Big companies join forces to fill Germany’s growing skills gap

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BERLIN, April 22 (Reuters) – German industrial heavyweights are teaming up to retrain workers in areas such as software and logistics to fill a growing skills gap and avoid worker layoffs. all ages as the economy shifts to clean energy and online shopping.

More than 36 major companies, ranging from automotive suppliers such as Continental (CONG.DE) and Bosch (ROBG.UL) to industrial firms BASF (BASFn.DE) and Siemens (SIEGn.DE), have agreed to coordinate layoffs at a given time. company and vacancies in another, training workers to move directly from job to job.

Stefan Dries worked in various industries before landing a job at Deutsche Post (DPWGn.DE) amid the pandemic. While social distancing had made her job as a caregiver impossible, the post office was hiring to meet online delivery requests.

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Dries, 38, said he took a 10-day crash course in everything from using software to log and track mail to how to lift heavy packages and has since worked his way up the ranks of deliveries to the manager of his station.

“Starting something different isn’t always easy financially, personally. You have to want it,” Dries told Reuters, adding that it’s essential that companies advertise positions in a way that assures workers that they’ll be there. trained on the job.

The program highlights Germany’s long-term social market economy model, which gives more influence to trade unions as opposed to profit-maximizing free market capitalism.

The costs of the initiative will be shared by the companies involved on a case-by-case basis. So if a factory closes, a dialogue will begin with its workers about what to do, and then involve another company that may be looking for new skills.

Continental and Deutsche Bahn, for example, have set up a partnership to retrain staff who have become useless at the automotive supplier for jobs at the rail group, at shared costs.

“We know the social cost of unemployment and we want to avoid that,” Ariane Reinhart, board member responsible for human resources (HR) at Continental and chief spokeswoman for the people-led initiative, told Reuters. companies.

Reinhart, who said she believed the program was the first of its kind, pointed to data showing unemployment cost the German economy 63 billion euros ($68 billion) in 2020.

With German unemployment relatively low at 5% in March, warnings point to a wave of job losses if companies don’t act quickly to adapt to tough climate targets and step up in areas such as software facing new competitors abroad.

A study by think tank Ifo Institute has warned that 100,000 internal combustion engine jobs could be lost by 2025 if automakers fail to switch to electric vehicles and retrain workers fast enough.

The initiative comes as the number of job vacancies in Germany is steadily increasing, from around 320,000 in 2009 to 850,000 in March this year, according to national statistics.

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Engineering, metallurgy and logistics are among the sectors with strong recruitment in Germany, alongside care, catering and sales.

Demand for skilled workers is also coming from foreign companies, highlighted by Tesla’s (TSLA.O) decision to build its European electric vehicle and battery factory in the state of Brandenburg, where it will create 12,000 new jobs .

This will intensify competition for skilled workers with rival automakers Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) who both have their own factories just hours away. Read more

Retraining across sectors and within companies is also a way to maintain good relations with Germany’s powerful trade unions, which often sit on company boards and have negotiated multi-year job guarantees for staff.

“Some of these people no longer have any prospects in the world of combustion engines,” said Fevzi Sikar, head of the works council at the Mercedes-Benz plant (MBGn.DE) in Marienfelde, where workers from the assembly line are offered a retraining in software. engineering. Read more .

“But they’re reliable employees, and it just makes more sense to retrain them…the market is sucked in.”

Sikar said Mercedes is seeing enthusiasm among young workers who want to become more resilient by learning new skills. While older workers facing job loss or change may choose to retire early, younger colleagues need a future elsewhere.

While the program can provide some of the skills Germany needs, attracting foreign talent is also key, said Thomas Ogilvie, board member in charge of HR at Deutsche Post.

Germany’s new coalition government has pledged to make it easier for foreign workers by allowing dual nationality and improving access to apprenticeships. Read more

“Leaving that to the free market isn’t enough — it wouldn’t be best for workers or the economy,” Reinhart said.

The German federal employment agency declined to comment.

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Reporting by Victoria Waldersee; Editing by Alexander Smith

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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