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‘Learn the language fast’: Tips for engineers looking to work in Germany

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‘Learn the language fast’: Tips for engineers looking to work in Germany
Engineers working on electronic components. Photo: Deposit Photos.
17:15 CET+01:00
If you’re hoping to fill one of the tens of thousands of engineering jobs in Germany expected to be lacking by 2026, look no further. The Local spoke to three engineers who’ve settled here to find out what you should know.

According to a study which was commissioned by the Association of Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers (VDE) and published last year, up to nine years from now Germany may face a shortage of 100,000 engineers.

In the specific area of electrical engineering and IT, it even looks very precarious, added the VDE.

A more recent study published in August conducted by research institute Prognos AG similarly found that in addition to other professions in Germany, such as those in the trades and in medicine, a significant number of workers in the engineering industry may be lacking by 2030.

So if you’re studying to be an engineer or already working in the field and you’re keen on pursuing your dream job in Germany, you might want to know how others have gone about it and what suggestions they have.

‘You first need to learn the local language’

Development engineer Miguel Lopes had completed his Masters degree in polymer engineering in his native country of Portugal before he decided to make the leap and relocate to Germany in 2013.

Dissatisfied with his salary after working in his industry in Portugal for a year, he was confident there would be employment opportunities for him in Germany because of his specific area dealing with plastics.

“I always had it in my head to come to Germany,” the 30-year-old told The Local in a phone interview.

Lopes now lives in Cologne and has been working as an engineer at a well known chemicals company for the past four years, but it hasn’t been without its struggles.

“You first need to learn the local language,” Lopes said.

Despite the fact that the main language at his company is German, at the time he was hired he could barely speak it, something he thinks is because “they’re a big multinational company and they’re more open.”

Two-hour meetings that were exhausting for him back then are now a breeze; the time and effort Lopes invested into learning German especially in the beginning paid off.

For the 30-year-old, a major priority was to live in a bigger city. “I lucked out because a lot of plastics companies are in smaller towns. I never wanted to work in a small town."

But a glance at The Local's job board shows that current employment opportunities in plastics exist in small as well as large cities across Germany.

"It was important for me to have fun things to do; it helps as well for your private life,” he added. 

‘It helps to have a Masters degree from a German university’

Unlike Lopes, Anand Raj had not planned on moving to Germany. He had been working in engineering in Saudi Arabia for a German company back in 2008 and his boss at the time convinced him to relocate to one of their offices in Lower Saxony.

That’s how the 32-year-old ended up living in the medium-sized city of Braunschweig and staying for several years.

READ ALSO: Braunschweig: The German city that deserves to be put on the map

For Raj, a non-EU citizen who's originally from India, getting a German work visa wasn't an issue. 

But he warns that non-EU citizens should take note: even with a job offer in Germany, citizens from countries outside the EU must first have their positions approved by the government before they can be granted a work visa, as the Federal Employment Agency (BA) checks whether their work can be done by a German.

Unlike Lopes, it wasn't essential for Raj to be able to speak German when he arrived at his new office as official company communication was all in English.

Nevertheless, Raj emphasizes: “Language skills will definitely help. If you’re in a city like Braunschweig where the expat community isn’t that present, you’ll have to learn German - especially if you want your career to grow.”

The engineer says he learned to speak German mainly through perseverance and chatting to his flatmates and colleagues rather than through the lessons his company initially offered him.

Now based in Düsseldorf working in project management for industrial construction projects, Raj has switched jobs several times and no longer works for the same company that brought him to Germany in the first place.

After working in engineering in different cities across the Bundesrepublik for nearly a decade, Raj advises those looking to pursue a similar career path to consider studying in the country or to come with a bit of experience under their belt.

“It would help to have a Masters degree in the German education system; it could be harder with just a Bachelors,” Raj told The Local, adding that if you study engineering here one bonus is that you’ll be able to learn the language at the same time.

SEE ALSO: These 10 German universities are best at landing you a job

Look for networks to support you in the field’

Having studied at a German institution, Sylvia Kegel can attest to the quality of the engineering education in Germany; her career began when she started studying to become an electrical engineer in Munich in the 1980s.

Around that time, she also joined the German Association of Women Engineers (dib) because she saw “few women around” and wanted to “change perception of women working in technical fields.”

A female engineer working with data. Photo: Deposit Photos.

It’s more difficult for women in engineering than it is for men because “females need to prove their competencies and what they know. Their professional approach and experience are questioned all the time,” Kegel told The Local over the phone.

The Munich native says she faced these hurdles herself in the '80s and '90s while pursuing her career in Germany in a male-dominated industry.

But even today, Kegel warns, “there’s a low percentage of females in the field and you will have competition.”  

Around 16 percent of all employed engineers in Germany were women in 2010, according to the Association of German Engineers (VDI). Years later, not much has changed. Now, report VDI, 17 percent of engineers in the German workplace are females.

“That’s why I recommend looking for networks to support you in the field - and not only in the workplace. Dib has a community in almost every city; you could get in touch with people and gather advice but this is also possible to do before you arrive,” Kegel added.

In recent years, Kegel says she has noticed female engineers coming to Germany from all over the world, particularly Asia. But even when dib launched “we noticed many of the engineers in the country were not just from Germany.”

For male and female engineers looking to relocate from abroad, Kegel moreover agrees with some of the points Lopes and Raj mentioned.

“Those that make the effort to learn German I’ve seen have been a bit more successful. It’s also much easier to find a job afterwards if you’ve studied here,” she said.

SEE ALSO: Over a dozen engineers urgently needed for bike network in Berlin

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