BARCELONA -- How do you create jobs in a flailing economy? The answer is technology.
In the month of January, 238 people lost their jobs per hour, for a total of 177,470 new "disempleos." Spain's unemployment rate teeters at 24 percent, the highest in 16 years, and, in general, there are no government policies towards creating jobs, but rather maybe making it easier to lay off.
Yet Spain's most important company, Telefonica, is adding 2,000 new jobs by summer.
By the end of July, Barcelona will be the first Spanish city to be fully fiber-optic. Telefonica is expected to increase its huge market lead by creating a higher bandwidth that allows data to be carried faster, at the same price or less.
This large endeavor will create 1,300 fiber optic specialist positions, along with 700 new telephone service operators.
Telefonica recently opened a new headquarters in Barcelona. This new HQ has already hired 760 workers in the first six weeks of the year, 85 percent of whom are women. The average worker is between the ages of 25 and 35. This can bring hope to the 25 and under crowd, of which half are unemployed in Spain. Of course, just about all these employees must speak Catalan, thus the jobs are limited in their ability to be outsourced outside Spain.
Barcelona dubs itself the "mobile capital" and is home to the annual Mobile World Congress, which will be held at the end of February. It certainly is the Spanish leader in mobile communication. Spain in general has more SmartPhone users per capita--almost half the population--than any other country in the the eurozone. In addition, in Barcelona, 70 percent of SmartPhone connectivity is with WiFi, not the much more expensive 3G.
Telefonica's addition of jobs is a rare and small bright spot in a country plagued by staggering depression. In the beautiful, laid-back region of the Canary Islands, Spanish unemployment peaks at 28.7 percent. Basically, each family has an unemployed member. Even in sunny Madrid, which has by far the country's largest population, a 20 percent unemployment rate clouds over optimism.
Last weekend, SmartPlanet attended the Bilingual People Fair in Barcelona, which was a job fair simply filled with an air of desperation. More than two thousand people spent their Saturday afternoon waiting in a long line to enter a small conference room. They then had to wait in even longer lines inside, simply to give their CV to one of the ten companies there. Remember, Spain having officially the worst level of English in the E.U., and that being the most popular second language, those attending a bilingual job fair tend to have the special qualification that so many Spaniards are lacking. Most jobs were for telemarketers and video game testers. One visitor Noemi came early to beat the rush and said she still had to queue for 45 minutes for each of the two recruitment companies' stands--Top Language Jobs and Talent Search People--only to be told that she needed to post her resume to their Web sites. A Polish attendee who also speaks English, French and Spanish, said, "Queuing for an hour and a half just to give a C.V., so they can put it in the bin. It's not worth it."
Still, these are people willing to do anything different than the now-traditional apply online and wait and see. People are desperate to even get to the stage of shaking hands with someone that could lead to someone that could lead to someone who can get them an interview.
Moreover, nothing about the Rajoy government's austerity measures foresees more than a slight decrease in unemployment.
Currently, by Spanish law, when a company fires an employee, they must pay a severance check for 45 days pay out of each year worked. This often astronomical sum is a major reason companies aren't performing more massive lay-offs than they already are. Any new indefinite contracts will only allow for severance pay of 33 days per year worked. Certainly, this move is in response to Angela Merkel and the eurozone's pressure to create more jobs. The idea is that businesses--especially the small ones open to more tax breaks--will be more willing to take on new staff if the financial risk of later termination isn't as high.
The government is also encouraging Spain's "cajas," which are smaller, public-affiliated savings banks, to merge or for large banks, like Santander and BBVA to take them over. This should better protect customer funds, by keeping the cajas from closing down, but it runs the risk of overlap and thus more downsizing.
A third of the eurozone's jobless now live in Spain. It is the major impact affecting the Eurozone's unemployment level, which is right now at 10.3 percent, the highest it's been since foundation in 1999. Greece's 19.2 percent isn't far behind.
Apart from unemployment, Spain can be a little more optimistic. It's debt per GDP is seriously less than world leaders' Germany or the United States. Because of this and its focus on technological growth, Spain should be a good target for investors.
It doesn't look positive for the time being, as the Rajoy government doesn't predict it can get the unemployment rate below 20 percent any time soon, but, as the government refocuses on innovation, research and design, there may be hope for the future of Spain.