If Germany is to integrate large numbers of low-skilled Middle Eastern, African and Asian refugees into its domestic job market it is going to need new concepts. Many fundamental changes are essential.
Baker Markus Staib is someone that looks ahead. And someone who says that he is determined to make the best of the fact that so many refugees are coming to Germany. Since September 1, he has three apprentices - from Somalia, Eritrea and Pakistan. And so far, the master baker from Ulm is very happy: "They've done great, in part, because with the youngest being 25, they are a bit older than most of our trainees. Generally, trainees are between the ages of 16 and 18, so these three have a whole different level of maturity."
For the last several years, Staib, whose large bakery has 400 employees, has had trouble filling all of his apprenticeship positions. His idea of bringing trainees from Mediterranean EU countries with high youth unemployment to Swabia, never worked out - despite close cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce in Ulm. Then they came up with the idea of filling apprenticeships with refugees. Five weeks after the start of the experiment, Staib thinks it was a good idea."It sounds almost too good to be true. But it has been a positive surprise, and it is fun working with them."
However, while one can communicate in the bakery using hand signals and a little English if need be, the challenges presented in vocational school are of a different magnitude - and Staib knows it: "We can see the problems on the horizon. School is about theoretical knowledge, about paying attention and listening, and above all, about understanding. I think that will be more difficult than praxis in the bakery." That is why it has been arranged that the Somalian, Eritrean and Pakistani trainees sit next to German students that can help them in class.
3 + 2 solution for refugee apprentices
The thing that impresses the master baker from Ulm most is the motivation of the refugees, all of whom have been in Germany for a year, and so far, have not been allowed to work: "German youths don't often appreciate what it is that you are offering them. But since the refugees are coming from countries in which training is not a given, they tend to appreciate it that much more. In that sense we are both doing each other a favor."
Ever more master craftsmen, like Markus Staib are entering uncharted waters when they offer apprenticeships to asylum seekers. Staib says that the refugees that are training in his shop all have a document in their passport stating that they are in a three-year apprenticeship. They are also required to report to the aliens registration office every six months to verify that they are still apprenticing with him.
Meanwhile, politicians have also realized that more legal security is needed for both trainees and employers. A so-called 3 + 2 solution is designed to guarantee that after their apprenticeship, trainees cannot be deported for at least two years after they have passed their certification, or journeyman's exam. "From my point of view, it makes sense that we not only train these people but that we also get something out of training them. That we not only have apprentices, but later also journeymen," emphasizes Staib.
Many trade businesses in the Ulm area are desperately seeking trainees. Ulm's Chamber of Commerce, responsible for a region of some 200,000 people, is one of 54 chambers in Germany. Staib says that 1,000 apprenticeships in the Ulm area went unfilled this year. "If we add up all of the chambers in Germany and look at how many slots that comes to, then there may not be 1.5 million," as Staib calculates, "but those are still opportunities, so why shouldn't we take advantage of them?"
The difficult path from refugee to skilled employee
Political scientist Dietrich Tränhardt has been studying the integration of immigrants for years. Like Staib, he too, has a pragmatic outlook: "The people that are coming here are all very willing to work. They want to lend a hand, but it will be a while before they actually can. One reason is their lack of German language skills, the other is German bureaucracy," says Tränhardt.
For him, the most important thing is that people find jobs as soon as possible - and not just because it relieves the rest of society financially: "Work produces self-esteem, a place in society and helps foster integration. For those reasons, work bans should be done away with - they are utterly counterproductive."
Add to that the excessive waiting periods in which people are held in limbo, not knowing whether their asylum application will be accepted, and therefore whether they have any longterm perspectives. Further, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, which Tränhardt says has "totally failed," must be reorganized with a central focus on job market integration. Tränhardt says that new agency boss Frank-Jürgen Weise's plan to transfer thousands of Federal Employment Agency workers to the Office Migration and Refugees is a big step in the right direction.
Yet immigration experts know that there are very few specialized workers among the hundreds of thousands of refugees coming to Germany. "Generally, those immigrants that are seeking shelter in Germany are among the lowest earners on the German job market," says a current report from the Institute for Employment Research (IAB). Dietrich Tränhardt emphasizes that in order to change that in the long run, large investments must be made to education and to speedy job market integration. "We need more teachers, we need more childcare workers in kindergartens - those are purely quantitative issues. We need a major offensive for German language classes, a lot has to happen on that front. And the federal authorities have to fulfill their duties."