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Skilled worker shortage

June 4, 2012

The federal government is looking for solutions to the lack of professionals in Germany. Mathematicians, scientists and computer specialists are among the groups most needed.

senior male researcher carrying out scientific research in a lab
Image: Fotolia/lightpoet

When unemployment is high, apprehension builds each month ahead of the report by Germany's Federal Employment Agency. But that has not been a problem in recent years. As the unemployment rate has dropped, however, the number of unoccupied positions has increased.

The most recent report shows that nearly 500,000 jobs in Germany are open, 29,000 more than in May 2011. Skilled workers are especially needed in the areas of mechatronics, electronics, manufacturing, logistics, health and trade.

The IT industry could also use more people. Currently, there are 38,000 jobs that are open but cannot be filled, says Bernhard Rohleder, chair of the Bitkom trade association.

"We know in our industry that we are doing 1.5 billion euros in sales volume less than we could be simply because we lack the people with whom we could realize this potential," Rohleder said.

Lacking personnel hits companies' books directly, and Rohleder believes it hinders innovation.

Three pillars against the shortage

Rohleder argues that there are three pillars needed to secure the skilled workers Germany is lacking: improvements in the German education system, the mobilization of non-working women and older people, and, finally, a more modern immigration system.

However, even immigration from other EU countries has not yet been especially successful. As a result of the financial crisis, many Europeans are looking for work, but Greeks, Spaniards and Portuguese are coming to Germany in just a trickle, says Heinrich Alt, head of the Federal Employment Agency.

He has observed that German companies advertise for employees abroad, but often just for a few, highly specific positions like in engineering or in the areas of math, IT, natural sciences and technology.

"In those areas, there are targeted campaigns abroad, but it's still not on the scale that it should be," Alt said.Lackluster reputation abroad

Immigration from non-EU states to Germany is also at a low level. After introducing the EU blue card for highly skilled workers, engineers and members of other sought-after professions are welcome in Germany if they can show an annual income of at least 35,000 euros. But easing up the restrictions on getting a visa in Germany are not enough to draw people in, says Rohleder, who illustrated why by recounting a conversation he had with a computer specialist from India.

A symbolic blue card
The blue card was intended to address workforce shortagesImage: picture-alliance/chromorange

"He was supposed to come to Germany and asked me what he had done wrong that he had to come here. For him, Germany was just a country that had strawberries - that was his only association with it, other than perhaps knowing a German soccer player or car brand. But having to come here as a gifted Indian professional was like a punishment to him. It's not seen as the land of dreams," Rohleder said.

The statistics suggest Rohleder is right. In 2011, 1,221 doctors moved from non-EU countries to Germany, compared with 795 in the previous year. The number of engineers rose from 300 to 1,191. As long as Germany remains unattractive or unknown to talented professionals abroad, those small numbers are unlikely to increase dramatically.

The opposition in Berlin, however, believes the topic of immigration should only be considered after Germany's own potential has been exhausted. For example, 65,000 young people leave school without graduating each year, noted Hubertus Heil, deputy chair of the Social Democratic Party.

Heil believes that too many people in Germany are caught in long-term unemployment and precarious work situations - an issue that came up during a summit on skilled workers held in 2011: "But there was no answer as to how we could combine the forces of business, unions and politics to combat the challenges relating to the skilled worker shortage in the future," he said.The governing coalition has a much different take, claiming there are already targeted and concrete measures against the shortage in place as well as strong cooperation with industry on the issue.

Man installing a solar array
High technology is particularly affected by the shortage in skilled workersImage: picture-alliance/dpa

A year ago, Chancellor Angela Merkel convened a meeting to start initiatives to combat the lack of skilled workers. It was the third summit on the topic of skilled professionals she had hosted. On Tuesday, officials will meet to review the results. Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Economics Minister Philipp Rösler will present their plan titled "Who can take on the work of tomorrow?"

Author: Sabine Kinkartz / gsw
Editor: Simon Bone