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Bavaria tries to woo back 'bright minds'

AFP · 25 Dec 2013, 06:45

Published: 25 Dec 2013 06:45 GMT+01:00

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With Germany's lowest unemployment rate, Bavaria boasts a jobs landscape that many in Europe can only dream of -- jobs left unfilled because there's nobody there to employ.

With a title fitting for a movie, the "Return To Bavaria" scheme, implemented last year and financed by the regional economy ministry, aims to reverse the brain drain by providing a welcoming hand to badly-needed workers returning home.

"Bavaria needs bright minds," chirps the Munich-based initiative's website. 

"That's why the 'Return to Bavaria' initiative is looking to attract Bavarian and German top performers living abroad back home to Bavaria."

More than three million expatriate Germans live in the 34 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development alone.

The scheme targets countries with large populations of German citizens such as Switzerland, Austria, the United States or Australia.

Through conferences and roundtables, it aims to reach out and give practical support to potential returnees.

If all that isn't enough, "Bavarian Evenings" also serve up traditional pretzels, sausages and frothy beer as a taste of home.

"We also ensure personalised advice with support for the job hunt and for integrating in Bavaria," said Kerstin Dübner-Gee, who heads the centre.

In practical terms, help can range from putting candidates in contact with potential employers, helping with schools, ploughing through bureaucracy or finding work for spouses.

The scheme is bearing fruit.

"On average we have one or two candidates who sign a work contract a week," Duebner-Gee said with satisfaction, having handled "several hundred" cases.

After six years in the Australian city of Melbourne, German immunologist Gregor Lichtfuss is one of them.

With the help of "Return to Bavaria", he has just signed a contract with a Bavarian company and told AFP by email that he enjoyed help on applications and on gauging salaries.

"All the sorts of things you don't have access to when not on the ground," he said.

A lack of qualified workers, also felt in Bavaria's neighbouring state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, costs German small- and medium sized businesses more than €30 billion ($41 billion) a year, according to a recent study by US accountancy giant Ernst & Young.

To counter the problem, authorities and companies have instigated different methods, including employment schemes with extra training for those who fail at school, drawing mothers back to work and tapping into the young workforce in Spain or Italy where prospects are much dimmer.

But enticing Germans back to Germany is particularly cost-effective.

Although she declined to divulge the actual budget for the project, Dübner-Gee said: "We don't need to do a lot of publicity, the candidates are generally convinced they want to come back."

"For many, the idea is driven by personal reasons," she added.

But Lichtfuss said he was not enticed by Bavaria in particular.

"The most important thing for me was to go where an interesting opportunity presented itself," he said.

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If something better crops up, he said he would not hesitate to again up sticks and leave.

But others resist the enticement -- and job opportunities --  having left Germany to find a new way of life.

"Our family lives here now," explained Andreas Kafka, an IT security specialist who went to live in Melbourne two years ago with his wife and three children.

The family likes the school system there and enjoys the pace of life and beaches.

It would take a great deal to bring them back to Germany, they said.

"It would really need to be a super good offer, with a brilliant salary, all the move costs covered, private school fees paid, professional retraining for my wife," he said in an email to AFP.

"That's quite unrealistic."

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