The growing shortage of skilled labor could soon threaten productivity in Germany. Europe’s largest economy is now struggling to take advantage of well-educated Ukrainian refugees as Russia’s war in Ukraine enters its third month.
The problem of labor shortages in Germany has long been known.
“Today we have 390,000 vacancies and expect to increase to one million and more”said Economy Minister Robert Habeck in January. “If we do not close this gap, we will have real productivity problems”he added then.
One month after that statement, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced many Ukrainian refugees to flee the country, more than 300,000 of whom went to Germany. Men between the ages of 18 and 60 are banned from leaving the country, so around 40% are underage children, but the rest are mostly qualified women.
“These people are well trained and should be employed by employers according to their qualifications”has Explain Tuesday (April 19) Minister of Education and Research Bettina Stark-Watzinger.
According to his ministry, “73% of Ukrainian refugees have completed their studies, 10% speak good German”that is why it is now a matter of speeding up the recognition of their degrees.
The German Employment Research Institute has also found that Ukrainian refugees are highly desirable for the German labor market. “The level of education in Ukraine is high by international standards”adds the institute.
In terms of enrollment in universities and colleges, even Germany lags behind Ukraine. Ukrainian women, who make up the majority of refugees, also have a better education on average than their male counterparts.
Besides, “The average age of refugees [ukrainiens] adults is much higher than the people who fled in 2015 ”.economist Herbert Brücker told EURACTIV Germany, explaining that this makes them more experienced and therefore more attractive to hire.
Make up for the shortcomings
But integration into the labor market in Germany has not been easy for Ukrainian refugees, especially because of the heavy bureaucracy that prevents them from doing so, especially at the start of the war.
He “Refugees in Ukraine must first apply for the title of ‘temporary protection’ at the office of registration of foreigners to obtain a work permit”explains Sarah Strobel, project manager for the government project network entitled “Companies integrate refugees”.
Since March 18, this process is possible online in Berlin, for example, and “Recruitment is just beginning”added.
If released successfully, Ukrainian refugees could make up for labor shortages in many sectors, including those the governing coalition has said it wants to push into in the future.
For example, the Ukrainian computer industry has grown rapidly in recent years. Before the start of the war, some 300,000 people were employed in this sector and therefore possessed valuable know-how.
However, the demand for Ukrainian refugees is higher where Germany is experiencing the greatest scarcity, Brückner said. These include, for example, the technical professions, the transport and construction industries and the healthcare sector.
Also in agriculture, Ukrainians are expected to come to strengthen the workforce. In recent years, a growing number of them have come to Germany to work as seasonal workers during the harvest season.
The German Farmers’ Association called for a speeding up of administrative procedures in March, so that refugees could find work quickly. At the same time, the association recommends making the temporary employment laws more flexible by requesting, for example, that the maximum duration of these contracts be extended.
No “second class workers”
According to unions, however, such demands could lead to the exploitation of Ukrainian refugees as cheap labor in Germany.
“There should be no second class workers”, said Robert Feiger, federal president of the Industrial Union for Construction, Agriculture and the Environment (IG BAU), in a press release issued on Tuesday (April 19th). Those who work as temporary workers in agriculture, for example, do not enjoy social protection and health insurance for 70 days, Feiger added.
Meanwhile, construction workers continue to receive the legal minimum wage, following the failure of recent negotiations to introduce a minimum wage for the entire sector. According to the union, this is not enough for the hard work required by the construction sector.
The controversy shows the loose rope that needs to be supported to integrate Ukrainian refugees into the labor market. “It is, first and foremost, a humanitarian approach, and only secondarily integration into the labor market”stressed Mr. Brückner.
According to the economist, it is a priority to ensure the safety, health and housing of Ukrainian refugees, but at the same time it is necessary to mark the right path to facilitate their integration into the labor market, for example by not hosting refugees in structurally weak regions. .