Soaring unemployment has led to the flight of thousands of Greeks seeking a better life on foreign shores since the ongoing financial crisis sent the economy into a protracted downward spiral.
Not least among the professions hit hard by the crisis is that of engineers, who are leaving in droves not just because of unemployment, but also due to their inability to pay into their social security funds when they are out of work.
“When you are unemployed it’s impossible to pay [into the fund],” said Maria Papadopoulou, a 32-year-old civil engineer who is currently working at a supermarket.
“Even if you have no income at all, you still have to pay around 250 euros a month,” she said, adding that she had asked for her name to be scrapped from her social security fund because she could not cope financially.
“I have to come to terms with the fact that [engineering] is over for me,” she said.
New engineers are obliged to register with their profession’s social security fund and the Technical Chamber of Greece (TEE) in order to practice their profession.
According to TEE, more engineers now leave the country each year compared to those who register for the first time. Giorgos Stasinos, the chamber’s president, says the trend effectively began to take a toll on the number of registered engineers in 2012, when 2,301 signed up, compared to 2,942 who revoked their TEE membership.
By 2015, the registration of new engineers had nose-dived to just 500 compared to a staggering 4,000 that asked to be removed.
“Many new engineers don’t bother registering at TEE so that they don’t have to pay contributions. Others leave for abroad because they have no hope of working in Greece,” said Stasinos, who added that at this rate, in “six to seven years there will be [no engineers] left.”
The mass exodus from Greece has led to the creation of small communities of Greek engineers abroad, mainly in Northern Europe and the Middle East
“In Qatar, I believe we have 5,000 Greeks, mostly engineers,” said Christos Tsatsanifos, a consultant at Qatar Rail in Doha for the last 18 months.
Now 65, Tsatsanifos says that from 1985 to 2004 construction work was plentiful, which, he says, created technical know-how – that engineers are “now selling.”
“I had an office with 35 people who were constantly being trained. Who’s going to train our young engineers now?”