STEM skills Germany tech worker shortage gets worse

Germany lacks nearly 340,000 specialists in engineering and tech jobs, and the gap would be much bigger without immigrants, including refugees. If it doesn’t slash red tape, the problem will grow, experts warn.
Came at the right time. Quelle: Getty

Came at the right time.

(Source: Getty)

Germany’s shortage of skilled workers for so-called STEM jobs – covering science, technology, engineering and mathematics – widened to 338,000 in October, up 42,000 from a year ago, according to new research by the German economic institute IW in Cologne.

Such employees are seen as especially important for the German economy because they work in disproportionately productive and innovative industries and contribute more to economic growth than many other jobs.

The trend is worst in digital jobs, where the shortfall has more than doubled to 40,500 from 19,500 in October 2015. Without immigration, the dearth would be even worse because the share of migrants in STEM jobs has increased to a fifth from just 14 percent in 2011.

“Immigrants with a STEM qualification contributed around €190 billion ($215 billion) in added value in 2017,” IW education expert Axel Plünnecke said at the presentation of the study. Refugees are also helping to plug the gap, with 19,234 people from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Eritrea in STEM jobs at the start of 2018, up from 10,000 a year earlier.

R&D goal at risk

Without a surge in STEM workers, the government won’t be able to achieve its goal of increasing spending on research and development to 3.5 percent of GDP by 2025 from just under 3 percent today, said the director of the Gesamtmetall engineering employers federation, Michael Stahl. “For that to happen, the number of STEM specialists in research departments would have to rise to 1.3 million from today’s 1.1 million,” he said.

The requirements have changed. Just a few years ago, STEM academics were in particularly short supply, but the focus has since switched to people with vocational training. They currently account for almost 70 percent of the total STEM gap.

Germany managed to alleviate the shortage of academics with immigrants from the EU and third countries. Some 60,000 STEM academics from other EU nations currently work in Germany, and almost that many come from countries outside the EU. Indians make up a big proportion, with the number of Indian academics in STEM jobs in Germany having increased to 10,244 from 3,750 since 2012.

By contrast, most STEM immigrants with vocational qualifications for engineering and technical jobs have been coming from within Europe. The number of skilled STEM workers from EU countries has increased by two thirds to 218,000 since 2012, a bigger percentage increase than for STEM academics from the EU.

That’s why Germany urgently needs to boost immigration from non-EU nations, the IW institute demanded.

Implementation is key

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is aware of the problem and last week presented a draft immigration law aimed at cutting red tape to bring more skilled workers, ideally from outside the EU, into the country. But opposition politicians have warned it doesn’t go far enough, and some industry leaders said new legislation alone won’t solve the problem.

“A better law won’t help if the implementation doesn’t improve,” said lawmaker Thomas Sattelberger, head of an employers’ initiative to combat the shortage of STEM workers. “If skilled workers spend months in their home countries waiting for an appointment at the German embassy to apply for their visa, it’s not particularly attractive.”

He said Germany could cut bureaucracy by merging its 600 foreigners’ registration officers into one central authority to help streamline the process.

Barbara Gillmann covers politics for Handelsblatt in Berlin. David Crossland adapted this story into English for Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: [email protected]