Birgit Förster: Locational advantage availability of skilled personnel

Germany’s export-dependent economy was particularly hit hard by the global financial crisis of 2009. Gross domestic product shrank by 4.7 per cent. The increase in unemployment, however, was less dramatic. There were no waves of redundancies although it had at first been feared. This is thanks to a responsible and far-sighted personnel policy of the companies and the feature of short-time work. By promoting a temporary reduction in working hours, the compa­nies were able to bridge the slump in demand and keep the employees in the company in order to immediately start again along with economic upturn. This is how Germany managed through the crisis like hardly any other industrialized nation. In this way, particularly those com­­panies which already have had problems for a while in terms of finding skilled per­­sonnel were able to keep their employees.

Meanwhile, the economic short-time work hardly plays any role. Under­em­ploy­­ment has declined significantly, workers are back in demand, and the number of jobs subject to social insurance contribu­­tions is also on the rise again. The eco­nomic outlook is positive and the demand of companies for employees keeps rising du­­ring the economic upswing. How­ever, companies are already complaining about difficulties in finding qualified skilled workers. The reasons for this include the strength of the economy in the years before the crisis and the
current boom in the economy, coup­led with decreasing unemployment. Thus, the demand for skilled workers is increasing faster than expected. The effects of the change in demographics are adding up in the short to mid-term. According to a CCI business survey (IHK), approxi­mately 50 per cent of all businesses are expecting the shortage of skilled workers to affect them greatly.


Ab dem Jahr 2012 werden Unternehmen in der Engineering-Region Darmstadt-Rhein-Main-Neckar Schwierigkeiten haben, qualifizierte Fachkräfte zu finden, prognostizieren selbst die Industrie- und Handelskammern in Darmstadt und Frankfurt. Vorsichtigen Schätzungen zu­­folge sind jährlich rund 27.000 Stellen insbesondere für Ingenieure und Infor­matiker, aber auch für gewerblich-tech­­nisch und kaufmännisch ausgebildete Fachkräfte betroffen.

Folgende Entwicklung ist bundesweit zu beobachten: Seit den siebziger Jahren gehen die Geburtenzahlen stark zurück. Mittlerweile sterben mehr Menschen, als geboren werden.
Der Ausgleich erfolgte bislang durch die Zuwanderung von ausländischen Arbeitnehmern. Die Abwanderung war vernachlässigbar klein und die Bevöl­ke­­rung ist trotz des Geburtenrückgangs angestiegen. Seit einigen Jahren sinkt die Zuwanderung und die Abwanderung von besonders hochqualifizierten Arbeit­­nehmern, vielfach mit dem Wunsch nach familienfreundlicheren Arbeits­be­din­gun­gen, steigt dagegen an. Die Bevöl­ke­rungs­zahl sinkt und damit auch die Zahl derer, die auf den Arbeitsmarkt drängen. Zunächst entlastet dies den Arbeits­markt, aber die Folgen sind ab­­sehbar. Denn wichtiger als die Zu- oder Ab­­nah­me der Bevölkerung ist ihre Alters­­struktur. Wenn spätestens ab dem Jahr 2015 die ersten geburtenstarken Jahr­gänge in den Ruhe­­stand gehen, wird das Arbeits­kräfte­an­gebot von Jahr zu Jahr drastisch sin­­ken. Der Bevölkerungs­anteil im erwerbs­fähi­gen Alter wird zu­­nehmend kleiner. Bereits heute leben weit mehr 60-Jährige als 16-Jährige in Deutsch­land und bis zum Jahr 2025 wird es doppelt so viele 60-jährige wie 16-jährige Menschen geben.

Eine Studie des Instituts für Arbeits­markt- und Berufsforschung (IAB) zum Arbeitsmarkt bis 2025 geht davon aus, dass bis zu diesem Zeitpunkt das Erwerbs­­personenpotenzial um sieben Millionen Menschen sinken wird. Bereits im Jahr 2010 ist das Erwerbspersonenpotenzial bundesweit um circa 90.000 Menschen zurückgegangen. Ohne qualifizierte Fach­­kräfte stoßen die Unternehmen an Gren­­zen des Wachstums, wenn Aufträge we­­gen Personalmangel abgelehnt werden müs­­sen. Das Angebot an qualifizierten Fach­­kräften ist damit einer der wichtigsten Standortfaktoren. Dieser Trend ist allerdings nicht flächen­­de­ckend im gesamten Bundesgebiet identisch ausgeprägt: Wie stellen sich angesichts dieser Entwicklungen die Perspektiven für Darmstadt dar?


As of 2012, businesses in the Darm­stadt- Rhein-Main-Neckar region will have diffi­­culties finding qualified skilled workers.
This is even predicted by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Darmstadt and Frankfurt. According to conservative estimates, approximately 27,000 positions are affected every year, especially those of engineers and IT specialists, but also those of skilled workers specialised in business and commerce.

