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Shortage of tradespeople in Germany leading to illegal labour

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Shortage of tradespeople in Germany leading to illegal labour
A tradesman builds a wall in Ingolstadt, Bavaria. Photo: DPA
12:54 CEST+02:00
Bricking, painting and tiling for all they are worth, tradespeople have so much to get done that jobs often take longer than expected and they simply cannot take on any more work. A lack of tradespeople is leading to frustration throughout Germany.

In Stuttgart, Katharina Lϋssen is completely fed up. For a whole month she has been painstakingly searching for craftspeople to renovate her airy Altbau apartment.

She rang nine decorators; six immediately said no, two promised to send someone for a quote but they never materialized, and one came to the flat but then gave her an “unrealistic quote, way above the fair market price," she says.

The marketing manager, who requested that DPA not use her real name, earns a good wage and never wanted to have to resort to using undeclared workers, but in the end gave up.

“I simply couldn’t find anyone," says the 51-year-old.

The blatant lack of tradespeople in Germany is obvious at every turn. Order books are jam-packed and customers are often waiting for weeks on end for their work to get started.

“Appointments with medical specialists often seem easier to get than a plumber,” says Claus Michelsen, an economic expert at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW). “Customers are becoming increasingly frustrated with long waiting times and big bills,” he says.

The Architectural Association of Baden-Wϋrttemberg is receiving a similar message from its members. “Local colleagues are complaining that they are having to wait months for tradespeople to complete their orders,” says Jochen Stoiber, who works for the association as an expert in architecture and technology.

This is an even bigger problem for public construction projects than for private customers." Jobs have to be put out to public tender and sometimes not a single bidder applies,” says Stoiber.

The association has also known cases where “there is an offer, but it is formulated in such a way that makes it clear that it comes from a fully booked out tradesperson who does not actually want the job.”

In the industry, the problem has been recognized for years. In 2017, the Central Association of German Trades (ZDH) cited statistics from the Federal Employment Agency to report that there were around 150,000 tradesperson jobs that needed to be filled across Germany. In fact, they suggested that the number is “probably even higher, because not all vacancies are even reported to the employment office.” Every year there is a shortage of between 15,000 and 20,000 apprentices in tradesmanship.

An electrician carries out a demonstration in class in Eberswalde, Brandenburg. Photo: DPA

Michelsen notes that the result of this is that tradespeople are scarce and “can select which jobs they want and raise their prices”. The years of undercutting competitors prices are long gone. “There is definitely no price competition anymore,” confirms Stoiber.

Does all of this have a consequence for the reputation of tradespeople or the quality of their work? The Baden-Wϋrttemberg consumer advice centre does not think so.

“Of course, it is very difficult to find a tradesperson,” says Matthias Bauer from the construction and housing department. “But I cannot confirm that there is an increase in the number of badly executed jobs.” The number of complaints about poor work or unfair invoices remains unchanged at around 500 a year.

However, he does acknowledge that the growing deadline pressure is leaving a mark on companies. “The higher prices and longer waiting times are tarnishing the image of tradespeople.” Bauer is worried that the number of dubious businesses could rise. “People who do not have the relevant qualifications but then carry out, for example, electrical work.”

However, Michelsen does not believe that undeclared workers will benefit in the long term due to the current shortage of workers, and Bernhard Boockmann of the Tϋbingen Institute for Applied Economic Research (IAW) also denies that this will become a problem. Although, he does suggest that “due to the high demand more companies, especially from Eastern Europe, are entering the German market”.

In the meantime, Lϋssen’s apartment has been painted. “The Polish handyman was very reliable and did a good job. His work cost €20 per hour,” she says. She plans to call him again when she has more work to be done.

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