We were making progress – in September 2008, unemployment numbers were down by nearly two million when compared to the record high back in 2005. But the crisis has set us back – 3.4 million people are unemployed in Germany. They're looking for a job. They're looking for affirmation and recognition from their efforts. They want to be responsible for their own life with a job and an income. Work offers dignity. They don't want to have to rely on government handouts. Unemployment takes away the qualifications workers have earned. Unemployment demoralizes. Unemployment destroys families.
But we can't give in to unemployment. We have to fight it – using the right policies, with the right public stimulus and by using our combined strength. Smart crisis management is vital. But we also have to escape all the rhetoric. We have to take a fresh perspective and look forward.
A week ago I presented my “Plan for Germany” – with an ambitious goal: full-employment by 2020. Since then, our country has been discussing my proposal and the jobs of the future. Where will the new jobs come from in the next decade? That is the key question for our society's future and the fact that the wall of silence is broken is an early victory.
As expected, the reaction was mixed. Many are intrigued and some are even impressed. But others are more reserved and critical. They agree with my goals but doubt whether my ideas for new jobs – with a focus on resource-conserving, energy-saving technologies as well as new materials, products and processes, and specialisation in product-related services – are realistic.
The political opposition refuses to join the battle against unemployment. They have no concepts, no answers. Last week I was on a tour of Germany to see for myself how we can create four million new jobs. The Ruhr Valley is a good example. No other city has had to remake itself as radically as Dortmund. Some 70,000 new jobs in 10 years – that's the goal. There are already 38,000 new jobs. Dortmund hasn't yet crossed the finish line but it's going in the right direction. And what's true for Dortmund is true for Germany.
When I talk about four million new jobs, it isn't an empty promise. I don't think the government can create these new jobs. But we can reach four million new jobs by 2020 if we create the right conditions. So I took a hard look at where, in the next decade, markets for new products and services will arise and what kind of shape German companies are in as they approach the starting line.
Germany is already ahead when it comes to green technologies. In the next decade, companies around the world will try to use energy and raw materials more efficiently – because the global population is growing and because the climate is already changing. And because it saves money. This is creating demand for a whole raft of new, energy-saving technologies for transportation, buildings and households as well as industrial production and environmentally-friendly energy generation. By 2020, the global market for green technologies will double. This could mean two million new jobs for Germany. Studies back this up.
A strong production base in Germany is also good for the services sector. Two industries affect the development of services in particular: health care and the creative sector. Everyone knows Germany is getting older. And the number of care personnel already lags demand. Person-to-person services will grow. And the companies in the pharmaceutical, biological and medical equipment sectors are already preparing for a shift towards greyer demographics. Growth markets aren't just at home – and German companies lead abroad. There are also new treatment models, health care IT and health care software. Studies from the Institute for Work and Technology as well as nearly all major consultancies show that at least one million new jobs could be created in health care by 2020. This isn't a dream – in the last 15 years, one million new jobs have been created here.
Four million new jobs by 2020 – by exploiting the growth opportunities explained here, it's realistic. A look back also confirms this – given the right conditions, strong job growth is possible within just a few years. In the boom years of 2005 to 2008, 1.6 million new jobs were created in Germany; unemployment fell by a third to 3.3 million.
But how can politicians clear the way for the jobs of the future? The most important thing is ensuring a good education for everyone. That is the forerunner of not only a fair social policy but also a successful economy. Without a massive education push that includes new approaches for schools in difficult neighbourhoods we face a predicament – high unemployment on the one hand and a lack of qualified employees on the other.
By the middle of the next decade, we will be short one million university graduates and up to 500,000 highly qualified workers. But more and better education costs money. We have to significantly increase our investments in education in the coming years. To finance this, top earners should make a contribution to show their solidarity. This will increase the quality of education and training in our country.
While travelling through Germany, I met people who work in companies, research institutes and associations that are striving to create the jobs of tomorrow. In Jena, in Ulm, in Braunschweig and in Chemnitz. Or even in Dortmund – it doesn't matter where, it's possible anywhere. Because these individuals don't back down. They're inspired by their ideas. They prove to me that we can achieve ambitious goals in Germany. That full employment is possible. We can't give up on that goal – especially not now!
Frank-Walter Steinmeier is Germany's foreign minister and the Social Democratic Party's candidate to become chancellor in this September's general election. Translation by The Local.