German companies are desperately looking for new junior staff. Apprentices are hard to find particularly in eastern Germany. Could refugees fill the gap? Sabine Kinkartz reports from Brandenburg state.
Cobbled streets, a small roundabout, an ice cream parlor - and right next to it the local funeral home. Woods and meadows all around, plus a lake - you could easily call this a natural paradise. We're in Hennickendorf in eastern Brandenburg, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) away from downtown Berlin. Many young people have been leaving this region to study elsewhere, for example, among other reasons.
"This year, as of October 29, we have 719 apprentices, that is there are still 250 vacancies," said the managing director of the Frankfurt an-der-Oder-based Chamber of Crafts, Uwe Hoppe. "We are in a position to train more people, and our local factories are also willing to do just that."
The lack of skilled workers has long ceased to be merely a theoretical problem. Small handicraft businesses in particular are desperately looking for young talent.
Many vacancies remain empty, also in the Hennickendorf-based vocational training center. It's here that in modern workshops apprentices are trained, some of them future master craftsmen or craftswomen. Affiliated to that center is a 60-bed guesthouse with a canteen which offers full board.
Getting fit for your trade
The president of the Frankfurt an-der-Oder Chamber of Crafts, Wolf-Harald Krüger, is not opposed to absorbing some refugees too.
"It could be a class of mentored youths aged between 15 and 16 who could get some basic training in the metalworking sector or as future car mechanics or house painters; and they could learn some German."
For that, you would need language teachers and probably also more specialist teachers, depending on the refugees' earlier school education.
"None of us knows how an eight or ten-year school diploma in Syria stacks up to ours; but our vocational training centers build on what they assume somebody with such a diploma should know and be able to do."
If there are deficits, the gaps would need to be narrowed down in the process. "No one is in a position to program a heating system or air conditioning properly, if he or she lacks the necessary knowledge in maths," Hoppe said.
Federal shot in the arm
Wolf-Harald Krüger is confident all doors would be wide open for refugees once they've completed a year of teaching practice.
"Many of my colleagues in craft businesses have reassured me that would offer young refugees vocational training contracts," he said.
That's something that German Education Minister Johanna Wanka likes to hear. She's said that if the Chamber of Crafts guaranteed to take over refugees for vocational training, her ministry could well imagine financing a preparatory year.
Wanka says that could also mean that refugees who normally feel attracted to big cities such as Hamburg, Berlin and Cologne could develop an interest in rural areas. This could apply particularly to those whose deportation is suspended. That's because those who're undergoing vocational training can stay in Germany and do not have to be afraid of being deported back home during their apprenticeships.
"And if somebody's completed vocational training successfully and get a job in his profession, he or she can stay there for two years without any additional precedence checks and without being deported," Wanka added. After that, there's the opportunity of shifting to another profession for two more years, she explains, and having done all that, "the chances of being sent back would be extremely slim," Wanka insisted.
Minors without parents at their side
The administrative head of the Märkisch-Oderland region in Brandenburg, Gernot Schmidt, is keen on finding apprenticeships for refugees. It's part of his job to provide accommodation and meals. He's already looking after 50 unchaperoned minors. He thinks their number will on the rise, with many of them no longer required to attend school.
"They won't get vey far without decent training, f they cam here at the age of 15 or 16," he said. "There's noting worse than getting an additional 200 young people every year and seeing them wholly dependent on the welfare state later on."
And this would mean the rural district would have to finance them. Minors-cum-refugees are already a burden on local budgets. Schmidt said he had to pay 7,000 euros ($7,730) for each refugee living in a hostel. If a foster family can be found, costs are reduced to 1,500 euros per person. Small wonder the district administrator is being resourceful.
Boss and custodian
He's been thinking of master craftsmen willing to train young refugees also becoming their guardians.
"Of course, such guardians would need to know a thing or two about basic teaching methods and the culture of the young people they're dealing with," he said. "One that is ensured, he could get a fostering contract with financial remuneration for his effort attached to it."
But the question remains whether young refugees would really put down roots in a region where anti-foreigner demonstrations and assaults are common.
"They may well stay here," said Uwe Hoppe, pointing to the experience his Chamber of Crafts has in training young people. At the moment 30 young Poles are undergoing vocational training in the region.
"According to the motto of a current image campaign, it's not important for us where people come from, but where they want to go."