It could have been a nice evening. “I have a table for you,” says the restaurant owner on the phone, “but unfortunately no one who can cook for you.” What initially sounds like a joke is serious. Cooks, kitchen help and service staff are missing throughout Germany. But not only the gastronomy suffers from a shortage of workers.
Trains are canceled because drivers are missing. Suitcases pile up in airports because there is nobody who can load them. At the security checkpoints, the anger of air travelers who miss their flight because of the long queues is vented, kindergartens are withdrawing admissions because there are no educators.
Bottlenecks in 148 occupations
In a survey by the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce, which represents the interests of several million companies from industry, trade and services, 56 percent of companies complain about a lack of employees and describe this as one of the greatest business risks.
The Federal Employment Agency currently lists bottlenecks in 148 professions. A further 122 professions are under observation. It takes an average of eight months for a nursing home to find a nurse. Construction companies have to calculate half a year to find an employee for civil engineering. More than 1.7 million vacancies are advertised nationwide.
Not only skilled workers are missing
“Five to ten years ago we placed ads to sell our services. Today we place ads in all kinds of media to attract employees,” complains Markus Winter, Managing Director of the industrial service provider IDS in Baden-Württemberg. The company employs around 750 people and is looking for staff in more than 20 professions: from locksmiths to painters, forklift drivers and assembly workers to drivers for beverage deliveries.
“We no longer only have a problem with skilled workers, but a general problem with the labor force,” says Winter. Even jobs for the unskilled, i.e. people without professional training, could no longer be sufficiently filled. “These are areas that are really systemically relevant for the industry, without which it just doesn’t work.”
Baby boomers will soon be retiring
The shortage comes as no surprise. “We are now in a relatively dramatic situation that we have actually predicted for a relatively long time,” says Herbert Brücker, professor at the Institute for Labor Market and Vocational Research in Nuremberg. Demographic change is noticeable. Germany loses around 350,000 people of working age every year. The baby boomers will only be retiring in a few years. Experts such as Brücker predict that by 2035 there will be around seven million fewer people on the job market.
In Japan, where society is also rapidly aging, seniors are specifically courted to work longer hours
This is not a simple gap, but a huge hole. One that cannot be filled by domestic workers and neither by immigration from the European Union. According to the labor market researcher Brücker, the number of immigrants from the EU is steadily declining. “Incomes are catching up in the other EU countries, and they are themselves affected by demographic change.” The potential of young people who are willing to emigrate has largely been exhausted in the EU. “The party is basically over, let me put it casually.”
The Skilled Immigration Act is disappointing
In order to compensate for the current shortage on the labor market, 400,000 immigrants would have to come to Germany every year – and stay. People from so-called third countries outside the European Union. Since 2012, academic specialists have been able to come to Germany via the so-called EU Blue Card. In 2020, the Skilled Immigration Act (FEG) also came into force, which also includes non-academic professions. But it’s not working as hoped, and not just because small and medium-sized companies in Germany often still have trouble recruiting skilled workers from abroad. In 2020, 30,000 skilled workers came from abroad, while 20,000 left the country in return. Labor market researcher Brücker speaks of a “disappointment”.
The federal government wants to reform the law and present the first key points in September. This includes opening up the labor market to skilled workers who have an employment contract but do not yet have a professional qualification recognized in Germany. Interior Minister Nancy Faeser and Labor Minister Hubertus Heil recently announced this. You can also catch up on a professional qualification with the help of a German employer.
With such a proposal, the ministers are running into open doors in business. The law still requires equivalence with German qualifications. “Today, the state is checking whether someone is suitable for us as a company,” says entrepreneur Winter. “He can’t.”
Winter is already observing that his customers in industry are also filling positions with unqualified workers. “I estimate that about 20 percent are not skilled workers, but semi-skilled.” Even in mechanical engineering, it is possible to train workers “very qualified and very specific” for the job through further training or through in-house careers.
“Almost all countries in the world have completely different training systems than Germany,” says the German Association of Chambers of Industry and Commerce. The association hopes that the reform of immigration law will also make implementation easier. “It starts with the visa process, in which documents are sent around the world, and ends with officials who do not always implement complex regulations in a uniform and transparent manner.”
employer under suspicion
Lawyer Bettina Offer, who advises companies that want to recruit foreign workers, knows what that means in practice. Even with an employment contract in your pocket, it is difficult to get an appointment at a German embassy to apply for a visa, and verification procedures can take months. “Time and again I have authorities who have the general suspicion that my employers somehow want to smuggle foreigners here, instead of understanding that the employers are looking for workers.”
Since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, refugees from the country have been able to get asylum more easily in Germany and are also allowed to work
Offer speaks of “a deeply rooted defensive attitude” in the German immigration authorities. “I always have the problem that you have to fight with this mindset, which still stems from, I would say, the attitude of repelling asylum, that the authorities say that every foreigner who stays outside is a good foreigner, and that It’s just not true. We need a paradigm shift. Every worker who comes to us is an asset to our country.”
More job opportunities for refugees
Entrepreneur Markus Winter hopes that there will also be some changes in asylum law. The hurdles for refugees willing to work are far too high. Winter has hired and looked after almost 300 refugees since 2016. “I can say from my own experience that it’s not easy, and two-thirds of the people didn’t get through to us the first time.”
But despite all the problems with the language and with the integration of the new employees, there is great potential among the asylum seekers. “I can understand it politically that they don’t want to have a hidden immigration policy through the asylum law. But there is still a lot that needs to change.”