Losing Labor OECD Says Germany Needs More Immigration

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says that Germany is facing a drastic labor shortage. The country is dead last among industrialized countries in the ratio of those entering the job market versus those leaving it. Immigration, the OECD says, might be the only hope.

A puppet in a clean suit at a semiconductor trade fair in Dresden: Germany will soon face an immense shortage of highly qualified workers, warns the OECD.
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A puppet in a clean suit at a semiconductor trade fair in Dresden: Germany will soon face an immense shortage of highly qualified workers, warns the OECD.


Germany, says Bavarian Governor Horst Seehofer, doesn't need more immigration. The head of the influential Christian Social Union (CSU) -- the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats -- argued in October that the country should instead focus on reintegrating the country's long-term jobless back into the labor market. In particular, he said, immigration from "alien cultures" should be stopped.

There are many in Germany who would disagree. And now, they have a powerful new ally: the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The OECD has found that in just 10 years, the number of people leaving the labor market in Germany will be up to 75 percent higher than the number entering the labor market. Among the 28 industrialized countries surveyed, Germany wound up dead last.

The reasons listed by the OECD are simple. On the one hand, German society is aging quickly. Its birth rate is nowhere near high enough to replace the number of people entering retirement age. On the other, immigration to Germany has stagnated, with the country having experienced a net population loss in recent years as a result of emigration.

According to the OECD, it is not a trend that will be easy to reverse. The organization says that raising the retirement age and reducing unemployment will not be enough. Instead, the group says, increasing immigration -- from both within and outside of the European Union -- might be the only solution.

28,000 Unfilled Jobs

Already, there are indications that the German labor market is short of highly qualified workers. As the economy rapidly recovers from the economic crisis -- the country's economy is forecast to grow by 3.4 percent this year -- several branches have been complaining of difficulties in finding qualified applicants for job vacancies. According to the Federal Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media, Germany's leading high-tech industry organization, some 28,000 jobs in the tech field are currently unfilled.

As early as March, the consulting firm McKinsey released a study forecasting that German firms will have difficulties filling open positions in just five years time. By 2020, the study found, the lack of qualified workers for open positions could be as high as 2 million.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, in response to Seehofer's demand for a cessation of immigration, agreed that the focus should be on reintegrating the long-term unemployed back into the labor market.

But many argue that line of thinking is illusory. "Specialists for jobs needing high qualifications are hardly to be found among this group," said Frank-Jürgen Weise, head of Germany's Federal Employment Agency, referring to the long-term unemployed. The OECD likewise sees little chance that long-term unemployed will be able to fill the growing hole.

Instead, the organization suggests that a point system similar to the one used by Canada and other countries, designed to attract highly qualified immigrants, is unavoidable. But a point system would likely warm hearts in some parts of the German government. The business-friendly Free Democrats, Merkel's junior coalition partners, have long supported the introduction of such a system. Merkel's Christian Democrats, however, have so far demurred.

In an interview with SPIEGEL published over the weekend, however, Merkel said: "A point system would not solve all our problems." She noted that the government's coalition agreement states that "access for highly qualified and skilled foreign workers must be systematically tailored to the needs of the German labor market and organized according to clear, transparent and weight critera, for example, with regard to requirements, qualifications and integration abilities."

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