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EMPLOYMENT

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

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.

‘Learn the language fast’: Tips for engineers looking to work in Germany
Engineers working on electronic components. Photo: Deposit Photos.

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

For members

BREXIT

EXPLAINED: How can Brits visit or move to Germany post-Brexit?

Many Brits may be considering spending time in Germany or even moving for work or to study. Here's a look at the rules.

EXPLAINED: How can Brits visit or move to Germany post-Brexit?

The Brexit transition period ended on January 1st 2021, but it’s been a turbulent few years with Covid-related restrictions, which mean many people may not have travelled abroad since then. Here’s what you should know about the rules for travelling and moving to Germany post-Brexit. 

Can I visit Germany from the UK on holiday?

Absolutely. But you do have to stick to certain rules on how long you can stay in Germany (and other EU countries) without a visa.

“British citizens do not require a visa for the Schengen Member States, if the duration of their stay does not exceed 90 days within any 180-day period,” says the German Missions consular service in the UK. 

You can find a full explanation of the 90-day rule from our sister site, The Local France, HERE, along with the Schengen calculator that allows you to work out your allowance.

READ ALSO: Passport scans and €7 fees: What will change for EU travel in 2022 and 2023

Note that if you were living in Germany before January 1st 2021, different rules apply. People in this scenario should have received a residence permit – known as the Aufenthaltstitel-GB – from the German authorities, which proves their right to remain in Germany with the same rights as they had before Brexit. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: How can I re-enter Germany without my post-Brexit residence card?

Can I move to Germany from the UK after the Brexit transition period?

Yes. But if you are coming to Germany to live and work, you will need to apply for the right documents, like other so-called ‘third country nationals’. All foreigners from outside the EU who want to to stay in Germany for more than three months have to get a residence permit (Aufenthaltstitel). 

As we touched on above, citizens from some countries (including the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, Israel, New Zealand and Switzerland) are allowed entry into Germany without a visa and can apply for a residence permit while in the country. You can contact the Foreigners Office (Ausländerbehörde) in your area to find out how to get a residence permit.

You’ll need various official documents, such as a valid passport, proof of health insurance and proof that you can support yourself. You usually receive your residence permit as a sticker in your passport.

Passengers wait at Hamburg airport.

Passengers at Hamburg airport. Brits coming to Germany have more things to consider after Brexit. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Markus Scholz

Germany has a well-documented skilled worker shortage at the moment so there are work permit options to consider that may suit your circumstances. 

For the work visa for qualified professionals, for instance, your qualifications have to be either recognised in Germany or comparable to those from a German higher education facility. 

You may also be able to get an EU Blue Card. This residence permit is aimed at attracting and enabling highly qualified third-country nationals to live in the EU. 

It comes with benefits, including the right to to request and bring family members to the country, and shortcuts for applying for permanent residency. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How German citizenship differs from permanent residency

When applying for a Blue Card in Germany this year, you have to earn a minimum gross salary (before tax) of €56,400 – down from €56,800 in 2021. 

In so-called shortage occupations (Mangelberufe), where there is a high number of unfilled positions, the minimum gross salary is €43,992 – down from €44,304 in 2021.

Shortage occupations include employees in the sectors of mathematics, IT, natural sciences, engineering and medicine.

If you want to come to Germany from the UK to study then you also need to apply for a visa. For this you may need proof of acceptance to the university or higher education institution of your choice and possibly proof of your German language skills.

Check out the useful government website Make it in Germany for more detailed information, as well as the German Missions in the UK site, which has lots of info on travel after Brexit, and on visas.  

What else should I know?

The German government plans to reform the immigration system, although it’s not clear at this stage when this will happen. 

It will move to a points-based system, inspired by countries like Canada, where foreigners will have to score above a certain threshold of points to get a residence or work permit.

This scoring system will be set by the government, but it will include factors like language skills, family connections to the country, specific qualifications or work-related skills, or the amount of money in your bank account.

Keep an eye on The Local’s home page for updates on the changes to immigration laws. 

Have you moved to Germany – or are thinking about moving – after the Brexit transition period and want to share your experiences? Please get in touch by emailing [email protected] 

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