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.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


EXPLAINED: How Germany plans to make immigration easier for skilled workers

The German government has agreed on a set of reforms for the immigration of skilled workers, which was approved by the cabinet on Wednesday. Here's what they're planning.

EXPLAINED: How Germany plans to make immigration easier for skilled workers

What’s happening?

Germany is currently facing a dramatic skilled worker shortage, particularly in the health sector, IT, construction, architecture, engineering and building services. The German government currently expects that, by 2026, there will be 240,000 jobs for which there will be no qualified candidates.

In order to help plug the gap in the labour market, the coalition government has been proposing changes to immigration law for months.

In September, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil presented plans for a new points-based immigration system, that will enable non-EU workers to come to Germany to look for work even without a job offer, as long as they fulfil certain criteria, under a so-called “Opportunity Card” (Chancenkarte) scheme.

READ ALSO: Explained: How to apply for Germany’s new ‘opportunity card’ and other visas for job seekers

Now, the coalition government has agreed on a wide-ranging set of initiatives to help remove hurdles for skilled workers coming to Germany. The points were approved by the cabinet on Wednesday, who should then come up with a draft law in the first quarter of 2023.

What’s in the plans?

The central aim of the government’s plans is to make it easier for people from outside the EU to find a job in Germany.

In the draft paper, ministers distinguish between three so-called pillars, the first of which concerns the requirements that foreign specialists must meet in order to be allowed to work in Germany.

Until now, they have had to have a recognized degree and an employment contract, but the government wants to lower this hurdle.

The draft states: “For specialists who are unable to present documents relating to their professional qualifications or can only do so in part, for reasons for which they themselves are not responsible, an entry and residence option should nevertheless be created.” The competencies could then be finally examined once they have arrived in Germany.

A trainee electrician practices in a training centre in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Berg

The second pillar involves skilled workers from abroad who do not yet have a degree but already have a lot of professional experience.

For employees in the information and communications technology sector, the requirement of having sufficient German language skills would be waived, and it would then be up to the managers of the company making the job offer to decide whether or not they want to employ the skilled worker despite a lack of German language skills. 

READ ALSO: ‘More jobs in English’: How Germany could attract international workers

The third pillar is about enabling third-country nationals with good potential to stay in Germany in order to find a job. The “Opportunity Card” falls under this pillar and will involve a new points-based system, which will allow non-EU nationals to come to Germany to look for work even without a job offer as long as they fulfil at least three of the criteria of having a degree or professional qualification, having experience of at least three years, having a language skill or previous residence in Germany and are under 35.

READ ALSO: How to apply for Germany’s new opportunity card and other visas for job seekers

What other initiatives do the plans include?

The traffic light coalition also wants to do more to promote Germany as an attractive, innovative and diverse country abroad.

One initiative is to publicise job vacancies internationally and connect qualified people abroad with employers and educational institutions in Germany. 

READ ALSO: Will immigration reform be enough to combat Germany’s worker shortage?

The “Make it in Germany” portal, which has its own job exchange, will be expanded and further developed.

The government also wants to promote the German language both abroad and at home for example, by expanding digital language courses and exams.

The government also wants to simplify and accelerate the recognition procedures for foreign vocational qualifications. One of the planned measures is that the required documents can also be accepted in English or in the original language.