IT jobs on tap in Oktoberfest country

With US companies sacking people by the thousand, Germany may offer a sound refuge for New Zealand IT workers wanting to earn their fortune overseas. And if you're quick, you might just get there in time for the autumn beer and wine festivals.

With US companies sacking people by the thousand, Germany may offer a sound refuge for New Zealand IT workers wanting to earn their fortune overseas. And if you’re quick, you might just get there in time for the autumn beer and wine festivals.

While some German IT firms are laying off staff, apparently the country is still crying out for those with the right skills. Economists claim there are 75,000 IT jobs in Germany that cannot be filled due to lack of qualified personnel.

This led its government last year to launch an “IT specialists temporary relief programme”. Up to 20,000 foreign IT specialists with university degrees in any IT-related subject and who live outside the European Union can receive a work permit for up to five years. This German green card system also allows Australians and New Zealanders to apply for residence/work permits after entering the country. UK/EU passport holders face no restriction.

After this law was passed, Christchurch-based PASS Networks started to recruit New Zealand IT workers. It has two German directors, one of whom is Bernd Page, from the University of Hamburg, who regularly visits Canterbury University. He noticed New Zealand produces many skilled IT workers but has insufficient jobs for them.

PASS says it has since placed “a two-digit” number of Kiwis in Germany and today it launches a series of nationwide roadshows. So what does Germany have to offer?

Topping the list is “the experience” plus the promise of living standards among the highest in Europe.

Starting wages go like this: web designer, $65,000 to $75,000; Java developer, $80,000 to $90,000; embedded systems developer with a good electrical engineering background, $80,000 to $95,000; and a database and administration programmer with at least five years experience, $100,000 to $120,000.

PASS says you can add a further $5000 to $11,000 for good German language skills, plus $11,000 for good practical experience. These are starting rates; once you’ve proved yourself (after a six-month trial period) you can expect a payrise of 5% to 10% on top.

The cost of living is higher than New Zealand, but PASS claims it is 70% of that in the UK and the US, no doubt because the country is dumping its once mighty Deutschmark for the sickly Euro.

Cars, clothes, wine, beer and electrical goods are cheaper, says PASS, but as a densely populated country, housing is expensive, averaging $550 a month for sharing, or $800 to $1250 a month for a one-person flat.

PASS is also keen to sell German culture, the jazz scene, the spas, the beer, walking in the hills, not to mention being close to every other country in Europe. These are points echoed by Kiwis over there, who also add that the language barrier is not as great as feared.

Mark Presling completed his Bachelor of Commerce degree in 2000 before moving to Wellington, working as a Java and web developer on the Mapzone mapping website. But the urge to travel was too great, so on May 31 he and his wife headed to Hamburg, where he now works as a Java developer.

Presling contacted PASS after it found jobs for his university friends. He and his wife filled in the forms and when they arrived in Germany, found potential employers “much more interested”. PASS also helped them find a flat.

Finding work was easy, with PASS arranging two interviews when he arrived in Hamburg, where he was offered a contract at the end of each. But he says friends in South Germany have been asked to take a 9% pay cut due to slumping orders at their firms.

Presling says they are happy with Germany and glad they went, even if it meant avoiding the “comfort zone” of London, where they have family and friends.

Presling says because graduate wages are double New Zealand rates, with employers keen to train people while paying them well, his standard of living “is much higher” than back home. However, running a car is more expensive (petrol is $2.20 a litre) and “beef and lamb are very scarce and way out of our budget”.

Other pluses include the “great and very cheap” beer, not to mention easy travel across Europe helped by six weeks, paid holiday, 15 public holidays and 42 days, sick leave.

Drawbacks include isolation and the language barrier, Presling says.

The pair expect their language course will make it easier to make new friends.

The green card visa scheme does not allow Presling’s wife to work for a year, which “is a wee bit tough on both my wife and the bank balance.”

Overall, though, while Germany is “not the easiest environment to fit into”, Presling feels he and his wife are getting more personal satisfaction from doing something different to everyone else. And using consultants, such as PASS, makes the move easier.

Greenwood is Computerworld’s HR reporter. Send email to Darren Greenwood. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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