Posted September 20, 2022, 7:33 amUpdated September 20, 2022 at 7:35 am
A logistician in Krefeld in the Ruhr, a mechanic in Lülsdorf near Cologne or a chemist in Bitterfeld in the east of the country: around thirty apprenticeships offered by the chemist Evonik throughout Germany did not find takers this summer. To sum it up, it would be necessary to write “apprenticeship is looking for an apprentice”, notes Achim Dercks of the German Association of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK).
Germany’s work-study training system, watched with envy in France in light of the “major reform of secondary vocational schools” launched last week by Emmanuel Macron’s government, is leading the way. Olaf Scholz’s government also presented a draft strategy to reduce labor shortages and improve qualifications at the beginning of September, without fully convincing the social partners.
The reform, unveiled by Emmanuel Macron in Sables-d’Olonne last Tuesday, favors alternating between high school and companies, indicating student appetite for this model. However, according to a survey published this summer by chambers of commerce and industry, 41% of companies in Germany could not find the apprentices they were looking for. In 2018, they were 32%.
Between the development trend of higher education and the aging of the population in Germany, there is a risk that “work and study vocational training will become an endangered model”, warns the German Federation of Small and Medium Enterprises (DMB).
Last year, the recovery of the economy and the trend of full employment in Germany accentuated this phenomenon even more. By 2026, 240,000 more jobs will be filled than there are workers available, according to figures the government announced in September.
This phenomenon does not affect all sectors equally. If prestigious companies like Porsche have no problem recruiting apprentices, the situation is different in a large part of the German economy. For example, German banks no longer attract young apprentices. The result: more than 40% of their employees are over 50 years old.
SMEs have the greatest difficulty with recruitment, offering almost 82% of the 1.54 million work-related training places. Yet they are the ones who finance three-quarters of Germany’s dual system. The regions and municipalities responsible for education in Germany only finance the few hours a week that apprentices spend at their vocational schools.
Covid has seized the information
As elsewhere in the world, the gastronomy and hotel industry also have the most severe lack of workforce: in this sector, according to the DIHK, 67% of apprenticeships are not filled. Candidates are also not pressured to work in nursing homes or hospitals. On the contrary, there are far more candidates than offers to “keep animals or learn photography techniques”, notes the Employment Agency.
Covid-19 has also penalized students seeking education by canceling internships or training, allowing them to gain an insight into everyday life in society.
The tendency would be to blame the younger generations for not having realistic expectations of the labor market. However, Covid-19 has also penalized students in their pursuit of education by canceling internships or training fairs that allowed them to get a sense of everyday life in society. “This reinforced the lack of orientation of many young people,” regrets Achim Dercks.
Online job fairs are on the rise, but not suitable for small businesses. However, it is they who suffer the most from the lack of apprentices, as “80% of positions in typical SMEs require vocational training”, notes the German Federation of Small and Medium Enterprises. Similar to France, Germany also lacks arms for, for example, thermal renovation or the production of boilers.
The reform launched by the coalition government is trying to break through. Above all, it stipulates the provision of a kind of “right to vocational training”. It would be inspired by the system introduced since 2017 in Austria, which “guarantees” vocational training for people under the age of 25 without qualifications and provides it either by the state or in cooperation with companies.
“The state ignores demography”
The Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB) has put forward a counter-proposal to finance this interim guarantee through a “future fund”. It would support training firms and be financed by all firms with more than five people.
German companies are skeptical: “We don’t need a state guarantee. We need apprentices,” fears Steffen Kampeter, executive director of the German Employers’ Federation (BDA). According to him, the reform “simply ignores demography”.
Unions consider this a symptom of the strenuous nature of the tasks offered. “There is a lack of qualified personnel, especially where working conditions and wages are poor”, reminds Anja Piel of the DGB in the daily “Handelsblatt”. The solution is not to recruit carers elsewhere, for example “at dumped prices”.
Indeed, the debate about labor and apprenticeship shortages has revived the debate in Germany about skilled immigration. The law valid from March 2020 was supposed to simplify recruitment abroad, but it runs into issues of language and recognition of qualifications. Here, too, the government is announcing a reform in the fall to support German companies in their search for employees.