Germany’s labor shortage and the Ukrainian workers

April 21, 2022 |

The shortage of skilled labor may soon threaten productivity in Germany, and Europe’s biggest economy is now scrambling to make the most of well-trained Ukrainian refugees as Russia’s war on Ukraine enters its third month. 

Germany’s labor shortage problem has been well documented for some time now.

“We have 390,000 job vacancies today and expect a ramp-up to one million and above,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck said in January. “If we don’t close this gap, we will have real productivity problems,” he added at the time.

A month after his announcement, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced many Ukrainian refugees to flee the country, with over 300,000 coming to Germany. With men aged 18-60 being banned from leaving the country, there are about 40% of underage children, but the rest are mostly qualified women.

“These people are well trained and must be employed by employers according to their qualifications,” Education and Research Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger explained on Tuesday (19 April).

According to her ministry, “73% of refugees from Ukraine have completed their studies, 10% speak good German”, which is why the focus is now on speeding up recognition of their qualifications.

Germany’s Institute for Employment Research has also found Ukrainian refugees to be highly desirable for the German labor market. “The level of education in Ukraine is high compared to international standards,” the institute added.

In terms of university and college enrolment, Germany even lags behind Ukraine overall. Ukrainian women, who make up the majority of the refugees, are also more educated on average than their male countrymen.

But integrating into the labor market in Germany has not been easy for Ukrainian refugees, particularly with heavy bureaucracy standing in the way – especially when the war first broke out. If they are successfully placed, Ukrainian refugees can fill labor gaps in many sectors – especially the fields the coalition government said it wishes to boost in the future.

For example, the Ukrainian IT sector has developed rapidly in recent years. Before the war started, around 300,000 people were employed in the sector and thus have valuable know-how.

Ukraine’s IT industry is currently operating at about 80% capacity compared to pre-war levels, though it is uncertain whether this trend will continue and what the consequences will be both locally and for Europe.

However, demand for Ukrainian refugees is the highest wherever Germany has the biggest shortages, explained Brückner. These include, for example, technical professions, the transport and construction industries, and the health sector.

In agriculture, too, there are hopes that Ukrainians will strengthen the workforce. In recent years, an increasing number of them have come to Germany to work as seasonal workers for the harvest season.



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