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Made in Germany

Dennis Snower

Pinstripes off, overalls on! Made in Germany is sending Germany's top economists out into the field to get their hands dirty. Top US economist Dennis Snower says government employment agencies do a poor job.

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Snower took up the challenge in Kiel, main city in a region with thirteen percent unemployment. He says there is a solution to the problem. But he says the German economy is too inflexible. He calls for individual advice, freedom to make decisions and initiative. But will Snower be as good at finding jobs as he wants to be? Report by Dorothea Topf.

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The Kiel Institute for the World Economy and its president Dennis Snower - an economist and labour market expert. He hopes his theories will help breathe new life into the German labour market: "What's missing is a really tough cost-benefit analysis. The employment offices don't know exactly where they can get the biggest bang for their buck and haven't any incentive to focus on this."

So Snower is personally taking a stab at helping the state employment agency conform to the rules of the market economy.

"Mr. Snower, welcome to the Kiel employment agency. Nice to have you here. I'll show you around your workplace." - "I've got a lot to learn. 'Til now it's been mostly theory. Now's the time to put it into practice!"

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The economist begins his new job as a placement officer. His first client is a nurse. Dennis Snower can't do anything to help his client. First he must fill out some forms and she just has to wait. The new employment counsellor can only look on. When the nurse tells him she's prepared to work longer hours for less money, Snower clearly doesn't know what to say. The economist just doesn't have any jobs to offer her.

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It's clear that Snower needs to find jobs to offer his clients, so it's time to approach potential employers: "Hello Mr. Weier. This is Dennis Snower from the state employment office. I wanted to ask you if had any job openings or if there's anything we could help you with." The company owner on the other end of the line has two positions that need filling, but they're highly specialized ones. Quickly Dennis Snower realizes that companies are only interested in hiring specialists or temporary employees. Anyone else is out of luck.

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This is a typical day for the 56 job counsellors at Kiel's employment agency. Snower's new colleagues are responsible for helping 30,000 people find work. But that's a tough order when there are no jobs to be had -- even for those who are well-educated and willing to be flexible: "It really shows that this work, which tackles the challenge of unemployment, is a humanly important one. It's not a theoretical game. People's lives are hanging in the balance."

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On his day "Out and About", Dennis Snower has come to realize that finding jobs for Germany's unemployed is a much tougher task than he'd previously imagined.

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This is Dennis Snowers personal experience of going to the labour office:

DW-TV: What did you first think when you found out Deutsche Welle wanted you to send you into the public?

Dennis Snower: That it would be a huge challenge. My reserach is supposed to be practice-based. Will it be relevant in the job center?

DW-TV: What appealed to you about the experience?

Dennis Snower: I have lots of experience in economic consulting about unemployment but currently have relatively little contact with those concerned: the unemployed. The visit was an important chance to make up for this.

DW-TV: What expectations did you set out with?

Dennis Snower: I wanted to through myself into it with no prejudices, completely free and open.

DW-TV: Did you like the contact with the public?

Dennis Snower: Very much. I was very impressed by how outgoing, willing and constructive the jobless people I talked to were.

DW-TV: Did anything surprise you, maybe also about yourself?

Dennis Snower: I realized how hard it often is to find jobs for the unemployed. I experienced that myself. I'm now convinced that you should give employees and employers equally big incentives, to contribute as much as possible to the job search process.

DW-TV: What was your greatest challenge there?

Dennis Snower: The greatest challenge was to translate these experiences into practice.

DW-TV: What experience have you come away with (personal as well as professional)?

Dennis Snower: Important experiences. On my personal level, I saw with particular clarity that unemployment should be viewed as a stroke of fate rather than a statistic. On a professional level, I'm convinced that the main challenge is to create a legal and institutional framework, so employees and employers have a natural incentive to work together.

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