Germany and Poland compete to fill labour gaps

Already desperately short of workers, Polish businesses are worried that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians on whom they have come to rely may be tempted by higher wages further west as neighbouring Germany opens its doors.

Germany and Poland compete to fill labour gaps
A new draft legislation aims to attact skilled vocational workers from abroad. Photo: DPA

“The panic is affecting mainly businesses in the farming and construction sectors relying on Ukrainian workers,” Krzysztof Inglot, head of the Personnel Service employment agency, told AFP.

“People are often illegally employed in these sectors and these workers will go to Germany,” said Inglot, whose agency recruited 9,000 Ukrainians on behalf of Polish employers.

“But for those who are legally employed in Poland, there will be less incentive to move given the higher cost of living in Germany,” he added.

With many working for a few months and then going home, it is difficult to pin down exactly how many Ukrainians work in Poland, but cautious estimates suggest more than a million.

They fill a yawning labour gap that emerged when some two million Poles sought better-paid jobs in western Europe, mainly Britain and Germany, after their country joined the EU in 2004.

Poland's Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers (ZPP) first sounded the alarm about a possible fresh labour exodus in November when it got wind of German moves to open the job market of the EU's largest economy to non-EU nationals.

SEE ALSO: 'Historic Day' as Germany takes step forward in relaxing rules for foreign workers

Eagerly anticipated by German business groups, the draft legislation aims to attract from abroad skilled vocational workers with German language skills and promises them eased visa procedures and reduced red tape.

Those looking jobs such as cooks, metallurgy workers or IT technicians would be allowed to come for six months to try and find employment, provided they can financially support themselves.

The Bundestag is expected to consider the legislation later this year.

Official statistics show that around 140,000 Ukrainians currently work in Germany, although the real number is likely higher as those who have obtained Polish visas can cross into Germany, where salaries can be up to three times higher depending on the type of job.

Worst-case scenario

With their workforces ageing, Poland and Germany are competing to fill labour gaps experts believe are bound to grow in the coming decades.

Poland has experienced expansion each year since it shed communism in 1989 and is one of the EU's fastest growing economies.

While its right-wing PiS government forecasts a 3.8 percent growth in 2018, international institutions like the OECD are more bullish, predicting 5.2 percent but warn that a labour crunch could slow that to 3.3 percent by 2020.

But according to a worst-case scenario set forth by Polish employers, Poland's GDP could decline by an estimated 1.6 percent should half a million Ukrainian workers leave.

Germany currently has 1.2 million vacancies on its labour market.

The nation of 81 million people is expected to need 12 million new workers over the next three decades.

The ZPP employers association estimates Poland, which currently has a population of 38 million, will need five million migrant workers by 2050.


For many Ukrainians, working abroad has become a lifeline.

Living standards in Ukraine are well below that of its western neighbours and the nation is struggling with the economic and social fallout of an armed separatist conflict in its east.

Officials estimate 3.2 million of the country's 45 million population have permanent jobs abroad while seven to nine million find work on a seasonal basis.

They sent about 10 billion back home to their families last year, according to Sergei Fursa, a Ukrainian economist working for Dragon Capital investments.

Poland is a popular destination for Ukrainians seeking work abroad because it is close and has a similar culture and language.

“Poland is our first natural destination,” Igor, a bicycle mechanic who has been working in Warsaw for four years, told AFP.

“The language is easier for us than German or English, it's closer to home, we can make friends easily.”

But higher wages are tempting many to leave.

Nearly 40 percent of Ukrainians working in Poland said they are considering seeking work in Western Europe, according to a survey by the OTTO Work Force employment agency quoted by Poland's Rzeczpospolita daily.

To avert a possible exodus, the ZPP wants the government to streamline procedures for hiring foreigners, to offer them permanent residence and even a path to citizenship.

Poland is slated to extend work visas from the current six months to a full year, Inglot said, adding that he hopes for a further extension to 18 months.

Similar measures are being prepared or have already been adopted in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, two smaller EU economies that are reliant on car production and are also facing shortfalls of workers.

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How easy is it to get an English-speaking job in Germany?

Lots of foreigners in Germany hope to get a job or climb the career ladder. But are there still opportunities for English speakers who don't have fluent German? We spoke to a careers expert to find out.

How easy is it to get an English-speaking job in Germany?

The pandemic turned our lives upside down. As well as having to isolate and be apart from family members, many people found themselves in need of a new job or decided they want a change in career. 

If you’re in Germany or thinking of moving here, job searching is of course easier with German language skills. But many people haven’t had the chance to learn German – or their German isn’t fluent enough to work in a German-only environment.

So how easy is it to find a job in Germany as an English speaker?

We asked Düsseldorf-based career coach Chris Pyak, managing director of Immigrant Spirit GmbH, who said he’s seen an increase in job offers. 

“The surprising thing about this pandemic is that demand for skilled labour actually got even stronger,” Pyak told The Local.

“Instead of companies being careful, they’ve hired even more than they did before. And the one thing that happened during the pandemic that didn’t happen in the last 10 years I’ve observed the job market was that the number of English offers quadrupled.”

READ ALSO: How to boost your career chances in Germany

Pyak said usually about one percent of German companies hire new starts in English. “Now it’s about four percent,” said Pyak. 

“This happened in the second half of 2021. This is a really positive development that companies are more willing than they used to be. That said it’s still only four percent.”

Pyak said he’s seen a spike in demand for data scientists and analysts as well as project managers. 

So there are some jobs available, but can foreigners do anything else?

Pyak advises non-Germans to sell themselves in a different way than they may be used to. 

A woman works on her CV in Germany.

A woman works on her CV in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

“In your home country you have a network, you have a company you used to work for that people know,” said Pyak. “This might be partly the case in Germany if you worked for an international company. But for most employers you are a blank sheet of paper, they know nothing about you. So unfortunately if they don’t know you or your country, they will assume you are worse (at the job) than Germans. It’s completely unjustified but it’s just how people are. 

“Get the employer to see you as the individual person you are, the professional you are. This requires that you have a conversation with somebody inside the company, ideally the decision maker, meaning the hiring manager or someone in this team.”

Pyak said it’s important to go into details. 

“Don’t think of me as a foreigner, think of me as ‘Mark who has been working in IT for 15 years’,” said Pyak. “Don’t read the job advert (to the manager), ask them what his or her biggest worry is and why is that important? And then dig deeper and offer solutions based on your work experience. Share actual examples where you proved that you can solve this problem.”

READ ALSO: 7 factors that can affect how much you’re getting paid

Pyak says foreigners in Germany can convince managers that they are right for the job – even if their German isn’t great. 

“What I advise clients at the beginning of the interview is to ask very politely if you can ask them (managers) a question. And this question should be: how will you know that I’m successful in this job, what is the most important problem I need to solve for you in order to make myself valuable? And then ask why this problem is so important. And the answer to that achieves a million things for you – first of all you’ve established a measurement by which you should be measured. 

“Then when you get into detailed discussion you can always tie your answer back to the question you can solve, which usually makes up 70 or 80 percent of the job. If you can solve this problem then what does it matter if you do the job in German or English?”

So in answer to our original question – it seems that getting an English-speaking job in Germany can’t be described as easy but it is very possible especially if you have the skills in your chosen field. Plus there are ways to increase your chances. Good luck!