Filling the gaps Slowly but surely, Germany is attracting the skilled workers it needs

Despite bureaucratic hurdles and rumblings from the far right, more skilled workers are coming to Germany, thanks in part to Trump’s America and Brexit-era Britain becoming less appealing.
Quelle: DPA
Forging a career in Germany.
(Source: DPA)

Ranjith Bramanpalli is the kind of employee German tech companies are crying out for. He did his masters in electronic engineering in Boston before designing components for LED systems at multinational corporations.

He loves developing new products and appears to have no problem with living in Waldenburg, a town of 3,000 deep in the boondocks of southwestern Germany.

At Würth Elektronik eiSos, which makes components for the electronics industry, Bramanpalli has found what he wants: a job in a well-equipped lab with skilled colleagues, in an environment where he can develop his skills.

“In India you only get interesting jobs in the arms industry,” he said. “But I don’t want them.” So he picked Waldenburg over Bangalore or Hyderabad or Silicon Valley.

Influx from India

For many years, fewer than 10 percent of IT experts emigrating from India chose Germany. And when Indian companies dispatched employees here, they often had to sweeten the deal with bonuses. An increasing number of young, well-trained and ambitious Indians are choosing careers in Germany. Indians make up around 14,000 of the more than 53,000 people now working in Germany on the EU Blue Card work permit for highly skilled non-EU citizens.

Many end up staying longer than the four years they’re initially entitled to. Of the 28,000 people who once had a Blue Card, 80 percent have a long-term residence permit.

The number of Indians who filed applications for a German visa shot up from 60,000 in 2013 to around 183,000 in 2017. The German foreign ministry said there had been a “substantial increase in demand, significantly higher than the global average” in 2017.

Unfazed by far-right protests

The anti-immigrant rioting in Chemnitz in August does not appear to have deterred applicants. It certainly hasn’t fazed Akanksha Sharma, a software developer who has been working in Berlin for delivery startup Foodora for the past six months. “Politically all countries in Europe are stable,” she said. “The Germans know what’s wrong. And they stick to the rules.”

Sharma opted for Germany because she was sick of constantly having to make twice the effort to prove herself against male colleagues who earned far more than she did. “I had three job offers in India, and none of them was appropriate for the experience I offer,” she said, irritation ringing in her voice. The better chance for equality makes up for German idiosyncrasies such as the lack of online access to public services.

It’s not necessarily that Germany has become more attractive in and of itself. Indians and workers from other non-EU countries are opting for Germany partly because other traditionally immigrant-rich countries have become less inviting, especially Donald Trump’s America and Britain in the era of Brexit.

Ranjith Bramanpalli said he had to leave the US after six years because he couldn’t get a green card. “One also notices prejudice in the US,” he said. “Many think Indians are taking tech jobs away from Americans.”

Coming to grips with change

Even though first- and second-generation immigrants make up over one-fifth of the population, Germany has struggled to accept that it’s a country of immigration. The CDU only recently dropped its long-held opposition to an immigration law, bowing to intense pressure from business leaders. Business has long warned that labor shortages here are so great that they can’t be plugged by Germans or EU nationals at a time when Germany is struggling to keep up with the US and Asia in the digital rase.

At its last meeting of the year on Dec. 19, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet approved the Fachkräftezuwanderungsgesetzskilled labor immigration law — to make it easier for firms to hire from outside the EU. Parliament still must approve the proposal, which would come into force in early 2020.

While the EU Blue Card system mainly focuses on university graduates, Germany's new law is aimed mainly at immigrants with vocational training. The new legislation can’t come soon enough for IT sector association BITKOM, whose member companies need 55,000 computer specialists. The electrical engineering sector has another 50,000 vacancies.

Luring health staff

Germany is also trying to alleviate labor shortages in the care home sector by wooing thousands of careworkers from outside the EU. To speed up the process, Health Minister Jens Spahn wants to train them up to German requirements in their home countries.

German inspection company Dekra runs academies in a number of countries including Albania, where locally trained careworkers can go through an 18-month training program to qualify them for German jobs. The money on offer — €1,500 per month, or $1,720 — is three times Albania’s average pay, so local careworkers are jumping at the chance. In 2018, Dekra arranged jobs for 1,100 of them in Germany.

Still reeling from the impact of the 2015 refugee crisis, Germany will need to make greater efforts to lure skilled workers. But the fact that so many now appear willing to come is a positive sign.

Sophie Crocoll writes for Wirtschaftswoche. David Crossland adapted this story into English for Handelsblatt Today. To contact the author: [email protected]