BERLIN - When 7,000 Turkish guest workers migrated to West Germany in 1961, the plan seemed clear: young men would come to work for 24 months, then return home to Turkey, making room for the next round of visitors.
Three years on though, German businesses were keen to extend worker visas with some eventually even bringing families into the deal. It marked the beginning of an era that would change the face of Germany, birth its “economic miracle” - and evoke mixed emotions about how to approach domestic labor demands in future.
More than fifty years later, a reunited Germany faces problems not unlike those of its post-World War II period - only now a skilled-labor deficit is at hand. The country’s Mittelstand, or mid-sized and family-owned businesses - often considered the backbone of the German economy - have reported just such labor shortages, while newspaper Die Welt reports the Bavarian Industry Association vbw is projecting a 1.7 million-skilled-worker shortage in the country by 2020.
It comes as good news then, that some 44 percent of engineers and IT professionals surveyed in the E.U. named Germany as the most attractive European job market in a study by market research company Trendence, Die Welt reported.
Engineers and IT professionals from Russia, Poland, Finland and Spain were the most positive responders with anywhere from 60 to 71 percent of graduates ready to head abroad to Germany for their first job. But even some 41 percent of the UK’s engineering and IT graduates said they were willing to do the same, indicating an important opportunity for the German government and businesses to capitalize on the country’s current job market popularity.
“We need skilled labor, and the youth [in this country] isn’t going to grow into the role overnight,” head of Stuttgart’s state employment agency Petra Cravaack told news outlet Deutsche Welle (DW).
“Our unemployment levels are already low, less than five percent, and businesses are telling us they need skilled labor right now: there is not enough.”
Some companies from the southwestern German region of Swabia are even collaborating with one another to locate the necessary talent in countries such as Spain, DW reported.
“Out of desperation, applicants are applying everywhere, but this method allows them to apply for specific positions and specific skills,” Seeber+Partner Sales Manager Ulrich Graner told DW.
“Spanish applications are well received here. In fact, I’m in contact with another company that has also employed Spaniards, and they’re very happy with the results. [Spaniards] also mesh well with the Swabian mentality.”
30-year-old mechanical engineer Emilio Garcia Barea of Spain was brought to Seeber+Partner for an interview and trial period one year ago to the satisfaction of both the company and the applicant, according to the news outlet.
“At the moment, there’s no going back to Spain,” Emilio Garcia Barea said. “Maybe in 15 years. But my life right now is here in Germany.”
Companies are in many cases to thank for their proactivity, vbw President Randolf Rodenstock told Die Welt:
“There was demand for the skills, and [companies] trained for them. They obtained skilled labor in a time of crisis, even though the order backlog didn’t immediately warrant it.”
Alongside the implementation of integration programs since 2005, politicians have also begun to process the question of existing immigration issues and their role in the growth of the German economy.
“It’s not fair when an Iranian doctor has to drive a taxi in Germany,” German Education Minister Annette Schavan was quoted as saying earlier this year.
The statement was a clear stab at the country’s existing current immigration policy, which often sees hundreds of thousands of highly-skilled laborers ignored in the job market because their qualifications were obtained abroad.
Meanwhile, a recently-published OECD study confirmed the growing popularity of the German job market, revealing that highly-skilled immigrants to Germany - along with Denmark, Luxembourg and Holland - have increased 12 percent over the past ten years, according to Der Spiegel. The overall average for OECD countries was 5 percent.