Südwestmetall’s general meeting was drawing to a close, star guest Armin Laschet had long since passed. Appetizers and white wine were tempting outside the venue, but Stefan Wolf has yet to let those present out. In mid-July, the president of the Steelworkers spoke with emotion to the gathered entrepreneurs: “If we start to save on the training of the young people, it will hurt. 3. You will not regret! “
The Corona crisis caused a unique drop: in 2020, more than 9% fewer training contracts were concluded, or nearly 48,000 contracts, reports the Federal Statistical Office. There has never been such a decline since data collection in 1977.
In the new training year too, companies have so far offered 14,000 fewer apprenticeship places than in the previous year. Hairdressers, hotels or businesses that have been closed for months are holding back. But overall, this sounds like a wake-up call: is the crisis leaving young people untrained and a shortage of skilled workers?
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The clients are finally coming back: an intern in the Hamburg hairdressing salon.
(Photo: Christian Charisius / dpa)
Anyone who listens to the head of the Federal Employment Agency quickly realizes that the problem is multi-faceted. In early July, Detlef Scheele appealed to school leavers to seek training instead of heading into a transition year as a preventive measure. The shortage of candidates is even greater than there are places: since October, 35,000 fewer have registered than a year earlier. Bavarian metalworking employers register many more vacancies than applicants. “It’s a real market for candidates, despite Corona,” explains Managing Director Bertram Brossardt.
Fewer candidates? Friedrich Hubert Esser sees several reasons for this. During the lockdown, there was less personalized advice in schools and employment agencies, fewer training fairs and internships, reports the president of the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training ( BIBB). As a result, some school leavers do not see their opportunities. “And young people, like their parents, are not safe because of the Corona crisis: how safe is such learning?”
Manuela Conte, Youth Secretary of the Federation of German Trade Unions, is not only calling on companies to register vacancies. It is also aimed at young people leaving school: “Find out more from employment agencies, online job exchanges or local businesses – despite Corona, many businesses are forming.”
When the head of the employment agency, Detlef Scheele, revised the apprenticeship figures at the end of July, the situation had improved: 30,000 unaccompanied candidates less than a month earlier. But there are still 130,000 young citizens looking. Scheele also hopes that corona scars can be largely avoided during training. He knows from experience that a lot happens in August and September. Companies are still hiring, young people can still find something. It will also depend on whether the fourth wave of pandemics brings new restrictions that hit restaurants and other educators.
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A photo from the pre-Corona era: You can’t keep a distance of 1.5 meters when seeing together.
The risk remains that the Corona crisis further weakens work-study training, which has long been attacked by two trends: the population is decreasing and the tendency is growing to study rather than to do an apprenticeship. “The demographics are striking, they become more and more visible every year,” observes Bertram Brossardt of the Bavarian metal industry. “And more and more students are studying or attending technical nursing schools, for example.” These trends would have drawbacks for the German economy, “because industrial manufacturing expertise and craftsmanship are part of our strengths,” he says. “Without strong dual training, our location will be weaker.”
In the fight against climate change, Germany needs well-trained factory mechanics
While some professions are overloaded, the shortage is evident in others: in 2020, almost one in two apprenticeship positions offered for butchers and food retailers remained vacant. Companies too often searched in vain for plumbers, concrete workers or restoration specialists.
A shortage of skilled workers has consequences that have so far often been overlooked, warns Esser of the Federal Institute for Vocational Training. For example, for climate protection. “In the future, the mechanics of the system will not only be responsible for furnishing the bathrooms, but also for saving energy in the house,” he says. “But high school students do not feel challenged by such a profession. And high school students are more difficult to train because the requirements have increased so much.”
Esser calls for a greater valuation of learning so that the Germans rethink. As in Austria or Switzerland, he wants to legally stipulate that a master’s degree is equivalent to a baccalaureate. Anyone who becomes self-employed after completing their training will encounter too much bureaucracy as an entrepreneur. And small businesses need more support to provide apprenticeships.
Bavarian metallurgy employer Bertram Brossardt wants to improve training with additional modules to make it more attractive to top performing young people who might otherwise aspire to university. At the same time, it suggests better opportunities for underachieving youth and refugees and more opportunities for people with disabilities to participate. He also looks to the future: “The most important thing is to ensure the high quality of training. The professions still need to be developed and restructured.
Despite all the challenges, Brossardt also has some positive news. Next year, he expects three percent more apprenticeship contracts in his industries. It can reassure graduates who are worried about the security of an apprenticeship: this year, 90% of companies had a job for their apprentices after their apprenticeship – in the midst of the Corona crisis.