With too few qualified school-leavers applying to train as skilled workers in Germany, companies and industry associations are wondering if it might be time to start hiring across the border.
Not enough school leavers have the qualifications needed for a traineeship
How the times have changed. It wasn't long ago that a single trainee position would have been fought over by dozens of young applicants.
These days, however, the tables have turned. Companies are falling over one another in their efforts to recruit trainees -- and they just can't find them. The situation has become so difficult that various industry associations are calling on the government to free up the labor market for applicants from beyond Germany's borders.
This is already the case with academics, with the country set to open up next year to university graduates from the Eastern European countries which joined the EU in its enlargement four years ago -- including Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.
But for unqualified workers, labor restrictions won't be falling until 2011. And for many companies, that's a long time to wait.
An eastern problem
Eastern Germany is especially hard hit
The trainee shortage is especially acute in Germany's eastern states.
Hanns-Eberhard Schleyer, secretary general of the Central Association of German Skilled Workers, predicts that in these states, the number of applicants for trainee positions will have fallen 50 percent by 2011 -- reflecting a marked drop in the number of qualified school-leavers in recent years.
This explains why so many companies are having problems meeting their skilled labor needs with young workers.
"Our companies need new blood, they need skilled labor," Schleyer said. "In Germany it is becoming increasingly hard to find qualified young people to train."
Consequently, many companies are forced to fill vacant trainee positions with previous applicants who had been rejected due to inadequate qualifications.
The long-term result, he says, will be company closures. Before it comes to this, he proposes that the companies look abroad to countries such as Poland the Czech Republic.
Economy remains robust
The German economy is in good shape
Meanwhile, Volker Treier from the Chambers of Industry and Commerce Association (DIHK) said Monday, July 14, that a drop in Germany's gross domestic product of some 0.5 percent was "as good as certain" in the second quarter of 2008.
He cited a reduced number of orders in the construction sector and industry as the main reason.
However, he said he remained optimistic for the fiscal year.
"The economy is robust," he told the mass-circulation newspaper Bild. "There are no grounds for concerns."