Europe Needs You! (If you are a dancer, sheep shearer, judo teacher, or engineer)

By David Stringer, AP
Thursday, August 26, 2010

Europe Needs You! (If you’re a goldsmith or cook)

LONDON — Sheep shearers for Britain, judo teachers for Spain, goldsmiths for Holland. European nations are finding some surprising gaps in their job markets, and competing to woo the overseas workers with in-demand skills.

Nations across the continent list shortages in hundreds of occupations. Even as some countries tighten their already strict immigration rules, many are relaxing visa restrictions to help industries import candidates for the jobs that domestic workers can’t — or won’t — take up.

Many Europeans refuse low paid jobs, while failure in the past to plan properly for future labor needs has left some skilled professionals in short supply.

“Too often the cart has been put before the horse — in Britain, the government has looked at restricting immigration first, and only then at the need to train up domestic workers to do the jobs previously held by foreign workers,” said Abigail Morris, employment policy adviser at the British Chamber of Commerce.

Britain has its own peculiar shortages — needing ballet dancers for the famed stage of Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House and sheep shearers for the windswept slopes of Scottish farms.

But the country’s government will set a new permanent immigration quota next year, promising to dramatically cut levels of migration. Business leaders warn the cap will leave the country short in vital industries.

Vanessa Rossi, an analyst at London’s Chatham House think tank said Europe is suffering from its failure to train enough young people in specialist sectors, including medicine and areas such as nuclear power plant construction.

While the United States was encouraging students a decade ago to handle major power plant projects, much of Europe was closing down specialist engineering centers and losing its expertise, said Rossi.

“We’ve tended to be perennially bad at planning for the future,” she said.

Members of the European Union allow citizens of most other members states free movement to live and work in their countries. But their skills shortages mean most also loosen immigration rules in some specific sectors to be able attract talent from beyond Europe.

While almost all European nations need skilled medical workers and engineers — particularly for major infrastructure projects — the shortages aren’t simply confined to hospitals, construction sites or dental clinics.

In Spain, the Asturias region is relaxing visa rules to hire judo and aerobics instructors, the Canary Islands needs forestry experts and the Melilla region, on the coast of north Africa, is seeking ship cooks, deck hands and waiters.

Sweden’s government says it needs plumbers, chefs and crane operators. Neighboring Denmark seeks chiropractors, midwives and music teachers. While the Netherlands says unfilled jobs postings have declined in recent years, it still has shortages of carpenters, goldsmiths, pharmacists and truck drivers.

In Britain, some employers worry the looming immigration quota will make it almost impossible to compete for global talent.

Louise de Winter, director of Britain’s National Campaign for the Arts, said British dance companies and orchestras will suffer if the new limits mean they can’t snap up the best talent when performers become available — such as Cuban dynamo Carlos Acosta.

“If the Royal Ballet isn’t able to recruit the next Carlos Acosta because there’s an immigration cap, then that’s it — they lose that talent for good. It’s an international job market, and the talent will simply go to a country that doesn’t have the same restrictions,” said de Winter.

Mbulelo Ndabeni, a 25-year-old South African dancer with London’s Rambert Dance Company said Britain must protect the diversity of its performers, arguing it has helped produce a vibrant arts scene.

“I bring something from South Africa that the others don’t have, so do our dancers from Cuba or India,” he said. “We all bring something different to the table, and that’s why the audiences love it, because it’s not just English dancers.”

Ndabeni said standards would fall if visa regulations force out some foreign performers. “We would lose something really important,” he said.

Of the Rambert company’s 22 performers 10 are British, five from EU countries and 7 more from outside the continent — including dancers from South African, Cuba, Australia and Singapore.

“We can’t just restrict ourselves to dancers from the EU if we want to remain a world class dance company — we have to recruit from all over the world to get the standard that we need,” said Nadia Stern, Rambert Dance Company chief executive.

Britain’s farmers face the same problem each summer as they race to hire trained sheep shearers, looking to New Zealand and Australia for expertise. Farms typically have only a six-week window to cut their sheep, meaning about 300 people — almost all from outside the EU — are needed to help complete the task alongside about 3,000 Britons.

“Without them the job just wouldn’t get done in time,” said Colin MacGregor, a farmer from Scotland and shearing training manager for the British Wool Marketing Board.

Associated Press Writers Ciaran Giles in Madrid, Toby Sterling in Amsterdam, Malin Rising in Stockholm and Melissa Eddy in Berlin contributed to this report.

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