Shortage of skilled workers: Ukrainians hardly work here; The problem can be solved with three ideas

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Germany risks squandering an opportunity: hundreds of thousands of skilled Ukrainian workers are either not working at all or only working in unskilled jobs. By doing so, they could almost end the shortage of skilled workers. There are solutions.

After the start of the war, especially well-educated Ukrainians fled to Germany. Hopes that the influx would ease the shortage of skilled workers have yet to be realized. Many do not work, doctors grease sandwiches in the cafeteria. The dilemma has two problems and three possible solutions.

Ukrainians could significantly alleviate the shortage of skilled workers

In March, the Ministry of the Interior counted around 1.15 million Ukrainian refugees in Germany.

  • Almost three quarters have higher education, that is, universities, technical schools or similar. A tenth has vocational training.
  • Around a quarter want to stay in Germany permanently. Another quarter is still uncertain.

As things currently stand, Ukrainian refugees could provide between 300,000 and 600,000 skilled workers for Germany in the long term.

The IW estimates that there is currently a shortage of around 300,000 qualified workers in the Federal Republic. This gap will increase significantly in the coming years as baby boomers retire.

Ukrainians will not solve the long-term problem alone. But they could significantly alleviate current difficulties. But even that doesn't work.

Problem 1: Ukrainians are barely finding their way into the labor market

In December 2023, when around 1.15 million Ukrainian refugees also lived in Germany, around 190,000 Ukrainians worked in this country. This figure corresponds to only about one in six and includes Ukrainians who lived here before the start of the war. That is why newcomers find it difficult to access the labor market.

Even in Bavaria, almost two-thirds of Ukrainian refugees do not work, despite many vacant positions. A double problem, because they are absent from the labor market and receive state aid. In other federal states, the proportion of working Ukrainians is usually even lower.

It doesn't have to be this way: depending on the federal state, only between a quarter and a fifth of Ukrainian refugees are children. People of retirement age are also rare. Most of the unemployed could work.

Problem 2: Working Ukrainians often do so in the wrong positions

Even working Ukrainians are hardly easing the shortage of skilled workers.

The biggest obstacle to entering the job market is knowledge of German. Many jobs require at least a B2 language level: spontaneous and fluent communication with native speakers. Especially professionals, such as doctors, need to understand what the other person is saying.

Newcomers usually need at least two years to reach level B2. Of the 1.15 million Ukrainian refugees in Germany, 400,000 have started an integration course. Just over half have reached the B1 language level, the preliminary stage of B2. Another third is on the A2.

Without sufficient language knowledge, well-trained specialists end up in jobs far below their qualification level. The Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reports on a Ukrainian anesthesiologist buttering bread rolls in the zoo cafeteria. Laboratory diagnosis, operating room nurse and pediatric nurse; Computer scientist and bank employee: no one works in the profession they were trained in.

Solution 1: wait

Over time, more and more Ukrainians are likely to be drawn into the labor market as more and more Ukrainians work in professions that match their skills: in 2023, the number of Ukrainian refugees in Germany grew by ten percent. The number of Ukrainians working here increased in the same period by more than 50 percent.

Language barriers are disappearing and more and more refugees are getting used to the idea of ​​having to settle here for a while. Both attract people to the job market. The problem of Ukrainian skilled workers will partly resolve itself.

On the other hand, the Federal Republic quickly needs qualified workers. The federal government's goal should be to deliver this as quickly as possible, rather than waiting and wasting opportunities. That brings us to solution two.

Solution 2: Speed ​​up

Figures from the Federal Employment Agency show that the policy can get more Ukrainians to find work. Two-thirds more Ukrainians changed jobs in March than in January and twice as many as in January 2023.

Apparently the “work turbo” of the Federal Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) is working. Employment offices place Ukrainians in jobs with language level A2 and above and require them to write four applications a month and report to the employment office every six weeks. Integration and language learning are supposed to work better at work.

Social workers support the initiative. But some wonder why an anesthetist has to learn German while she greases buns in the zoo cafeteria and she doesn't do it immediately in the hospital, where she also learns technical terms. And they emphasize how important the help of neighbors and volunteers is to show newcomers the way to support structures.

Solution 3: Reduce bureaucracy

The bureaucratic obstacles to integration are illustrated by an initiative of the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia and the Federal Employment Agency, which aims to bring Ukrainians into the labor market. Step one: Identify the skills of refugees in integration courses and quickly initiate the professional recognition process.

Until now, refugees struggled first to learn German and then to have their vocational training or university degree recognized in this country. More than two years after the start of the Ukrainian war, politicians have recognized how long this solution is. This shows how much time Germany has already lost in reducing bureaucratic obstacles.

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