Wednesday, 3 March 2010
By putting most of its eggs in the construction basket, and quite a few others in the one labeled “tourism”, (which many people now feel they can’t afford), Spain has felt the brunt of these economic woes.
Spain’s economy might have received its first blow from the downturn in construction, but the knock on effect into other industries has been widespread. A loss of four million earners and tax-payers, many of which are now living on unemployment benefit paid for by those still lucky enough to have jobs, mean that Spanish consumerism has taken a serious blow. And those who supply the good to the consumers are now being buffeted by the same wind that led to the collapse of the building trade.
The worst of the recession, of course, is being felt more along the coasts where huge construction projects have either slowed right down or just come to a stop as the income from sales disappeared. The jobs those workers did before the building boom, mostly farm work, have now been taken by immigrants. We have stories from Murcia and Andalucía of this leading to discord in those communities, but also of supposed “exploitation” as the now jobless construction workers complain that they couldn’t live on what the immigrant farm workers are being paid. (Remember, this is work that they used to do - for the same money!)
Here in Madrid there is a similar story in the catering industry. Most of our wait staff are immigrants because Madrileños found better paying work, but now they have no jobs and the immigrants do. However, the Madrid situation is nowhere near as bad as it in along the coast.
But it is not all doom and gloom. Headlines that scream “20% Jobless” also mean that 80% of the workforce do have jobs, but good news never sells newspapers. It has also meant that retailers have become more competitive. Now the shops here seem to having sales all the time and supermarkets are falling over themselves to present us with special offers. Three years ago this was almost unheard of.
In fact, when I hear my friends grumbling about “La crisis”, I will often ask them to stop and tell me how “La Crisis” has affected them personally. Then I hear that because of the reduction in interest rates their mortgage repayments are now small enough for them to afford a foreign holiday or some other luxury, and the price wars in the shops has made things much more affordable. Certainly the bars and cafés of Madrid seem to be full. A short time ago I was with a friend in a bar in Gran Via as the audience from the theatre over the road poured out and entered the bar with their glossy programmes and proceeded to continue their evening of fun with a few cañas and copas. My friend turned to me as said, “Crisis, what crisis?”
So, it could be said that so long as you have work there is no crisis.
But that’s the crux of the matter. “If you have a job ….”
I do have friends who don’t have jobs. They have not had jobs for many months. In a couple of cases it has been two or three years. These are not work-shy people, they really do want to work, but the current climate is making employers more selective.
These are not people who lost their jobs though incompetence, but because their employers were feeling nervous and rethought their strategy. Consequently there are many good, qualified, experienced people on the job market who have had good jobs all their lives and have been thrown into the wilderness of unemployment. They have had to come to terms with the fact that there are no more “jobs for life” in Spain.
When you have had a good job and received regular promotions to a high level, this is hard. The initial reaction is suddenly you are worthless. An acquaintance who was rejected by the military in the days of conscription had the word “INUTILE”, useless, stamped on his papers. This is how many made redundant through no fault of their own must feel. There working life has reached a full stop (period to my US readers) and they can see no way forward.
One of my oldest friends here in Madrid, Concha Zancada, is in exactly this position. She was working for a company that restructured in the wake of a merger and her position was no longer necessary and she went from being a busy, responsible executive into the world of the jobless. Thanks to the recession, despite many job interviews, for which the competition is fierce, she is still unemployed.
But as she says, she might not have a salary coming in, but she has not stopped working. To improve her chances of getting a job she is taking a masters course in Marketing and management at the ICEMD-ESIC, el Instituto de Comercio Electronico y Marketing Directo, and has worked hard on improving her English.
She also met others in the same position. They compared experiences, told each other how they felt, shared their fears and their hopes. From the beginning of 2009, led by Concha, they combined their experiences into a book. She says it was a privilege to work with such a high level of participants. It also allowed her the experience of negotiating with publishers and to manage both the pre and post production of the book.
She tells me it was an experience she enjoyed as it offered the chance to collaborate with the other six authors who were in a similar situation and hopes the book will give encouragement to those who are in a similar situation.
Last week the book was published. Titled "Punto y Seguido", Stop and Continue.
The book’s premise is that the loss of a job is not the end of your life. It is a period of transition, a time to review. As the song says, “To pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again". It is a handbook, a guidebook, for the jobless, or those who might one day find themselves in that position. So, all of us!
After the book launch I asked Concha to tell me what the book contains. It is in Spanish and I haven’t had time to read it yet.
“There are a lot of situations in life which cause a lot of stress: The death of a close person, a divorce and the loss of a job are just three of them.
How many of you know someone who is unemployed?. Do you think that sometimes they feel disoriented, confused or lost? Don’t you believe they need optimism? So, if you’ve answered “yes” you should read “PUNTO Y SEGUIDO. Cómo gestionar el desempleo y crear nuevas oportunidades profesionales” (Empresa Activa).
STOP and CONTINUE: How to manage unemployment and create new professional opportunities.
The book was written by 7 authors and more than 25 contributors and with their real testimonies in 14 chapters they are trying to help other professionals in their transitions.
The reason is that unemployed people feel that they have reached a full stop in their professional career. But actually they should be thinking that this is only a period of opportunity.
It is a book filled with optimism, suggestions, feelings that allows readers to understand better that kind of experience.
People who were, are or will be in a period of transition should read it. A job isn’t for ever !!! We have in Spain more than 4 million people who are waiting for their own opportunities.
There are plenty of trite clichés that deal with this situation: "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade”, and so on. Repeating them won’t help. This book, though, will go some way to alleviating the personal anxiety that the unemployed feel. Even the knowledge that you are not alone can be a help in itself, although the fact that you are just one four millionth part of a national problem can make you feel somewhat insignificant. PUNTO y SEGUIDO should go someway to restoring your self worth.
The global economy still has a long way to go in its recovery. For Spain, perhaps, that journey will be longer than most. It seriously needs to rethink its strategies, to diversify its industry. I am not clever enough to even suggest how that should be done, but it too should view this time as an opportunity to weed out the mistakes of the past and to strive into a better future. It has the educated and skilled workforce willing to do it.
And it might help to know that most of the authors and contributors to PUNTO y SEGUIDO have, in fact, found employment. It might also be inspiring to know that just before Christmas my friend M was faced with the dilemma of choosing one of three jobs she had been offered after several months of unemployment and her friend A, after a short time off work, also now has a job.
This, though, is not helping the construction industry get back on its feet. House prices are the most depressed that have been for years and no one is buying if they are about to see an immediate reduction in the value of the property they have just bought.
But the following story might be slightly inspirational. At the beginning of 2006 I met a man in the Spanish real estate business. He explained to me that in that year property prices were climbing at an unprecedented rate of 17%. This cannot last, he explained, somewhat prophetically. The bubble will burst. He told me that the following year, 2007, the rate of increase would slide to 12%, the year after that, 7%. In 2009 prices will either stabilize or even drop. As far as I know, this man had no crystal ball, yet he was pretty nearly correct to the percentage point.
Nothing much will happen in 2010, he prophesized, until the end of the year when we will see a slowly increasing rise in values.
I hope he is right. But I also hope that governmental and industrial efforts to kick themselves out of European Union funded complacency will be beginning to show signs of fruition. It would be good to live once again in a country where my friend Concha’s book is no longer needed.
Incidentally, here's the advertisement:
PUNTO y SEGUIDO is published by Empresa Activa at €14.50. It’s in all good bookshops and I saw someone reading it on the bus yesterday, so it’s selling. Snap a a copy soon – you never know when you might need it.