Shortage of skilled labour in industrial sectors
In July 2007, the Federal Minister of Economics and Technology highlighted the fact that while over 20,000 engineers are unemployed companies are still looking for skilled labour. Studies also reveal that some sectors are experiencing shortages of skilled labour. Employers have called for reduced restrictions on labour market entry for skilled foreign workers, while trade unions demand better educational and vocational training opportunities for young people and employees.
On 5 July 2007, the Federal Minister of Economics and Technology, Michael Glos, emphasised in a government policy statement (in German) the current lack of skilled labour in some sectors of the economy. He argued that this labour shortage could hamper future economic growth. To address the issue, Minister Glos called for increased support for education and vocational training. Such measures could encourage people into employment by strengthening their employability and their professional competencies. Furthermore, he said, the German government should judge whether it would be appropriate to adopt a new immigration policy that would grant skilled foreign workers easier access to the German labour market .
Results of study
The Cologne Institute for Economic Research (Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft Köln, IW Köln) explored the issue of skilled labour shortages in a recent study on the shortage of engineers (in German, 105Kb PDF). The study indicates that companies face serious difficulties in recruiting engineers to fill vacancies. In 2006, for example, some 48,000 vacancies could not be filled.
The most affected sectors of the economy were vehicle and machine manufacturing, as well as research and skills-intensive industries. Moreover, companies in these sectors are having to deal with a shortage of skilled labour at a time when demand for engineered products is increasing. The analysis highlights several reasons for the mismatch of labour supply and demand in engineering:
- enrolment in engineering courses has stagnated;
- drop-out rates among engineering students are above average;
- female students are still highly underrepresented in engineering courses, or their equivalents.
Similarly, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF) underlines in its latest report ‘Germany’s technological capability 2007 (in German, 3.17Mb PDF)’ that estimated future economic growth rates are likely to push companies to the limit in terms of their skilled labour capacities.
To counter this trend in the long run, the report states that drop-out rates among students should decline and more students should be encouraged to enrol for university degree programmes, especially in engineering and the natural sciences. Therefore, universities and other research and development facilities should be supported in their efforts to provide first-class education and research. To facilitate this, additional finances should be invested in these areas.
Since the number of graduates and degree holders cannot be increased at short notice, other arrangements need to be considered to immediately alleviate current shortages of skilled labour. Foreign students should be encouraged to take up employment in German companies after having completed an academic degree at a German university. Legislative barriers, which currently prevent foreigners gaining access to the labour market, should be reconsidered. Overall, the report – in line with Minister Glos’s statement – calls for greater investment in educational and research facilities, and the opportunities for companies to recruit foreign skilled labour should be expanded.
Position of social partners
On 9 July 2007, the German Confederation of Employers’ Associations (Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände, BDA) highlighted in a press statement (in German) the importance of skilled labour for protecting and strengthening the competitiveness of German industries. The BDA stressed that, in addition to recruiting skilled foreign workers, representatives of German industries should seek to support universities in their efforts to educate students for their future professional careers.
The Confederation of German Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB) also emphasises in its recommendations for reform (in German) that employees’ education and training are prerequisites for economic growth and innovation. Universities, schools and research facilities should be supported by increased financial investments. Moreover, employers should offer more training opportunities for young people. The DGB, furthermore, argues that some company policies can hamper the innovative spirit of employees. To encourage such workplace ethos of innovation companies should create suitable working conditions. Workplaces should enable employees to develop and to put into practice their know-how and professional experience.
Sandra Vogel, Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW Köln)