Photo Credit: courtesy of Siemens
by Paul Köper, Tobias Sieblitz and Ares Kalandides
The term skilled labour or rather the shortage of such seems to be omnipresent these days. While, for example, the inter-trade organization Bitkom reports that there is a lack of 41.000 IT specialists in Germany, the website of the news magazine Focus goes even bigger. It headlines that soon enough the German economy will be short of millions of skilled workers. According to the media and mainstream politics, it seems like Germany is heading towards a substantial shortage of skilled labor. But is there really an all-encompassing shortage or do we maybe blindly follow a delusion created by economic lobbyists? Tasked with assessing the current and future need of skilled labour for the association “Schönefelder Kreuz” – a coalition of three municipalities in Brandenburg just outside Berlin – Inpolis asked the exact same first question: is there actually a shortage of skilled labor?
Studies like the one of the German Institute for Economic Research seem to confirm the impression of this tremendous shortage. Its authors Sebastian Bußmann and Dr. Susanne Seyda state that there is a clear deficiency of skilled labor in 55 professions: “Most of those 55 professions with a big shortage can be found in the fields of “Health, Social Affairs and Education”, “Energy, Electronics and Mechatronics” and “Logistics and Safety”. According to the study less than 100 unemployed per 100 officially open positions define a strong deficiency. So, even if every open position was indeed reported to the Federal Employment Agency, there wouldn´t be enough potential workers to fill them.” Similarly, the Federal Employment Agency reported a deficiency in particular for technical vocations in the Western parts of Germany in terms of the Health and Nursing sector.
However, taking a closer look at these studies one can already discern that shortages in skilled labor are not a problem affecting the ENTIRE German economy and throughout the whole Republic in the same manner. There are geographical and vocational differences. A study by the Stifterverband for the German Economy from March 2015 for instance says that while there is no shortage of skilled labor in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (vocational) in the states of Berlin and Brandenburg (geographical), the federal states of Bayern and Baden-Württemberg are experiencing massive temporary shortages in the exact same sectors.
Karl Benke, an expert of the German institute for Economic Research, delivers further evidence that shortage of skilled labor might just not be as big a problem as (mainstream) media and politics make it look like. He bases his argument on two premises:
- Stagnant salaries: When facing a major shortage of skilled labor you would usually see above-average pay raises
- Almost steady unemployment numbers in production-oriented professions: Those would be shrinking significantly
Taking these considerations into our assessment, we are left puzzled. If the phenomenon of skilled labor shortage exists, but is so nuanced, should we even care? Is this shortage of skilled labor a real problem to be taken seriously or are we chasing a figment of imagination?
In the second part of this series we are trying to shed some light on these questions by taking a closer look at the data and the assumptions that drive the public debate on skilled labor shortage in Germany.
Sebastian Bußmann und Dr. Susanne Seyda: „Fachkräfteengpässe in Unternehmen. Die Altersstruktur in Engpassberufen“, Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft Köln e.V., Dezember 2014.
Michael Kröger: „Neue Studie: DIW-Experten bezweifeln Mangel an Fachkräftemangel“ Spiegel Online 16.11.2010 http://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/soziales/neue-studie-diw-experten-bezweifeln-mangel-an-fachkraeften-a-729202.html und Karl Brenke: Fachkräftemangel kurzfristig noch nicht in Sicht Wochenbericht des DIW Berlin Nr. 46/2010 http://www.diw.de/documents/publikationen/73/diw_01.c.363686.de/10-46-1.pdf