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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EXPLAINED: How can Brits visit or move to Germany post-Brexit?

Many Brits may be considering spending time in Germany or even moving for work or to study. Here's a look at the rules.

EXPLAINED: How can Brits visit or move to Germany post-Brexit?

The Brexit transition period ended on January 1st 2021, but it’s been a turbulent few years with Covid-related restrictions, which mean many people may not have travelled abroad since then. Here’s what you should know about the rules for travelling and moving to Germany post-Brexit. 

Can I visit Germany from the UK on holiday?

Absolutely. But you do have to stick to certain rules on how long you can stay in Germany (and other EU countries) without a visa.

“British citizens do not require a visa for the Schengen Member States, if the duration of their stay does not exceed 90 days within any 180-day period,” says the German Missions consular service in the UK. 

You can find a full explanation of the 90-day rule from our sister site, The Local France, HERE, along with the Schengen calculator that allows you to work out your allowance.

READ ALSO: Passport scans and €7 fees: What will change for EU travel in 2022 and 2023

Note that if you were living in Germany before January 1st 2021, different rules apply. People in this scenario should have received a residence permit – known as the Aufenthaltstitel-GB – from the German authorities, which proves their right to remain in Germany with the same rights as they had before Brexit. 

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

Can I move to Germany from the UK after the Brexit transition period?

Yes. But if you are coming to Germany to live and work, you will need to apply for the right documents, like other so-called ‘third country nationals’. All foreigners from outside the EU who want to to stay in Germany for more than three months have to get a residence permit (Aufenthaltstitel). 

As we touched on above, citizens from some countries (including the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, Israel, New Zealand and Switzerland) are allowed entry into Germany without a visa and can apply for a residence permit while in the country. You can contact the Foreigners Office (Ausländerbehörde) in your area to find out how to get a residence permit.

You’ll need various official documents, such as a valid passport, proof of health insurance and proof that you can support yourself. You usually receive your residence permit as a sticker in your passport.

Passengers wait at Hamburg airport.

Passengers at Hamburg airport. Brits coming to Germany have more things to consider after Brexit. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Markus Scholz

Germany has a well-documented skilled worker shortage at the moment so there are work permit options to consider that may suit your circumstances. 

For the work visa for qualified professionals, for instance, your qualifications have to be either recognised in Germany or comparable to those from a German higher education facility. 

You may also be able to get an EU Blue Card. This residence permit is aimed at attracting and enabling highly qualified third-country nationals to live in the EU. 

It comes with benefits, including the right to to request and bring family members to the country, and shortcuts for applying for permanent residency. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How German citizenship differs from permanent residency

When applying for a Blue Card in Germany this year, you have to earn a minimum gross salary (before tax) of €56,400 – down from €56,800 in 2021. 

In so-called shortage occupations (Mangelberufe), where there is a high number of unfilled positions, the minimum gross salary is €43,992 – down from €44,304 in 2021.

Shortage occupations include employees in the sectors of mathematics, IT, natural sciences, engineering and medicine.

If you want to come to Germany from the UK to study then you also need to apply for a visa. For this you may need proof of acceptance to the university or higher education institution of your choice and possibly proof of your German language skills.

Check out the useful government website Make it in Germany for more detailed information, as well as the German Missions in the UK site, which has lots of info on travel after Brexit, and on visas.  

What else should I know?

The German government plans to reform the immigration system, although it’s not clear at this stage when this will happen. 

It will move to a points-based system, inspired by countries like Canada, where foreigners will have to score above a certain threshold of points to get a residence or work permit.

This scoring system will be set by the government, but it will include factors like language skills, family connections to the country, specific qualifications or work-related skills, or the amount of money in your bank account.

Keep an eye on The Local’s home page for updates on the changes to immigration laws. 

Have you moved to Germany – or are thinking about moving – after the Brexit transition period and want to share your experiences? Please get in touch by emailing [email protected]