Germany struggles to find skilled workers

As Germany's robust economic recovery continues, the country’s companies are finding it increasingly hard to find enough skilled workers. Kyle James reports on the impending labour shortage.

Germany struggles to find skilled workers
Photo: DPA

A recent study by the German Chamber of Commerce found that Europe’s largest economy lacks about 400,000 skilled workers. The need is especially acute in the engineering, high-tech and health care sectors.

“If you don’t have the right people, less is produced and in the short and long term that will have a real effect on the country’s economic growth,” said Stefan Hardege, head of the labour market research department at the Chamber of Commerce.

Bernd Völcker, a founder and the marketing director of the Berlin-based web services firm Infopark, has been experiencing the problem first hand. His business has been doing well over the past year and he would like to hire at least ten new employees. But that is proving difficult, and time consuming.

“We can’t fill the open positions that we have quickly, sometimes it takes months,” he said. “We can’t grow as fast as we would like to and in the worst case, it means we have to turn down work that comes our way.”

The German high-tech industry association BITKOM estimates there are about 28,000 unfilled positions in the IT sector, primarily in software development and support. In health care, an increasingly important sector for Germany’s greying society, the situation is worse – some 50,000 additional workers are needed.

The long-term prognosis is not good, especially due to demographic developments. Germany’s birthrate is about 1.4 babies per woman, well under the rate to maintain current population levels.

“When older workers retire and there are fewer young ones to take their place, this problem is just going to get worse,” said Hardege of the Chamber of Commerce.

Much worse, in fact. The Chamber estimates the shortage could grow around 10 percent annually, meaning by 2030 the country could need some 2.7 million skilled workers it doesn’t have.

One way labour experts say Germany can tackle the problem is by recruiting more experts from abroad, but that has proven to be a challenge. A survey and report published in November by Germany’s Federal Institute for Population Research showed that the country was not all that attractive to foreign workers. On a scale of one (attractive) to five (unattractive), Germany scored a middling 2.8.

“We have to change that and get rid of red tape for those who are really going to help our economy. We have to make their start in Germany easier,” said Lars Funk of the German Engineering Association, a group which is especially worried about recent developments. Some 45,000 engineers retire every year while only about 40,000 young people graduate with German engineering degrees.

According to the report, a main problem with attracting skilled immigrants is the language. German is not an international language like English, and is not as popular with foreigners as French is, for example.

The country could also simplify confusing rules around visas and work permits as well as recognize more university degrees from overseas, the report recommended. In addition, a recent undertone of anti-immigrant sentiment hasn’t helped matters. Labour experts say the country needs to be more welcoming all around.

But there are those who have come to Germany who say the country has welcomed them just fine. Cade McCall moved to Leipzig from Santa Barbara, California last fall to work as a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences.

His integration into the workplace and life in Leipzig has been problem free, he said. According to him, Germany likely hasn’t performed well in surveys because it hasn’t sold itself like it should.

“My guess would be that that’s branding, that Germany isn’t as chic as everything else that showed up higher on the list,” he said.

That raises the issue of whether Germany needs some more aggressive PR, something like the UK’s ‘Cool Britannia’ campaign from the 1990s. It presented the country as fashionable, hip and on the cutting edge of music with the then-popular Britpop movement – a rebirth of “Swinging London.”

What the German equivalent might be is anyone’s guess.

“‘Germany – now it’s funny’?” suggested McCall. “‘Now we have a sense of humour’, something like that.”

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What to do if you lose your residence permit in Germany

Third-country nationals with the right to live and work in Germany are generally issued a residence permit in their passport or in the form of an ID card. But what do you if you happen to lose this vital document - or if it gets stolen? Here's a step-by-step guide.

What to do if you lose your residence permit in Germany

Losing an important document can be a nightmare scenario for foreigners in Germany – especially if it’s the one you rely on to live and work in the country. So if you search for your residence permit one day and suddenly realise it’s missing, you may feel the urge to panic. 

