Donnerstag, 7. März 2013

Alleged Shortage of Skilled Labor: An Opportunity for Learning to Appreciate Diversity, Changing the Outdated Hiring Systems

According to “experts,” there is allegedly a shortage of skilled labor* (Fachkräfte) in Germany. Reportedly, the economy is so strong that more workers are needed; a perception that is far from the reality.

Given Germany’s ageing and lessening population, these skilled workers allegedly have to be imported. The hope is to acquire willing employees from Spain and other European countries. Spain’s economy is in a troubled state. However, not many people in Spain will realistically be willing to leave their own country, their families and friends and go to a place, where it is known that opportunities are limited, wages are generally low, and discrimination is a given part of the “workplace culture.”

Germany’s strength is its standing as a Social Welfare State. The country is not exactly known for great career opportunities. It, however, can still be a very attractive place to come to, for people who want to leave a situation that is far worse than Spain, to leave persecution or other situations. Given the inflexibilities, it is less a place to further someone’s career.

Alleged shortage of skilled workers in Germany is a myth that helps present a false image of a strong economy

There is a lack of modern recruiting and hiring practices, appreciation for diversity, flexible work processes, and appropriate wages. There however is no general shortage of workers as communicated in the media and by the employers. An analysis published by the Lower House of the German Parliament (Deutsche Bundestag) confirms this: (Please see page 19).

In the contrary, Germany’s economy from a perspective of job seekers is extremely depressing. Unemployment in reality is high; naturally, much higher than the 7.4% that the statistics suggest (as of 10 March 2013) ( Many people in the country have been looking for full-time work for one year, two years, three years or more. Due to the lack of full-time work, people settle for one, two, or more part-time jobs, if they can find any. The replacement of full-time jobs with part-time ones helps keep the unemployment numbers inaccurately low. Often, even the combination of various jobs does not lead to full-time employment.

If there was such a shortage of workers, salaries would not be as low. Many people who are working full-time can’t even meet the poverty line. The money, to make up the rest of what the workers and their families will need to survive, is given to them by the government.

It is a given that the longer people are unemployed, the more their expectations for a job decrease; if for the unfilled jobs in Germany, no workers can be found, it maybe because the jobs do not meet the minimum requirement for a job. Or the cost associated with taking the job may be so high that someone may financially be better off, not to work at all. A phenomenon, not typical for a strong economy.

Wasting talent due to unprofessional human resource practices and discrimination

Valuable potential gets wasted in Germany due to old-fashioned hiring practices and lack of appreciation for diversity. If talent was that rare, why would it be wasted? It is common knowledge that especially discrimination based on age and gender is very wide-spread in Germany, often even openly talked about. Discrimination based on race, ethnic origin and perceived religion is very common as well. Lack of equal opportunity in the job market is extremely visible and can be easily observed publicly.

Let’s assume for a moment that there was an actual shortage of skilled labor. How are German employers exactly trying to recruit talent? Based on what outlook, given their lack of appropriate human resources practices?

The following resume example ( posted on the website of the federal employment agency as late as 13. February, 2013, suggests including birthdate, place of birth, family status, number and age of children. Since taking effect of the General Equal Treatment Act (German abbreviation AGG) in 2006, this information does not belong on a resume any longer. However, that apparently does not stop the agency from disseminating this information because discrimination, as mentioned above, has been an important tool for hiring in Germany for too long. Such a culture does not change “overnight.”

Discriminatory practices are apparently such a stubborn part of the hiring culture, that candidates during an interview, have the “legal permission” to lie: The option to report discriminatory practices does exist, but lie seems to be better option here.

The question one should ask is: are German companies interested in well-educated workers in general or are they looking for employees who are going to reflect their current work force—white, Germanic people? Maybe that is the reason for the lack of workers; a lack of white employees.   

