The big trainee gap – and how it can be filled

“Of course we also notice that fewer applications tend to end up in the mailbox instead of more,” says Florian Wasmeier. He is HR Manager at the Bauer Group in Weilheim , a medium-sized company that is so typical for Bavaria: around 250 employees, family-owned and with an industrial portfolio, from mechanical engineering to turbocharger trading. And yet, if you wanted to, you could feel a bit exotic there these days. Because while there is an urgent need for trainees all over the country, they were able to fill all 43 apprenticeship positions at Bauer at the start of the new training year in September. “We are very well known in the region,” says Wasmeier on the phone. “But you have to do something for that.”

Doing something to increase the number of trainees: That’s what many entrepreneurs are trying to do all over Bavaria. But instead of reports of success, complaints about a lack of offspring are piling up from year to year. For 2022, for example, 98,303 training positions were reported to the Bavarian job centers. Of these, 38,582 remained vacant – a new high. At the same time, only around 8,200 applicants are still looking for an apprenticeship. That’s not nearly enough to satisfy the economy’s hunger for future skilled workers.

At the Bauer Group, on the other hand, they are now fed up. Why works there what fails elsewhere? Perhaps because of the “craze for trainees,” as Wasmeier put it. That may sound surprising at first given the general greed for trainees, but it becomes clearer as soon as Wasmeier explains what his company is doing. There is a full-time trainer and the prospective precision mechanics have their own workshop. In order to fully involve the young people in the company, they would be given their own tasks from day one instead of temporary jobs – and the opportunity for flexitime. “You don’t just have to present yourself as a good employer,” says Wasmeier: “You also have to be one.”

In fact, the ideas with which companies and industry associations advertise for young people have become more creative in many places. Social media campaigns tailored to the target group have long been standard. But when translated into figures, little of all the effort makes a difference. The Bavarian Chambers of Crafts reported 20,623 new apprentices in September, a drop of 1.1 percent compared to the previous year. The employment agencies recorded a similar decline of 1.6 percent among applicants. The Bavarian Association of Chambers of Industry and Commerce does not yet have final figures, but even there: “The biggest problem for companies is still that there are not enough applicants for the numerous training places on offer,” says a statement. In many places there was great hope that the statistics could at least pick up a little after two years shaped by Corona. Job fairs and internships, previously often canceled, were possible again – and with them the important personal exchange.

The conditions for training are not always ideal

In view of this, the reactions from politicians sent out at the start of training seem almost helpless. “Today’s trainees are the future of our economy,” said Bavaria’s Labor Minister Ulrike Scharf (CSU). But what remains of the future when there is less and less of it? Demographic change alone ensures that more people tend to retire than will come. Business representatives therefore repeatedly point out how important immigration from outside is. In addition, vocational training must be strengthened compared to studying, for example with mandatory career orientation days in all schools. It is less popular to say that the training conditions themselves are not always ideal. Where apprentices are used as cheap helpers, the reputation of the entire industry suffers in the end.

Above all, however, the lack of apprentices belies how diverse vocational training has become – and that some craftswomen are now earning more than some academics. The Chambers of Commerce and Industry alone count around 200 professions in their area, from A for plant mechanic to L for paint laboratory assistant and S for sports specialist to Z for machining technician. Some training courses were also supplemented with new teaching content and modernized. In this way, the former IT clerk became today’s clerk for digitization management. And if you want, you can later become self-employed: According to the Bavarian Crafts Day, around 22,300 companies in Germany will be looking for a new boss in the next five years due to age.

From this point of view, those interested in training are spoiled for choice. Companies, on the other hand, are spoiled for choice. If you want to keep up in the competition for the skilled workers of tomorrow, you have to think of something that goes beyond the well-known messages. “The overall concept must be tailored to the company,” says HR manager Wasmeier. “All employees have to support that.” At Bauer, for example, part of the concept is that all trainees were previously interns: This way, both sides know what they are actually getting themselves into. The first applications for next year, says Wasmeier, have already arrived.

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