The term skilled worker shortage describes a condition of the economy. It results from a large number of unfilled vacancies facing a very small number of qualified workers. In short: the demand for skilled workers is higher than the actual number of skilled workers available.
In Germany, this shortage has been clearly felt in various industries for several years. According to the German Federal Employment Agency, Germany is currently looking for 1.2 million workers, over 65% of whom are skilled workers. A recent survey by the IW states that two out of three jobs that require appropriate vocational training or a degree are already difficult or impossible to fill - and the trend is rising. Particularly affected in Germany are the skilled trades, STEM and IT professions, healthcare, nursing and the manufacturing industry.
The need for highly qualified talent has increased significantly over the past two decades. The reasons for this include the megatrend of ongoing structural change and the research- and knowledge-intensive society.
The skilled worker shortage is determined by structural and growth-related factors. Structural means that jobs have to be filled because staff stop working permanently (retirement) or temporarily (parental leave). Growth means that a company has a higher demand for personnel due to the long-term growth of the national economy. However, the number of available employees with the appropriate qualifications is not sufficient to fill these positions.
In the pharmaceutical, biotech and medical technology industries, qualifications from the STEM fields are primarily required. However, the number of first-year students* has been declining again for several years. Whereas in 2010/11 around 208,000 people started a STEM degree program, in 2020/2021 the figure was only around 180,000. In addition, technologies in these fields are increasingly evolving and demanding newer and more specialized additional qualifications.
The number of high school graduates opting for higher education has been rising steadily for two decades. However, the increase was and still is significantly below the growth in demand for skilled workers. These developments also make a not insignificant contribution to the shortage.
Impacts and consequences on the life science sector
As a result of these developments, companies are finding it increasingly difficult to find suitable candidates for vacant positions. The problem: The innovative strength as well as the productivity of individual companies suffer from the shortage. More than 50% of companies now see the lack of personnel as a serious threat to their business development. Many areas of the life science industry are also affected by this.
The pharmaceutical and chemical industries are key industries for the growing world population today and will be in the future. Whereas the large life science companies are still rather confident about recruiting employees, small and medium-sized companies and research institutions are already feeling the effects of this problem more clearly. The areas of development and production are particularly affected.
However, since these institutions are usually decisive catalysts of innovation, this development has bad consequences for the entire industry. In particular, a country with few young talent like Germany will therefore quickly become a brake on growth due to the lack of skilled workers and lose touch with other countries.
Companies also see the lack of personnel as a serious threat to their business development. More than 50% of companies are now of this opinion.
Prognosis for the future
In 2025, the demographic shift will hit the labor market with full force. By that time, most of the baby boomers will have retired. The Basel-based research institute Prognos predicts that Germany will be short of more than three million skilled workers by 2030.
In order to counteract this development, it is first and foremost the politicians who are called upon. Promoting the compatibility of family and career, as well as simplifying the immigration of qualified specialists from abroad, are essential points that many experts propose as a solution.
But in the course of the personnel shortage, active recruiting is also becoming increasingly important for many companies in order to fill vacancies. But here, too, companies often lack the necessary resources. That's why more and more companies are turning to external personnel consultants to help them find qualified employees.
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