Red alert on the skilled worker market – strengthening educational and economic migration

Friedrich Hubert Esser

Dear readers

The figures spell things out clearly. Training place supply and demand dropped significantly, even during the first year of coronavirus in 2020. We recorded a decrease of 57,600 training contracts. This represents an eleven percent fall compared to the previous year. The situation had eased slightly by the end of the second year of the pandemic, but the turning point we eagerly anticipated cannot be said to have been reached. The number of newly concluded training contracts rose only marginally (by 1.2%). We are a clear ten percent below the level of 2019, the last pre-coronavirus year. My conclusion is that the training market remained firmly in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic in 2021.

An absence of trainees today means a shortage of skilled workers tomorrow

The recovery that was still expected in the summer of 2020 unfortunately failed to materialise to the extent that was hoped. Uncertainty amongst companies and young people was and remains high. The further decline on the demand side is a particular cause for concern. An absence of trainees today means a shortage of skilled workers in the same areas tomorrow.

In a recent report, the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) confirmed that companies are once more experiencing a shortage of skilled workers. This development has occurred more rapidly and more extensively than many people foresaw. The training situation is increasingly becoming a business risk for firms. The macroeconomic harm is immense. The DIHK assumes that GDP will fall by just under 2.5 percent. But this is not all – the shortage of qualified skilled workers is now jeopardising the objectives the Federal Government has set itself as part of the transformation process. The keywords in this regard are digital transformation, climate change, energy transition and sustainable business practices. As analyses conducted by BIBB show, there is a high degree of specific relevance in the construction sector. This is an industry which is facing extreme challenges in the form of rising housing requirements, the necessity of restoring existing stock, infrastructure interventions in the area of digital, energy and transport transformation and energy measures. Many skilled workers are approaching retirement, and their urgently needed young replacements are not materializing. What can be done?

Migration policy as a means of securing a supply of skilled workers

Remedying this situation will be an educational and economic policy of the very highest priority. One thing is already certain – we will need to display staying power! This makes it even more important to look at instigating an immigration policy which will strengthen educational and economic migration and will thus be able to make a key contribution to securing a supply of qualified skilled workers. The new Federal Government has already set out the initial cornerstones for this in its coalition agreement. The aim is to develop immigration rights further on the basis of tried-and-tested legal provisions. The tempo at which qualifications acquired abroad are recognised needs to be stepped up, and the procedures in this area should be accelerated. However, general conditions formulated at a policy level must be imbued with life in practice. First and foremost, this will involve creating a welcoming culture at companies and establishing a socialisation which will foster and support a willingness to undergo continuing training on the part of the migrant workers in particular. A focused approach is necessary at all levels! In order for this to happen, every stakeholder will have to understand that there is a red alert on the skilled worker market!

Prof. Dr. Friedrich Hubert Esser
President of BIBB

Translation from the German original (published in BWP 1/2022): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin

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