By Michelle Martin
WINSEN AN DER LUHE, Germany (Reuters)
Nina Lorea Kley urgently needs young people to train as vehicle builders at her company’s factories in northern and eastern Germany. She has enough orders and money to hire 20 this summer but can only find 14
Feldbinder makes 2,000 customised trailers, railway wagons and containers a year but won’t be able to keep that up without new recruits, especially because many employees are due to retire in the next few years.
“If we don’t manage to fill jobs that become free we’ll have to think about which orders we can fulfil,” said Kley, 41, a managing director at the firm her father co-founded four decades ago. “We simply wouldn’t be able to take on certain orders anymore due to a lack of staff.”
Feldbinder is not alone. More than a third of German companies could not fill all of their training places last year while almost one in ten received no applications for such roles, a survey by the DIHK Chambers of Commerce found.
Last year, the number of vacancies for training positions was at its highest for more than 20 years.
Germany‘s twin-track vocational training system, which involves up to 3-1/2 years of on-the-job learning in firms alongside theory lessons at vocational school, is credited with giving Germany the European Union’s lowest youth jobless rate – 6.8 percent in 2017 against an EU average of 16.8 percent.
Widely admired abroad, the training system is being exported in various forms to Europe, Asia, Africa and the United States. But its popularity is waning at home as young people increasingly prefer the higher status of a university degree.
That could hurt growth in Europe’s largest economy by exacerbating a skilled labour shortage, which is partly caused by hundreds of thousands of ageing employees leaving the labour market every year.
“It’s a dangerous trend – Germany is running out of skilled workers,” said DIHK President Eric Schweitzer. “At first, orders lie around for longer, then firms have to reject them outright – to the point where entire sectors run into problems.”
In response, the government has vowed to strengthen the training system and make it more attractive during this legislative period, which runs to 2021.
It plans to invest in equipment so vocational schools can adjust to the digital age, put a minimum trainee wage into law, boost career guidance at secondary schools, promote part-time training to help people reconcile their work and family life, and reduce the problem of regional imbalances in the jobs market by improving mobility.
The education ministry is working with 16 countries including Greece, China, India, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and the United States to reform their vocational training systems to make them more like the German system.
During her first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in March 2017, Chancellor Angela Merkel and company managers spent around an hour discussing vocational training with him, and Ivanka Trump met trainees on a vocational scheme at Siemens during her visit to Berlin the same year.
Foreign interest in the system has grown since the global financial crisis and its success lies partly in the heavy involvement of companies, which ensures it produces workers who can be deployed immediately.
Since 2013 the education ministry has been supporting a project called VETnet whereby German Chambers of Commerce Abroad in 11 countries develop pilot vocational training projects with local companies.
They now offer 45 different occupations, with mechatronics fitter (technology combining electronics and mechanical engineering), tool mechanic and industrial mechanic the most popular. More than 820 companies are involved, with 7,400 trainees in China, Greece, India, Italy, Latvia, Mexico, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, Thailand and the United States.
“The German government supports the internationalisation of vocational training because it guarantees competitiveness, social harmony and economic stability even during crises,” Thomas Rachel, the deputy education minister, told Reuters.
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