The following development can be ob­­served nationwide: since the 1970s, birth­­rates have declined drastically. Now­a­days, more people are dying than are being born. The compensation has thus far been achieved through the immigra­tion of for­­eign workers. Emi­gra­tion was insignificant, and the population in­­creased despite declining birth rates. In the last few years, however, immigra­tion has de­­creased and emigration of especially high-skilled workers with a desire for family-friendly working conditions has in­­creased. The population is declining, and with that, the number of those who are pushing forward into the labour market. At first this relieves the burden on the labour market, but the consequences are foreseeable, as age distribution is more significant than an increase or decrease in population. Starting in the year 2015 at the latest, when the first baby boomers begin seeking retirement, the supply of skilled workers will drop drastically each year. The working-age population will continue to shrink. Already today there is a signi­f­icantly higher number of 60-year-
olds living in Germany than 16-year-olds and by the year 2025, there will be twice as many 60-year-olds than 16-year-olds.

A study done by the Institute for Employment Research (IAB) on the labour market concluded that by the year 2025, the labour force will have decreased by seven million people. Already in the year 2010, the labour force had decreased by 90,000 people nationwide. Without qualified skilled workers, businesses are limited in growth when work has to be rejected due to a lack of employees. Hence, the supply of qualified skilled workers is one of the most important factors in choosing a location. This trend, however, is not as distinct in all areas nationwide: what is the outlook for Darmstadt given this development?


The last demographic report from 2008 of the “City of Science” Darmstadt shows that the inverse development is taking place in individual, highly populated and metropolitan areas. The Rhein-Main region and the city of Darmstadt also exhibit a positive population dynamics and are part of a small group of cities and metropolitan areas of Germany that have very good outlooks and chances for growth. Since 2005 there have been more births than deaths. In addition, since 1998 a positive migration balance can be observed. The average annual migration gain of 400 people was even unusually high. As a consequence of both trends, population increased from 139,000 at the end of the 1990s to today’s historic record of over 143,000 residents. There is no end to the population growth in sight.

As a result, Darmstadt is a winner of this demographic change. What all winning regions have in common are attractive and innovative work environments, excellent career opportunities, optimal quality of life, a good infrastructure, and fantastic work-related benefits.

Studies by the IAB confirm that regions which are attractive for mobile and well-educated skilled workers have a significant locational advantage: with the immigration of good and highly skilled workers, there is a chance for improved regional growth prospects. Hence, the workers choose their living and working location that provides them and their families with the best possible opportunities. In this case, the economic region of Southern Hessen is especially profiting from the quality of the education and research in the local universities.
Darmstadt University of Technology (TU Darmstadt), Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences, and the Protes­tant University of Applied Sciences Darmstadt, which altogether include about 33,000 students. TU Darmstadt is considered as one of the best universities in Germany.

TU Darmstadt maintains this reputation, especially in the field of engi­neering. Upon leaving the university,
students are ready and able to enter the work force, and local businesses are benefitted by the scientific research through their connection with the schools. It is this close interaction between science and economy that makes Darmstadt so successful.

Given the excellent reputation and the interesting academic orientation of the universities, over 30 high-quality research facilities have settled in Darmstadt – among them are the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research, the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) and three institutes of the Fraunhofer Society. Additionally, there are large companies and institutions of core industries in the high-tech inno­vative areas of IT, chemistry, pharmaceutical, engineering and space technology, which recruit a large percentage of their qualified workforce directly from Darmstadt’s universities.

Attractive job offers alone, however, are not sufficient to keep highly
qualified skilled workers in the region. Particularly, the compatibility of
family and career is a considerable key factor for the sustain­ability of the business location.

Nowadays, it is one of the core responsibilities of most companies in Darmstadt to enable their employees to combine career and family. Many employers offer childcare services and flexible work time models. They particularly assist women in returning to work after maternity leave by offering more and more part-time jobs. In the long run, this discourages employees from leaving, and retains company-specific know-how. The employees feel more connected to each other, family and career are in balance, and satisfaction increases.

Good school programmes – with day care facilities – are also attractive to the influx of young families. Despite all positive location factors, demographic change will occur, and with it, an exacer­bated shortage of skilled workers. To prevent this process, strategies must be developed at the local level in order to soften the potential negative effects. In many ways, politics and economics are equally challenged.

There is potential for improvement: in addition to the harmony of family and career and the integration of migrants, the participation of older people in the labour force must also be increased. A goal-oriented continuing education and healthcare offers provide an opportu­nity for extending working life. At the same time, educational content for vocational schools and schools can be more synchronized with the companies so that younger people are better prepared for vocational training and consequentially, for entering the labour force. If this baseline is present, or is improved, additional skilled workers can be made ready for tomorrow. Internal personnel development measures and qualification of employees, as well as those seeking employment, is as necessary a contribution to the preservation of skilled personnel as is the development of the immigration of qualified workers.

If all these points are heeded, Darmstadt will remain competitive in the future and will remain a leader, despite a shrinking and aging labour force, in the national as well as international compe­tition for qualified skilled personnel.

Förster_0019-KopieThe author was born in Würzburg in 1960 and lives with her husband in Kahl am Main. The certified biologist has been the head of the Federal Employment Agency Darmstadt since October 2006. Prior to that, Birgit Förster had several leadership positions in employment agencies in Würz­burg, Aschaffenburg, Landau in der Pfalz and in the regional employment office in Frankfurt.