Low wages, Unrealistic Language Skill Expectations and Lack of Career Opportunities

The current discussion about alleged lack of labor is also an effort to suppress wages even more. Many organizations in Germany either can’t afford to or don’t want to pay appropriate wages to attract well-educated workers. If they have openings that they are not able to fill, it is most likely because they are offering unrealistically low wages and/or have “unrealistic” expectations that even people who are desperate for jobs are not willing to meet.
Another problem with the job market is the language. The language has traditionally been a barrier to integration: ( Alleged lack of language skills has been a popular tool to justify exclusion. This tool is even used against Germans who have been living in the country for decades. If people born and raised in Germany, cannot meet the alleged language requirement, it is most likely, that neither will other people from abroad.

Expatriates who are supposed to come here to work are expected to learn German first: Educated workers who move to another country to work may learn a few words in the language of the country where they will be working for a few years but their priorities are usually not learning another language. They have other priorities and skills that they expect to share.

Strangely, also, expatriates are assumed to stay in Germany for a long time. The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) criticized that “only” half of the “immigrating/migrating workers” stay in Germany longer than three years: . („Die OECD kritisierte auch, dass nur die Hälfte dieser Zuwanderer länger als drei Jahre in Deutschland bleibe.“). Expatriates usually do not go to a country to work with the intention to necessarily immigrate there. They move to a country to work for couple of years and move on.

This assumption that people who come to Germany naturally will not want to leave can be explained by the wide-spread belief in the supremacy of the country. It is apparently a given that people who come here to work, would learn, preferably “perfect,” German and stay here. It is difficult for many people to imagine that people would want to leave after a while. It is however common knowledge, that three years nowadays is a realistic period of time to be in one job.  Mutual potentials are most likely exhausted within that time.

Outdated and inefficient on the job training system

There is one additional problem that needs to be addressed in connection with the inefficient use of workforce. In an effort to keep young people who get out of school “employed,” Germany uses an ineffective training system. This is another measure that is used to boost the employment statistics. It takes i.e. 3 years to learn the job of a salesperson at a bakery. It inarguably does not have to take 3 years to learn how to sell bread. When the job market is saturated with bakery salespersons, a switch is a difficult, if not an unrealistic, option. Another 3 year on the job-training will most likely be required to make the change to another line of work. However, concluding a 3-year training does not guarantee a job. Therefore, a switch maybe a good idea today, but may be outdated by the time the 3-year program is concluded. This outdated and inflexible training system is bad for business, bad for job seekers and bad for the efficiency and productivity of the country. Today’s job market requires an extensive amount of flexibility.

The 3-year job training requirement is also a barrier to diversity and therefore, again, a threat to productivity. It limits the applicant pool to a group of people, less diverse, who concluded a 3-year training at a young age. (These 3-year programs are generally geared toward younger people). The current recruiting and hiring culture makes it almost impossible for people to enter a certain line of work at a later age. These inflexibilities also apply to academics and positions where higher education is required. Talent gets wasted in Germany because for each job, there is an expectation that one needs a certain type of degree. What should matter more are the skills and qualification of a person; which is often not identical with the person’s degree.

If the inflexible job training and hiring systems do not change, Germany will pay a significant price for wasting talents so freely. Even the top talent within the country, will look for opportunities elsewhere and Germany will be left with lesser educated and less diverse people.


Since the end of the WWII, Germany has fatally failed to create a culture that respects diversity and inclusion. In connection with the Gastarbeiter (guest workers) movement in the 60ies, the famous author Max Fritsch said: “[we] asked for employees, [they] sent us people”—The question is, today— is Germany looking for people or workers only? What about if “less desirable” people, instead of people from desirable countries, come and decide to stay here? Will they have equal employment opportunities? Decades later, imported skilled labor and their children—will they too be considered “foreigners” and excluded, because of a lack of equal employment opportunities?

These are the questions that should be answered before aiming to recruit more people to come and work in Germany. It should be common sense that most people are not satisfied with just working some place. They want to be a part of the society where they work and live. They want to contribute and participate. Are we ready to let the “new residents” do that?

*Skilled workers are defined as employees who successfully conclude a job-training program which usually lasts 3 years. The term is used interexchangeably in the public debate today.  

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