What Skilled Workers Does Germany Really Need?

More than 2.5 million people in Germany are looking for employment. At the same time, there is a nearly 2 million-person skilled labour shortage.

What formula is used, and more importantly, where is the greatest shortage? The COVID-19 pandemic’s negative economic effects appear to have been addressed in Germany.

The economy of the nation has also adjusted to the unanticipated consequences of the war in Ukraine. Even the simmering banking crisis in the US and Switzerland has not reached the largest economy in Europe.

The labour market is solid, and the expected recession has not materialized. Nevertheless, issues are developing, and two recent studies focused in-depth attention on one intriguing issue: the shortage of trained people in Germany.

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A labour shortage in nearly all areas

The lack of skilled workers is not now industry-specific, as it once was, according to labour market expert Stefan Hardege from the DIHK. It is currently an issue that affects various industries.

Numerous occupations are impacted, he told DW. The most important personnel being sought right now are train drivers and those in charge of regulating and observing rail activity.

The Competence Center for Skilled Workers (KOFA) consultant and co-author of the IW report, Sabine Köhne-Finster, identifies additional fields that require skilled labour. The social sector has suffered significantly.

There is a lack of “education workers, social workers, preschool teachers. The biggest hole is for elderly and nursing care workers,” she said.

In other areas, such as the metal and electrical trades, there is not only a lack of skilled workers there is also a need for more experts and people with university degrees. “Most people are missing there and the situation is getting worse,” she concluded.

An ongoing job paradox

Stefan Hardege draws attention to a paradox that has been noted for a long time. “The question arises as to why they don’t cancel each other out when you look at the 2.5 million unemployed people in Germany and you see all these vacancies,” the author writes.

He said: “We frequently observe that the skills of the unemployed do not align with the skills that employers are seeking.” The poor training or simple laziness of unemployed people has been charged in the past. Additionally, a lot of young people no longer desire an eight-hour workday.

According to Hardege, workers are currently in a good position because they are in high demand and can ask for better working conditions or higher wages. Yet that is by no means the cause of the shortage. “I have no proof that this is now the general problem,” he said.

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What can be done about the situation?

Employees themselves could help the situation by being more flexible thinks Sabine Köhne-Finster. “You just have to look around: How have jobs changed? Are there other professions that are perhaps similar? Can I help to overcome the shortage of skilled workers through retraining and starting something new?”

When it comes to politics, Köhne-Finster generally praises “the efforts to enable the immigration of qualified specialists.” But professional training must also be strengthened. It must focus on “strengthening professional orientation at universities, schools and vocational schools.”

Stefan Hardege has a slightly different focus. The current situation calls for many different approaches. “And that is primarily a task for companies to deal with the shortage of skilled workers, be it through flexible solutions or good offers.

Companies are trying to make themselves more attractive in order to get skilled workers, by making family and career more compatible or enabling mobile work.” But this won’t work without the right underlying conditions. “And yes, the political framework is important, too,” he said.

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A new immigration policy?

The German government unveiled a legislative plan on March 29 that aims to restructure immigration and, in particular, make it easier for more foreign specialists to immigrate. That, in Hardege’s opinion, is crucial: “It is good and right that the government has now addressed the issue, which is moving in the right direction in many areas.”

One specific point on which the two scholars agree is that implementation will be crucial. According to Hardege, new regulations must function well and promptly. Additionally, appropriate structures must be built.

However, the issue cannot be resolved by an infusion of foreign skilled labour. Hardege says that although it is a crucial step, German employees cannot be left behind.

“We have to see that we make better use of the domestic potential —  things like women’s employment or the employment of older people,” he said.

Both solutions are needed, more foreign skilled workers and more German employees. “But even that will probably not be enough in view of the demographic development.”

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