It’s a problem that many of the industrialized nations are facing; a lack of appropriately educated and trained personnel applying for technical job positions in some of the most important trade branches. Some claim the shortages are caused by a failing in the educational system, others in the falling birthrate. In Germany, where the problem is considered so acute that the Chancellor Angela Merkel has personally spoken a few words on the subject, there are many different causes being blamed but few cures on offer.
The Germans, it has been said, are too comfortable in their lifestyles to want children. Children ruin careers, upset leisure plans, cost far too much money and require considerably more time to raise than most are willing to give up. A career for women, for example, is practically impossible if she even mentions the possibility of perhaps thinking about having a child sometime in the distant future. Companies are unwilling to shoulder the costs for a high position worker’s maternity leave during the three years or so they can take off. Couples are unwilling to set aside their regular pursuits – as singles – in favor of a child.
Education, the second problem, is blamed for not covering those topics which are required in the modern marketplace. Young adults, it is said, are not being prepared for a life of work in a technologically challenging environment. Even those with the higher qualifications find it difficult to write a job application without manifest spelling and grammar errors, or they have simply no notion of what their chosen industry will demand of them. Young adults are lazy, as anyone willing to employ them will confirm, and often expect the employer to give them money for next to nothing or the same amount of paid free time as they are used to in school. Educationalists point out that they have much the same problems: children arriving at school who cannot eat with a knife and fork; children unable to recognize the alphabet; children who can get to the highest level in a computer game but not write their own name or tell the time. In addition, the funding available for education has been reduced, either in real terms or through inflation, over the last few decades as much as the demands on teaching staff have been increased, leaving little possibility of improvement.
The Chancellor has suggested that Germany import the qualified workers needed to keep industry supplied. If Germany can offer a suitable work environment with good pay for the right qualifications to foreign workers – for a limited period of time and with no promise that they will be allowed to settle here – the problem will be solved. Coupled with education for foreigners, the scheme must work, she claims.
The new problem, aside from language barriers, is one of racism. Not so much that the German people have risen against their new work colleagues, more that the people best qualified for the work aren’t necessarily getting through to the hiring stage thanks to government restrictions. A foreign student at a German university who qualifies with the best grades cannot necessarily be offered a position with a German firm, no matter how great the shortage, simply because the appropriate authorities refuse to issue the German equivalent of a Green Card or a limited work permit. The rules are clear: the work permit will be issued when it is clear that a German cannot take the work position; the applicant must speak and, to a certain extent, write German; the applicant must have lived in Germany on a limited visa (without the option of employment) for a specific period of time or be married to a German citizen. Highly qualified candidates from certain countries have a considerably harder time than others – Middle Eastern countries especially, thanks to the present climate of distrust – since their backgrounds need to be checked thoroughly and, as is often the case, no one is too interested in dedicating that much time and effort when it is far easier to refuse an application.
The problem seems almost insurmountable, predominantly because the government departments involved – and many businesses who are crying out for assistance – simply refuse to either work together or to change their ways. The future, even the Chancellor agrees, lies with those who are coming through the education system at the moment and anyone brought in from foreign countries is a stop-gap solution. Why, then, can’t the different departments work together to educate German children and the children of immigrants who settle here to the best of their abilities whilst letting in qualified foreign workers for a period of five or ten years? That is the ideal, and that is where everything comes to a grinding halt. Everyone agrees that is what should happen, and everyone also agrees that it is up to someone else to make it happen.