If you want to eat out in Germany today, you can even find a table, but there may not be any staff to cook or serve you. And that’s just one industry where the country is currently experiencing labor shortages: trains and planes are delayed or canceled because of staff shortages at train stations and airports.
According to a survey by the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHT), around 56% of companies are understaffed and all companies surveyed see this as one of the greatest risks they are currently exposed to.
The Federal Employment Agency (BA) lists bottlenecks in 148 fields of work and risks in another 122. It can take up to eight months to fill a position in a nursing home; for construction companies the deadline is six months; nationwide there are more than 1.7 million job vacancies.
“Five to ten years ago we placed advertisements to offer our services, today we advertise in all media to attract employees,” says Markus Winter, Managing Director of the IDS Industry Service Agency BadenWürttemberg. With 750 employees, it tries to fill 20 positions, including locksmiths, painters and heavy machinery operators.
“It’s no longer just a specialty issue, it’s a pervasive people issue,” Winter continues. Jobs for unskilled workers are also open, “areas that are really essential for the industry, without which nothing works”.
German kindergartens are also suffering from a shortage of skilled workersPhoto: Sabine Kinkartz/DW
“The party is over”
Despite some recent factors, the general trend towards labor shortages was largely predictable. “We are in a very dramatic situation that we have seen coming for a long time,” confirms Herbert Brücker, professor at the Research Institute (IAB) in Nuremberg.
Demographic change is making itself felt in Germany: every year the country loses around 350,000 people of working age because those born shortly after the Second World War are retiring and there are not enough young people to fill their jobs. In 2035, the labor market deficit is expected to reach 7 million skilled workers, according to analysts.
The country used to be able to rely on workers from other EU member states to fill domestic shortages, but Brucker says that source is drying up as “revenues in other EU countries are starting to match, and they’re also going through demographic changes.”
“Basically the party is over,” he concludes.
First contract, later job learning
A law passed in 2020 should encourage the 400,000 workers that Germany needs every year to come and stay. In the first year, the new rules attracted only 30,000 a “disappointment,” as Brücker puts it.
The federal government is working on changing the law and will present key points in September. Proposed changes include opening the job market to contractors even if there is no recognized qualification for the job.
Minister of Labor Hubertus Heil and Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser propose that German workers help foreign colleagues with the necessary training.
“At the moment, the state decides who suits us as a company,” explains Winter. But “he’s not in a position to do that.” The IDS managing director calculates that companies already hire 20% of their employees without training and then help them to learn on the job.
“Almost all other countries have completely different training systems than Germany,” says a DIHT press release on labor reform. “It starts with the visa process, where documents are sent from all over the world, and ends with office workers who do not always apply complex regulations in a consistent and transparent manner.”
The shortage of skilled workers is getting worse in industry and tradePhoto: Gregor Fischer/dpa/picturealliance
employer under suspicion
Even with a contract in hand, it can be difficult to apply for a work visa at a German embassy, says lawyer Bettina Offer. “I constantly see officials who have widespread suspicions that my employers just want to smuggle an old foreigner into the country, instead of understanding that they are looking for workers.”
She characterizes the attitude of the German immigration authorities as “defensive”: “I always have the problem of having to fight against a mentality that sees a foreigner who stays out of the country as a good foreigner and that just doesn’t work. We must.” a paradigm shift. Every worker who comes to us is an asset to the country.”
Employers like Markus Winter are also hoping for a change in the asylum law. He thinks the work permit requirements for refugees are too strict. He has employed around 300 of them since 2016. “I can tell you from experience that it is not easy. Twothirds of the candidates didn’t even reach us on the first try.”
Despite all the language and integration problems, he sees great potential in asylum seekers: “From a political point of view, I can understand that you do not want to pursue a hidden immigration policy through asylum laws. But there is still too much to be done here.”