Shortage of skilled workers almost back to pre-crisis level

Berlin The metal and electrical industry produces more than half of the exports, so it is central to Germany’s international competitiveness. Its around four million employees make a significant contribution to the revenue of the tax authorities and social security funds.

But like other sectors, the key industry is also struggling with staff shortages. According to a study by the competence center for securing skilled workers (Kofa) for the Federal Ministry of Economics, there is a widespread shortage of skilled workers in the metal and electrical trades.

In total, a good 110,000 skilled workers were missing between July 2021 and June 2022. If you include related professions such as plant construction or IT network technology, which are of central importance for the industry, the gap increases by 18,000 people.

The economic downturn that started in mid-2019 and the effects of the corona pandemic have not dampened the demand for labor in the long term. The number of vacancies has been rising again since 2021, so that the shortage of skilled workers in the metal and electrical trades in the period under review is almost back to the pre-crisis level.

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The gap is calculated from the difference between the number of vacancies and the number of unemployed with suitable qualifications. The shortage of skilled workers is particularly pronounced in mechatronics and in the energy and electrical trades.

Big gap in electrical jobs

They are key if the federal government wants to achieve the climate targets it has set itself. Arithmetically, a good seven out of ten vacancies could not be filled here because there were no suitably qualified unemployed nationwide. There is a shortage of 17,000 skilled workers in structural electronics alone.

However, the metal and electronics industry is also reacting to the current economic uncertainty. Companies keep their staff and are reluctant to increase.

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The North Rhine-Westphalian Employers’ Association Metal NRW announced on Thursday that 22 percent of the metal companies in the federal state plan to hire new staff in the next six months. A year ago, almost a third of the companies wanted to increase the number of employees.

As in the economy as a whole, there are mainly skilled workers in the metal and electrical industry vocational training meager. Despite an increase in the number of training places in mechatronics and energy and electrical engineering, for example, the number of new training contracts in the industry has fallen sharply as a result of the corona pandemic.

The number of vacant apprenticeship positions rose sharply between 2011 and 2018 and is stagnating at a high level. “Career orientation at schools is of outstanding importance,” said the general manager of the employers’ association, Oliver Zander, to the Handelsblatt.

Vocational training must be promoted more intensively at all schools. “Unfortunately, a good business and future-oriented career orientation in everyday school life is still the exception.”

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Disappointment about the remaining vacancies could have contributed to the fact that the number of training places in occupations such as metal production and processing, mechanical engineering and vehicle technology has declined. And this despite the fact that the shortage of skilled workers with vocational training is greatest here.

Further training associations of small and medium-sized companies

Because not enough young professionals follow through training, metal and electrical companies are increasingly tapping into other potential. They are also increasingly hiring staff from other professional fields.

While the corresponding number was just under 120,000 employees in 2015, it has risen by 23 percent to 146,000 by 2021. According to the Kofa study, there is also great potential for recruiting qualified personnel in promotions from helper to specialist level. In the mechanical engineering and automotive engineering professions alone, this was achieved in 46,000 cases during the period examined.

Apprenticeship as an industrial mechanic

In metal trades with particularly large staff shortages, the number of training places has declined.

(Photo: imago images/Rupert Oberhäuser)

According to Zander, the metal and electrical industry invests eight billion euros in training and further education every year. And the state is also increasing funding. The Federal Employment Agency (BA) should devote more time to advising and training employees.

In mid-December 2022, the Federal Ministry of Labor also presented its draft law to strengthen training and further education funding. For example, there should be fixed subsidy rates for the qualification of employees and an education period.

>> Read here: Reader Debate: Should Everyone Work Longer to Combat Skills Shortages?

Gesamtmetall General Manager Zander points to the concept of further training associations anchored in the national further training strategy, in which small and medium-sized companies can join forces to share the costs and organization of further training.

According to the Kofa study, there is still great potential for requalification for the unemployed. During the study period, there were almost 60,000 unemployed people who were looking for a job in metal or electrical engineering, but for whom there was no suitable vacancy nationwide in the specific occupation they were looking for.

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