Luckily, there’s a process to follow to get a replacement and ensure nobody else can misuse your residence permit in the meantime. This being Germany, it may take a little time, but rest assured you will be able to replace the document. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

Different types of permit

If you’re a non-EU national in Germany, you’re likely to have one of two documents proving your rights and status in the country: 

  • a residence permit that’s placed on a page in your passport (Zusatzblatt zum Aufenthaltstitel), or
  • an electronic ID, or eID, card (electronischer Aufenthaltstitel) for permanent residents. 

Some third-country nationals who’ve been in Germany for less than five years on a visa will have their residence permit in their passport, while others will have been issued an eID card. Permanent residents will generally have an eID card. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to prove you’re a resident in Germany

Brits who lived in Germany before the Brexit cut-off date are likely to have a special type of electronic ID card known as an Aufenthaltstitel-GB. This looks pretty similar to a permanent residence card and basically signifies that the holder is entitled to the same rights as EU citizens living in Germany. 

You’ll need to do things slightly differently depending on which type of residence permit you have, so we’ll cover each in turn. 

In either case, if you suspect you’ve been a victim of theft, it’s a good idea to file a police report so they can be on the lookout for any potential fraud. 

What to do you if you lose your electronic ID card

1. Call the cancellation hotline 

If you’ve mislaid your eID card or it’s been stolen, the first thing to do is call up a national hotline on 01801 33 33 33 and put a block on the card.

To do this, you’ll need to have your Sperrkennwort (blocking passport) handy. The way you’ll have received this can differ from state to state, but usually it is sent out in a letter along with the PIN and PUK for your electronic ID card around the time that the eID was issued. 

This will block anyone from using your eID function. If you find your card again, you can unblock it by visiting the Ausländerbehörde. 

If you haven’t activated the eID function or happen to have mislaid your blocking password as well, then move straight to the second step below. 

READ ALSO: What is Germany’s electronic ID card and how do you use it?

2. Get in touch with the Ausländerbehörde (Foreigner’s Office)

Once you’ve put a block on your card, you’ll need to get in touch with the Ausländerbehörde to let them know what’s happened and arrange a replacement card.

You can do this via email or telephone but may also have to book an in-person appointment if they need to see certain documents for issuing the replacement. If you need to block the eID function and don’t have your Sperrkennwort, you’ll need to take your passport to the Ausländerbehörde to do this.

Bear in mind that you won’t get your new ID card straight away. Depending on the state, it can take a up to three months to be issued. You’ll also need to pay a fee for the replacement card, which can vary from state to state and is normally paid with cash or EC card at the Ausländerbehörde. 

Also, once an order for a new card has been sent off, you’ll no longer be able to reactivate your old card should you find it again. 

Ausländerbehörde Berlin

People go in and out of the Ausländerbehörde in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance / Kay Nietfeld/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

What to do if you lose your passport and visa 

1. Order a new passport 

It probably goes without saying, but if you lose your passport with your residence permit in it, the first thing you’ll need to do is get hold of a new passport. This should be done via the government of your home country. 

2. Book an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde

Once you’ve got your new passport, make an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde to get a replacement printed out. If you’re unsure what documentation to bring with you to the appointment, check on their website or send them an email beforehand.

Once again, you’ll need to pay a fee for the replacement, which is normally done on-site with cash or an EC card. 

What if I’m travelling out of the country soon? 

If you’re leaving Germany and don’t have time to get a replacement eID card or residence permit, contact the Ausländerbehörde straight away. They should be able to assist you with emergency proof of residence, which is normally done in the form of a Fiktionsbescheinigung (a certificate confirming your status and rights before the official proof has been issued).

Obviously, if you’ve lost your passport, your first port of call will be your home country’s embassy, who can normally issue emergency travel documents within a matter of days. 

For Brits covered by the Withdrawal Agreement, bringing other proof of residence in Germany such as your registration (Anmeldung) with you or a work contract should suffice to avoid getting a stamp in your passport when you re-enter. But even if you do, it won’t affect your rights.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that there are no hard borders in Schengen, so if you’re travelling around the EU, you’ll generally be fine without your visa. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: How can I re-enter Germany without my post-Brexit residence card?