Labour market: Work in Germany? Yes, maybe
29 April 2011
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
On 1 May, the doors will open wide for Poles, Czechs and other eastern Europeans now free to work in Germany. But no one expects a stampede. Quite the opposite: German companies will have to woo the new guest workers ardently and assiduously.
For the past few weeks Andreas Röhm has been getting a lot of enquiries. For many years his recruitment agency, Sirius Consulting, has been providing nurses from eastern Europe to German families. But now a whole new clientele is ringing up. “Medium-sized entrepreneurs are on the phone,” says Röhm. “They’re looking for construction workers, welders or skilled workers for the hotel trade.” The companies want Röhm to use his links with eastern Europe to attract people to Germany.
For come May 1, all the doors here in Germany are being flung open to eastern Europeans whose countries joined the EU in 2004. Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes, Hungarians and citizens of the Baltic states can work freely in Germany, without the German employment office first having to make a detailed assessment as to whether a German worker could not be found for the same task, which was a requirement in force until now.
So now the eastern Europeans are free to come to Germany. But do they want to? Not in large numbers, say economists. “May 1 will not be the green light for mass migration,” said Christoph Schmidt, head of the Rhine-Westphalia Institute for Economic Research in Essen. Each year, he estimates, 100,000 more workers will arrive from eastern Europe. Not a big jump in the numbers, considering that there are currently about 600,000 of them already in Germany. “It's not that we just have to open the gates and the specialists will pour in.”
Who would have thought it. For years the fear was that Poles and Czechs would flood the labour market and take jobs away from Germans as soon as we opened the borders. But things have changed in the meantime: German companies could be in desperate need of well-educated Poles, Czechs and Slovenes to make up a shortfall in human resources. It is becoming apparent now, however, that young and skilled eastern Europeans are not so keen on Germany.
The biggest reason is that many doctors, nurses, engineers and craftsmen have already left their homeland, and long ago – for Great Britain, Ireland and Sweden, which opened their borders in 2004, when hundreds of thousands headed west. Two years later, Spain, Portugal, Finland, Greece and Italy opened up their labour markets. Other countries also allowed immigration, at least for occupations experiencing shortages. Only Germany and Austria kept their barriers up. “It had a redirection effect,” says IAB researcher Herbert Brucker. “Before 2004, 60 percent of the emigrants from eastern Europe wanted to go to Germany. Today, that’s down to 23 percent.”
Whoever wants to attract and hold good employees from Eastern Europe must offer them something. Alexander Wittker, whose temporary employment company Job Impulse has 4,000 associates and 14 sub-offices in the accession countries, is doing just that. Wittke is preparing to send out to German companies electricians and toolmakers, programmers and software developers from eastern Europe. He attracts his personnel with scholarships and German language courses and handles all of the bureaucratic hurdles with the German authorities. Wittker’s staff even give lectures in schools to find candidates. Naturally, they also visit colleges and universities, for example in Kosice in eastern Slovakia.
The absence of a large, nationwide programme is sorely felt in Germany. Slowly it is dawning on the companies here that the inwards flood of the sought-after professionals will not happen all by itself. What’s missing, indeed, is just that large, nationwide programme – just like in the sixties – to attract foreign workers to Germany. Whether it’s BDI, BDA or DIHK, not one large association is canvassing aggressively throughout Germany, and there is nothing to be heard of the state labour recruitment agreements of old. Back then, in the fifties and sixties, the government brought the first Italians, then Spaniards, Greeks, Yugoslavs and Turks to Germany. It was the Federal Employment Agency that sent out its staff to comb those countries for locals willing to work and to provide the suitable ones directly with an employment contract.
Today, it’s the small fish that do the tedious recruitment: single companies, regional organisations, small recruitment agencies. In April the Cottbus Chamber of Industry and Commerce started up an internship program for 100 Polish youths. The employers' association, working with the Diakonie Neuendettelsau, will promote nursing students from Poland as interns for German homes. The association, however, does not believe that this will make up for the shortage of nurses in Germany. For a long time now they have been contemplating bringing in the nurses of the future from India.