Thu. Jun 1st, 2023

As Germany’s population shrinks, so do the number of students studying technical fields such as science and engineering. To remain an industrial power, the country will need engineers from abroad.

'Made in Germany' now owed to foreign talent?
‘Made in Germany’ now owed to foreign talent?


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Robert Weiss grew up in Germany helping his father fix cars at home in his spare time. Later, for this reason, he chose the field of engineering for himself and then worked in the German rail and auto industries before opting for teaching.

Today, as dean of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Mechatronics at the Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences, Robert Weiss hesitates to confirm that students are less interested in technical fields now than in the past.

Vice told DW that five years ago there used to be an average of seven applicants for each position joining their program, but today that number has dropped to three. “It’s really scary,” he said. This is a problem for the university. We want to make our programs as comprehensive as possible and develop all these engineers. But it also affects industry and Germany and the economy if you don’t have enough engineers working.”

Green change in danger

German engineering is known worldwide for its quality and innovation. But now this brand is in danger. According to a recent study by the country’s Federal Bureau of Statistics, the number of students starting university degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, for which the acronym STEM is used, has increased by six in just one year. The percentage has decreased.

Many countries today struggle with a shortage of skilled workers, but Germany has been hit on two fronts. On one hand the population of the country is shrinking and on the other hand many engineers and technicians are now entering retirement age. At the same time, Germany needs a large-scale digital and green transformation, a task that will require an army of skilled workers in IT, engineering and other advanced technical fields.

According to a 2022 report by the Cologne-based German Economic Institute, the number of STEM professionals in the country was around 320,000 in April 2022.

Production affected by labor shortage

“STEM are not yet recognized for their economic and social importance,” the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) wrote in its action plan targeting the growing interest in scientific subjects.

“The pressure to innovate is very high at the moment and you need these technologists,” Axel Plunke, leader of the cluster “Education, Innovation, Migration” at the German Economic Institute, told DW. The question is whether Germany can get enough of them.” He added, “If it can’t, competition is going to suffer or companies will have to move to other areas in large numbers. “

Auto industry less attractive

Many factors are putting pressure on workers’ interest in STEM. Depopulation is part of the story, as is the upheaval in the country’s iconic automotive industry, where big-name employers such as BMW, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz recently announced plans to end the transition to electric engines. Has struggled.

“People aren’t sure they want to work in this field,” says Robert Wyse. “The car is probably not the interesting thing it used to be.”

Hidden Immigrants

So how to fill the gap? According to Vice, “Industry will have to find foreign engineers from other countries. And to some extent, this is already happening.”

According to Axel Plunke, there has recently been a lot of immigration in technical subjects in Germany. In the last ten years, the number of Indian passport holders, for example, working in engineering or computer science in Germany has increased from about 3,800 to 25,000, a 558 percent increase. This is more than people realize, Ecke added, because public discussions about migration in Germany tend to focus on people displaced by conflict.

Global labor competition

Specialists from Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco are also becoming more common in Germany. German Labor Minister Huberts Hell said in November that the idea that “all the skilled workers in the world” want to come to Germany is “unfortunately a myth.” is an illusion.”

The government is currently trying to streamline the immigration process for skilled workers. Bureaucratic hurdles and lack of digitization can make foreign workers wait months for the right to work in the country.

This delay is a nightmare for manufacturers. Lack of essential labor means more pressure on existing staff, less productivity. At the same time, there may be a risk that manufacturers will lose business to increasingly competitive players like China. China has invested heavily in building its machinery industry. “That’s why Germany needs to be attractive because people leave,” says Plun Eke. Other parts of the world are good too.”

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