How to replace retiring baby boomers

German companies are battling labour shortages across all sectors thanks to the fast ageing population. From using robots, to immigration, to developing new job models, is there a solution?

How to replace retiring baby boomers
Not enough people to carry Germany's workforce. Photo: DPA

Only about half of Germany’s retiring baby boomer population will be replaced by a new generation in the job market, leaving employers needing to find new ways to compensate for too few workers. 

One way to do this is to introduce new working models for people who would otherwise have difficulty with traditional office hours.

“Companies have to be aware of what they can do to be an attractive employer,”said Oliver Stettes, an analyst at the Cologne Institute for Economic Research. 

“Companies will have to adjust to the needs of the labour force, such as offering flexible working hours, especially for parents or for people with relatives needing care, as well as solid chances of ascending the company ladder.”

Mind the talent gap

Other employers are taking different approaches. Volkswagen recently announced the possibility of replacing its retiring personnel – around 32,000 in the next 15 years with – robots.  

And schools are increasingly recruiting teachers from other disciplines, while pro-immigration politicians have repeatedly stressed the need to attract more migrants to narrow the gap.

But many German firms are not reacting fast enough – if at all – to cover the shortfall.

Human resources consulting group Manpower published a study on the worldwide talent shortage in May, where 1,000 German companies were surveyed.

Around 40 percent of those German firms said they were having trouble finding suitable candidates for vacancies, while over 50 percent said they fear damage to their competitiveness as a result of talent shortages.

And 56 percent said they were employing strategies to combat the shortage.

One such strategy is hiring people who might not necessarily have the right qualifications on paper, but the potential to train to acquire them. But only 13 percent of the companies surveyed did this.  

Hire now, train later

Stettes said this has to change, especially considering the untapped potential that exists.

“Around 7.5 million people in Germany have no formal qualifications,” he said. “Companies have to recognize the possibility of hiring people who might not have the perfect qualifications at the outset, but are trainable, instead of waiting for the best of the best, and having to compete with bigger companies such as Daimler or Bosch.”

Sonja Christ-Brendemühl, Manpower’s spokesperson in Germany, said the reluctance to let go of formal qualifications as a hiring requirement was about mindset.

“It’s a mentality issue,” said Christ-Brendemühl. “Most companies still think one needs to have had an apprenticeship in payroll accounting to be a payroll accountant.”

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Another option is job-sharing or hiring more part-time workers which 16 percent of the 1,000 German companies questioned said they did.  

“I think the measures would be sufficient, if they were actually being taken,” said Christ-Brendemühl. “Around 44 percent of companies we surveyed were not doing anything at all to respond to the labour shortage.”

Here to stay?

However, Holger Schäfer, a senior economist also working for the Cologne Institute for Economic Research, said the chips had fallen long ago, and the labour shortage was here to stay.

All these measures taken together cannot correct an uneven demographic. Immigration might have, he said, as it is fastest way to plug holes in the workforce, as training and the introduction of new technology all take years. But Germany is still not an immigration country.

“All these measures won’t be enough," he said. 

by Janelle Dumalaon

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TEST: Could you pass the German citizenship exam?

Obtaining German citizenship involves clearing numerous hurdles - including a multiple-choice citizenship test that will quiz you on your knowledge of German history, culture, geography and politics. Could you pass it?

TEST: Could you pass the German citizenship exam?

The German passport is one of the most powerful in the world – but getting your hands on one is no mean feat. 

Alongside strict residency and language requirements, people who want to become a naturalised German citizenship will have to sit an exam known as the Einbürgerungstest (Citizenship Test).

The exam is designed to ensure that migrants understand important aspects of Germany’s political system, like the rights enshrined in the constitution, and can deal with aspects of day to day life and culture in the Bundesrepublik.

READ ALSO: TEST: Is your German good enough for citizenship or permanent residency?

Additionally, there are usually questions on important milestones in German history such as the Second World War and the GDR, and you may encounter some geography questions and questions on the European Union as well. 

The test is in German and consists of 33 questions: 30 questions on Germany in general, and three related to the specific federal state you live in. 

It’s all in German, so people sitting the exam need to be fairly confident with their reading skills – but since it’s multiple choice, writing skills thankfully aren’t required. 

Though this may sound daunting, people are given a full hour to complete the test – and, anecdotally, most tend to finish much more quickly than that. You also only need to score 17 out of 33 (so just over 50 percent) to pass.

In addition, there are only a set number of questions that the Citizenship Test alternates between. You can find a list of all of them (in German) here, and also take a German-language practice test here.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How I got German citizenship – and how you can too

If you’d like to test your knowledge in English, however, we’ve put together a representative list of 16 questions to get you started. Viel Glück! (Good luck!)