Mohan Murti

Serious skills shortage in Germany

Updated on: Aug 21, 2012

If you have a big belly, a long white beard, language skills and are able to sing Christmas songs to little children, you just got yourself a job in Germany as Nikolaus — Santa Claus!

But, do not underestimate the job requirements, as it takes quite a bit to be a good Santa. Incredibly, almost fifty per cent of the candidates who apply do not even make it through the casting.

In December each year, Germans remember Nikolaus, the Wonderworker for his miracles. He is also identified with Santa Claus. According to the legend, he comes in the middle of the night on a donkey and leaves little goodies and tasty treats for good children.

Last week, on the day of the final casting call, the Nikolaus recruitment agency, a leading provider of Santa mimics in Cologne, reported that as in the past few years, there is a lack of qualified applicants for the role of Nikolaus, this year.

In fact, almost all cities across Germany recruiting rosy-cheeked Santa imitators are experiencing a Father Christmas deficit this year. The current Santa shortage is likely to be filled in by multi-cultural Santas — from Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

But the financial recession in the rest of Europe and Germany’s rapidly ageing population is threatening to aggravate the skills shortage in several other areas in the coming years. That’s right — Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse is in the throes of a skills shortage.


German industry has been warning for some years now of the need to tackle the shortage of people in applied science and technology, informatics, natural sciences, engineering and pure sciences including mathematics, to prevent the economic momentum from stalling. Industry federations have put the swelling skills shortfall at over a million people.

Across sectors, the skills gap is growing. Engineers, doctors, geriatricians and nurses — Germany needs them all. The scarcity has got worse for the jobs already affected, such as information-technology experts, software developers and several engineering disciplines like energy, bio-technology, mechanical, welding technology, metallurgy, machine building and mechatronics.

The skills dearth is most visible in what is the backbone of German industry — the Mittelstand, or small and medium-sized family-run companies. It seems like the problem will intensify in future decades, as demographic change starts to bite.

After all, Germany has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe. Over the next 50 years the population is expected to shrink by 17 million, from the current 82 million. It is estimated that by 2030, Germany will have a shortage of six million workers.

Let’s take a look at today’s scenario. Germany’s economy has been the best performer in the Euro Zone in the past two years and, employment levels are the highest in two decades.

But, because of the skills shortage, about a million jobs in Germany are vacant. Almost one in two German companies is looking for skilled people, right now — many of them in manufacturing and services.


Therefore, the country is desperately mulling ways to attract top brains to its shores. Policymakers have agreed on a targeted immigration system of highly skilled migrants from across the world to meet the skills shortage.

The new migrant-friendly points system guarantees that applications from foreigners will have their qualifications recognised and dealt with, within three months. Additional training or education will be provided, if need be, in Germany, and some employers are even offering attractive ‘joining bonuses’ to lure and retain the right talent.

In Europe, it has been the tradition of people to stay in their hometowns, though this is changing in the more besieged countries.

A growing number of Greeks, Italians and Spaniards are getting infatuated with Germany and its image as a worker’s paradise. Free movement of workers is a core principle enshrined in EU treaties. German companies are scrambling into countries such as India looking for new talent and skills.

As Arthur Schopenhauer, the German philosopher said — “Humans are motivated by only their own basic desires, or Wille zum Leben (Will to Live).”

Consequently, that is what drives all human action in the world. So what if this Christmas, the Santa in Germany speaks Hindi!

(The author is former Europe Director, CII, and lives in Cologne, Germany. )

Published on August 21, 2012

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