Labor Disconnect

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Hugging Close to Home, Firms and Apprentices Fail to Match Up

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Young people in Germany have the option of training for a variety of careers, but mobility has been a problem.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Thousands of trainee positions go unfilled, and new data suggests that employers and workers need to be more flexible in their demands.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Only 12 percent of would-be apprentices applied for a program more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from home.
    • Last year 35,000 apprenticeships registered with the federal jobs agency went unfilled, while 21,000 seekers were unable to find a traineeship.
    • The total number of new apprenticeships declined by 20,000 last year to 530,000. Overall there were 1.4 million.
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    Audio

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Germany’s vocational training system is lauded abroad, but more and more apprenticeships in the country are remaining unfilled, as firms and applicants fail to look further afield.

Only 5 percent of small and medium-sized companies look beyond 100 kilometers (60 miles) for qualified candidates. Most companies (two-thirds) look no farther than 20 kilometers (12 miles).

That reality is completely at odds with what the companies themselves believe, according to a poll of businesses by the German Institute for Vocational Training. The poll’s results, obtained by Handelsblatt, show two-thirds of companies believe that recruiting apprentices from outside their region is important today. And about 80 percent believe that within five years, mobility will be an important determination in hiring qualified employees.

Germany’s apprenticeship model is renowned around the world for how it develops a skilled workforce and keeps unemployment down. In the United States, German companies such as BMW and Siemens are working with schools and local governments to create apprenticeship and career programs for young people. That way businesses help build a qualified workforce for well-paying technical jobs that might otherwise not be filled.

But many young Germans shy away from apprenticeships far from home. Only 12 percent of would-be apprentices applied to companies more than 100 kilometers away, according to the vocational training survey. Even among those who had not yet found an apprenticeship, the figure was only 16 percent.

The result is the so-called “matching problem.” One of the great challenges for Germany’s vaunted job-training system is unfilled apprentice positions, according to a report by the vocational training institute. In 2013, 33,500 apprenticeships that were registered through the federal job agency could not be filled, and about 40 percent of companies claimed that they couldn’t fill all their apprenticeship openings.

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