Germany—several cities have good options,” Chaleard says. 

Among the alternatives are Munich, with its cultural attractions and a rank of 23 among city destinations, and Hamburg, with a rising startup scene of its own and a rank of 32.

Future Workforce Challenges

Despite Germany’s increased appeal as a work destination, the country and the companies in it face some significant challenges in recruiting as they navigate into the future.

The first challenge has to do with declining mobility in many countries that have traditionally supplied German companies with labor. This is true of Poland, Romania, Hungary, and Croatia. People in these Central European countries all rank Germany as number one or number two among their preferred work destinations, but mobility in all of them is declining sharply as their own economies strengthen. If there is a drop in the number of Poles, Romanians, Hungarians, and Croats coming to Germany, it will leave the country vulnerable to labor shortages in fields where these nationalities fill a disproportionate number of jobs, including social care, IT, construction, and hospitality.

Germany’s second challenge has to do with what might best be described as a newfound wanderlust (of a work variety) among Germans themselves. Four years ago, Germans were far below the world average in their willingness to move to another country for work. Germans still have a below-average willingness to emigrate, but the difference versus the world average has shrunk from 20 percentage points in 2014 to a barely noticeable 2 percentage points today.

Moreover, the people in Germany most likely to say they would go to a different country for work are in many cases exactly the people that Germany would like to keep. For instance, 68% of highly educated people in Germany (with master’s or doctoral degrees or the equivalent) say they could imagine working abroad. This view is shared by 66% of those under 30. (See Exhibit 2 for an understanding of the survey demographics.)

Many Germans willing to move abroad cite better career opportunities as the reason to do so. Mobile Germans “are the most career oriented and driven,” says Dominik Klaus, who works for an IT consulting company in Hamburg.

Germans are more focused than people elsewhere on being appreciated for their work and on getting interesting assignments. In other ways, their attitudes are a fit with global workforce trends; specifically, they are in synch with the current view that “soft” job benefits—such as a good work-life balance—matter more than pay. 

German companies don’t address all these preferences equally well; neither an appreciative office atmosphere nor a good work-life balance are strengths for most German organizations, according to corporate recruiters who took the survey. This may offer an actionable insight as German companies, thriving but still seen as putting high demands on their people, look to the future. 

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Decoding Global Talent 2018: Germany Rises to Number Two as a Work Destination

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