German high-tech sector needs Asian talent, leaders say
BERLIN – Bernd Voelcker desperately needs programmers and sales managers for his software firm in Berlin, but he can’t hire promising Indian or Chinese candidates because Germany’s labour market has shut them out.
For his company Infopark, the situation is getting critical.
“In November, we had to refuse a contract for the first time,” Voelcker said. “We are trying to farm out tasks and to get our clients to wait. They are not happy, but they accept because it’s the same everywhere.”
With 13 vacant posts of a total 80, Infopark is far from being an isolated case.
There are roughly 43,000 jobs going begging in new technology sectors and “losses can be calculated in billions” according to August-Wilhelm Scheer, president of the sector federation Bitkom.
Infopark and companies like it have made concerted efforts to attract qualified personnel.
“We pay well, there are bonuses, the atmosphere is nice and informal, and we have even thought of setting up a day-care centre,” Voelcker said.
But owing to an unfavourable demographic trend and growing disinterest among German students for scientific studies, the labour pool for programmers, telecommunications engineers and computer security specialists is emptying out.
A near-term solution would be “to allow, even stimulate immigration of highly qualified people,” said Infopark’s boss, who would like to hire programmers from India and China.
Scheer, meanwhile, calls for “minds of the world to come and help us.”
Some European countries have taken initial steps to meet similar shortages.
France has approved, though not yet issued, work permits for specific talents or abilities to assist professional immigration.
At the European Level, a “blue card” based on the US “green card” model is being developed to attract skilled workers from all over the planet, but is still some way from fruition and is opposed by German authorities.
In Germany, measures enacted early this decade specifically for high-tech sectors allow for limited immigration but are extremely restrictive.
Candidates must present a work contract with an annual salary of 85,000 euros (125,000 dollars), almost three times the 30,000-35,000 euros that Voelcker pays entry-level programmers.
Sector leaders meeting in the northern city of Hannover this week hoped the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel would make a gesture in their favour, by lowering the minimum salary level for example.
But Merkel and Economy Minister Michael Glos have made it clear that with more than three million unemployed German workers, their priority is at home.
“The first step is to qualify the domestic workforce,” the German chancellor has said.
That would involve reforming how scientific subjects are taught to make them more attractive, in particular for women, and by making it easier for women to work by providing care for their children.
Retraining workers and the unemployed, in particular older Germans, is another priority for Merkel, who has many ideas on how to resolve the long-term question of unemployment.
Voelcker agrees but says they would not resolve short-term problems. The issue is not one faced just by high-tech companies, furthermore.
Germany’s key industrial sector is said to lack around 50,000 engineers, and a study has determined that overall, labour shortages cost the biggest eurozone economy around 18.5 billion euros per year.