Rhineland-Palatinate is one of the strongest export states in Germany and, alongside its industrial base, has a well-established culture of small and medium-sized companies. Companies need well-trained and qualified specialist staff in order to prepare for the future and succeed in international competition.
Rhineland-Palatinate has not been spared the demographic changes in Germany. By 2025, the population will have shrunk significantly and a quarter of residents will be over 65. As older workers move into retirement, gaps will open up in many workforces, which cannot be filled by the young workers coming through alone. According to calculations by the Institute for Employment Research, by 2025, the labour force – the total number of people capable of working – in Rhineland-Palatinate will sink moderately by around 165,000 (approximately eight per cent) to 1.81 million people. This development will then speed up in the subsequent years.
The Federal Employment Agency has demonstrated opportunities for business, politics and the Employment Agency to gain the specialist staff they need together and has developed fields of action for this. By far the greatest potential for additional specialist staff could be achieved by increasing women’s participation in the labour market and extending the weekly working hours of part-time staff. Although female participation in the labour market in Rhineland-Palatinate has increased significantly in the last ten years, still “only” 70.2 per cent of women were in gainful employment in 2010. This puts Rhineland-Palatinate slightly below the German average of 70.8 per cent. However, this increase in employment among women was almost exclusively due to a significant increase in part-time employment.
Great potential for specialist staff in Rhineland-Palatinate could be gained by increasing economic activity among people over 55. Employment among older people has increased significantly in the last few years, but the employment quota for this age group remains below average for employees liable to pay social security contributions. Many of the supposed disadvantages of older employees, such as higher staffing costs, higher levels of illness and lower productivity, are not real impediments for taking on or continuing to employ older people. Older people in society have never been as capable and productive as they are today. Companies are increasingly recognising how to accommodate the changing requirements of older employees by making adjustments within the business. It is also important to invest in further training for older people.
A further field of action will be to describe what will happen if attempts to further reduce the number of pupils leaving school with no qualifications are successful in the coming years. Good progress has already been made in this area in recent years. Initiatives in this area must be accompanied by an improved transition from school to working life. Significantly higher numbers of specialist staff could be secured for the future if the number of “training dropouts” could be reduced. According to figures from the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training, around one in four training contracts is dissolved early – potential young people who are not being trained.
By offering further training for low-qualified and older employees, especially in small and medium-sized companies, political labour market programmes have already made a key contribution to increasing qualification. In order to provide targeted support for older workers, the employment agencies are actively advising companies in Rhineland-Palatinate through the “WeGebAU” programme. The cooperation of the regional directorate in the EURES-Transfrontalier Saar-Lor-Lux-Rheinland-Pfalz-Wallonie network is helping to stem the flow of commuters across the borders.
There is no silver bullet which can prevent the looming shortage of specialist staff; many steps will be needed to actively counteract it. The bodies responsible for this are also wide ranging. Targeted cooperation between the federal and state governments, districts, social partners, companies, business associations and social security providers is setting the course for the future.
The author studied Romance Studies/History and Business Economics. She started as a junior staff member at the state employment agency in Baden-Württemberg and was managing director of basic security benefits for job seekers at the Niedersachsen-Bremen regional directorate in 2009. Since 2010, Heidrun Schulz has been chair of the executive Board for the Rhineland-Palatinate-Saarland regional directorate of the Federal Employment Agency.