Apprenticeships in Germany: No guest workers please | The Economist

Explains, at least partly, some of the integration problems in Germany:

Yet one part of the population is barely benefiting from the system. A quarter of young Germans have foreign roots, but just 15% of the companies currently running apprenticeship schemes have at least one apprentice with what German bureaucrats call a “migration background”. The biggest such group is ethnically Turkish, but the numbers also include ethnic Germans from formerly communist Europe. Over 60% of apprenticeship-hosting companies have never had an apprentice like that, according to a survey by the Bertelsmann Foundation, a think-tank.

The reasons make depressing reading. Almost 75% claimed they had received no such applications, though the study notes minorities are more likely to apply than the average population. The next factor cited is language deficiencies. This may be an excuse: children of foreign parents raised in Germany usually speak German better than the ancestral language (though language may be a proxy for better-founded worries about generally poor schooling). The real fear may be a vague nervousness about foreigners, given that about 15% of companies cited unspecified cultural barriers.

Yet applicants are in short supply: nearly half of the companies that could take apprentices but don’t blame a lack of qualified candidates. Casting the net more widely would help. Siemens reserves about 10% of its apprenticeships for those who would not pass the first hurdle on their marks in school, on the logic that grades are hardly the best test for a skilled manual worker. This also has the result of bringing in more ethnic minorities. And given Germany’s export dependence, diversity—bringing knowledge of funny-sounding languages and different cultural backgrounds—should be a plus. The companies with the longest records in training apprentices are the most likely to hire those with foreign roots. Some say they do so to help the disadvantaged, but even more cite simply having had good experiences doing so in the past.

If Germany’s labour market continues tightening and the skill-labour shortage continues, perhaps word will also filter out to Germany’s fabled medium-sized Mittelstand companies. Such firms hold tradition as a virtue, and even boast of hiring the children of former apprentices, citing the resulting loyalty as an advantage.

But when 70% of Mittelstand companies complain of a lack of skilled labour, there is all the more reason to cast a wide net. Not hiring people because of fears about their lack of integration into German society is likely to prove self-fulfilling. In a country where career-switching and later retraining are rare, missing the early rungs on the economic ladder can be life-blighting.

Apprenticeships in Germany: No guest workers please | The Economist.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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