Germany struggles with growing worker shortage

Germany is grappling with a growing worker shortage across the entire job market.

A notice board in front says a restaurant in Schwerin is looking for staff in the service and kitchen areas.
A notice board in front says a restaurant in Schwerin is looking for staff in the service and kitchen areas. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Büttner

In the first quarter of this year, the shortage of skilled workers in Germany reached record levels.

In March the number of vacancies rose to a new high of 558,000, said the Competence Centre for Securing Skilled Labour (KOFA) last month. 

It means that the skilled labour gap widened by 88,000 vacancies within just three months.

As The Local has been reporting, Germany has been trying to plug its worker gap. In 2020 the government eased some immigration laws to help attract workers – and the new government plans to go even further. 

READ ALSO: What Germany’s plans for a points-based immigration system means for foreigners

In order to deal with labour shortages, Germany needs around 400,000 new workers every year, according to the Federal Employment Agency.

Job vacancies across the board

According to the recent study by KOFA, the growing shortage of skilled workers is affecting the entire labour market.

However, the shortages are particularly large in the health, social services, teaching and education sectors, as well as in the construction, architecture, engineering, surveying, and building services.

A sign on a Frankfurt restaurant says staff are being sought.

A sign on a Frankfurt restaurant says staff are being sought. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

READ ALSO: 10 things you need to know about Germany’s law to attract skilled foreign workers

In the areas of health, social services, teaching and education alone, around six out of 10 jobs are unfilled.

There are also above average vacancies in the fields of raw material extraction, production and manufacturing, natural sciences, geography and IT, as well as agriculture, forestry and horticulture.

The number of vacancies for qualified applicants in aviation and energy technology occupations has also increased sharply recently.

Another study – the KfW-ifo Skilled Workers Barometer May 2022 – also said economic sectors are affected by shortages, including legal and tax advisors plus auditors. 

“The shortage of skilled workers has again become a growing challenge for Germany’s future,” said the KFW research.

“A large proportion of companies are affected. Tensions in international trade relations and disruptions in supply chains will continue to put pressure on the export economy, on which about a quarter of all jobs in Germany depend.

EXPLAINED: The 25 most in-demand jobs in Germany

“At the same time, the shortage of skilled workers in important sectors of the economy such as the skilled trades or health care is expected to worsen due to demographic change. And digitalisation will have a major influence on which skills will be in demand in the future.”

Festivals call for staff

Other industries are also affected by staff shortages. Festival organisers as well as restaurant, cafe and bar managers in Germany are struggling to fill positions.

Part of the problem was that lockdowns and closures saw hospitality staff endure months of Kurzarbeit (reduced working hours) in 2020 and 2021. By the time the bars, cafes and restaurants reopened, many had found work in different sectors or were reluctant to return to them. 

Long hours, anti-social times of work, unstable contracts and lower pay also generally make the hospitality sector less attractive to potential employees. 

Some festivals in Germany are even having to beg for workers this summer. 

At the end of April, the organisers of the “Umsonst & Draußen” festival in Würzburg made a dramatic appeal to the public – they called for 300 workers to help put the festival on. 

Organiser Ralf Duggen said that students, who usually take summer jobs, were not coming forward to work after two years of cancelled festivals. 

READ ALSO: Working in Germany – 7 factors that can affect how much you’re paid


Skilled workers – (die) Fachkräfte

Vacancies – (die) offenen Stellen

Skilled labour gap – (die) Fachkräftelücke

Above average – überdurchschnittlich

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

Member comments

  1. As an EU-educated midwife with a BSc and MSc (so much more highly qualified than the German apprenticeship program), I cannot work here until I have a B2 German certificate. But recent refugees from the Ukraine, who are not EU educated (i.e. the regulated EU-wide curriculum for registered nurses and midwives) can work right away without a word of German. I fully support this initiative and think it’s great, but surely other skilled workers should have the same rights? In my home country we had Polish nurses coming to us with hardly any English and within a few months of working in an English-speaking environment, they were fluent. I have no doubt the same would be true here for me, but I am not afforded the opportunity while the nation laments about the lack of nurses and midwives. Hmmm.

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Germany looks to foreign workers to ease ‘dramatic’ labour shortage

The German government wants to overhaul immigration policies to alleviate staff shortages across the country, including in the hospitality sector.

Germany looks to foreign workers to ease 'dramatic' labour shortage

German ministers last week announced they would be cutting red tape to allow companies to employ more workers from abroad to ease the aviation and airport staffing crisis that’s causing chaos for travellers.

Now the government is planning to do the same thing for restaurants, bars and hotels – and it could also apply to other sectors. 

“The labour shortage has been greatly exacerbated by the pandemic,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told DPA. 

As well as the aviation industry, Faeser, who belongs to the Social Democrats (SPD), said there was a worrying shortage of labour and skilled workers in the catering and hotel sectors.

“Federal Labour Minister Hubertus Heil and I know that we have to make things easier for foreign workers there,” Faeser said. Together with Heil (SPD), the minister is proposing changes before the end of the year in order “to bring good workers to Germany”.

Due to the extreme employee shortage at German airports, the government promised to cut red tape to make it easier for operators to hire staff temporarily. The workers, who will fill roles in baggage handling as well as other areas, are to be recruited primarily from Turkey.

Passengers flying in Germany have been facing long waits in airports, as well as major flight delays and cancellations. 

READ ALSO: Flight chaos: How Germany wants to relax red tape to recruit foreigners workers

‘Acceptance among the population’

In order to increase Germany’s attractiveness to skilled workers, “several tasks have to be completed”, Faeser explained, adding: “We need faster recognition of professional qualifications and less bureaucracy.”

Faeser said she was working on changing these aspects along with Heil and Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP).

The minister emphasised that foreign workers would receive fair wages. 

Faeser also stressed that while modernising immigration laws, Germany was “paying very close attention to balanced solutions and acceptance among the population”.

READ ALSO: What Germany’s plans for a points-based system means for foreigners

Meanwhile, the leader of the FDP parliamentary group in the Bundestag, Christian Dürr, described the situation on the labour market as “dramatic” and called for “urgently needed immigration at all levels” and improved integration.

“After the phase of ‘guest workers’ (to fill jobs in Germany) in the sixties and seventies, the labour market closed itself off,” he said. “This attitude has never really been broken down.”

Hundreds of thousands of people who have lived in Germany for years have even been kept out of the labour market, he said.

“The opposite must be the case,” he said. “Today the motto must be: everyone who can live from their own work must be allowed to work immediately.”

In this respect, the CDU/CSU-led government made a historic mistake, Dürr said, referring to Angela Merkel’s time in government.

When the baby boomers retire, there will be a further crisis in the labour market, he said.

“It’s about urgently needed immigration at all levels into the labour market,” added Dürr. 

As The Local has been reporting, Germany is also planning to relax citizenship laws as part of its overhaul of immigration policies, which will mean non-EU nationals will be allowed to hold more than one nationality. 

READ ALSO: ‘I finally feel at home’: How Germany’s planned changes to citizenship laws affect foreigners