Immigrants boost Germany’s skilled labour force

Immigrants from other EU countries help meet high demand for skilled MINT workers in Germany. [Saint Louis University Madrid Campus/Flickr]

The number of workers in so-called MINT jobs is rising in Germany, thanks to immigration from other EU countries. However, companies are suffering from a latent lack of skilled workers, partly due to xenophobia in eastern German states. EURACTIV Germany reports.

While Germany hopes to become a leader in smart cities, Industry 4.0 and modern environmental technology, companies are convinced these fields hold sustainable growth opportunities and new jobs.

But for years, the country has not been able to find enough skilled workers to fill a growing number of posts. The German economy faces high demand for so-called MINT workers, trained in mathematics, informatics, natural sciences and technology.

According to this year’s MINT spring report from the Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW), 137,100 qualified workers with a natural sciences or technical degree are missing from the workforce – the highest level since December 2012.

Experts from Germany’s economic sector blame access to full retirement at 63 as the most severe cause.

“Already in the first quarter after the regulation was introduced, around 10% of the actual, available MINT workers aged 63 and over were lost,” explained Michael Stahl, managing director of education and national economy of the employers’ association Gesamtmetall, at the presentation of the report in Berlin Wednesday (20 May).

The current gap in skilled workers would be larger, the MINT report pointed out, if Germany did not gain skilled workers from abroad. The number of foreigners in the MINT workforce increased by 11.3% from the fourth quarter of 2012 to the third quarter of 2014, over four-times as sharply as for German workers in these fields.

“The employment dynamics for foreign workers are many times higher than for their German counterparts,” said IW’s director Michael Hüther.

The report states that migrants from Central and Eastern Europe, particularly Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, play a large role.

This is due in large part to the recent opening of the labour market to workers from these countries, Hüther pointed out. Those who move to Germany from these countries are predominantly hired as skilled workers.

MINT workers from Spain are also a proportionately large group on the qualified labour market, primarily due to the Spanish economic crisis, Hüther said.

Among countries outside the EU, India stands out with 31.6% growth in its citizens employed in the Federal Republic. This success is likely the result of general improvements to immigration conditions, as well as local campaigning for MINT workers, such as the “Make-it-in-Germany” initiative, the authors write.

Foreign skilled workers favour Germany’s west

But economic analysts warn that eastern German states, in particular, are wasting the potential of foreign skilled workers and run the risk of experiencing a devastating drop in their skilled labour force.

“Mental reservations against immigration are the most significant there,” explained Thomas Sattelberger from the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (BDA).

These reservations are considered fatal in the Federal Republic’s eastern states, where companies are faced with a wave of retirement among MINT workers. While in western Germany 16% of the MINT labour force is older than 55 on average, in eastern Germany the rate is 20%.

“Eastern German states run the risk of sawing through the branch that they actually need most urgently,” said Sattelberger.

Germany’s east still remains less attractive for foreign workers.

Innovation powerhouses in the west like Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hesse and Bavaria have between 8% and 11% foreign workers in their MINT labour forces. Meanwhile, in larger eastern German states foreign workers only make up 1.4-2.2% of that group.

In conclusion, the report states, “without special efforts to be immigrant-friendly, the innovative strength in eastern German regions threatens to erode”.

In Germany, around 6.5 million of social security-paying workers in 2014 held a position related to mathematics, information, natural sciences and technology ('MINT').

4.1 million of them were MINT skilled workers, 1.2 million master tradesmen or technical workers, and the remaining 1.2 million were in academic positions.

Concrete examples of MINT positions are in bionics, bioprocess engineering, mechatronics, genetic engineering, environmental technology, digital technology, software engineering and others.

According to the 2014 MINT fall report, a lack of additional measures will lead to a shortage of around 670,000 MINT skilled workers by 2020.

If demand for these innovative jobs continues to rise, the gap could end up being much larger.

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