Last fall, as thousands of refugees poured into Berlin daily, Daimler chief executive Dieter Zetsche spoke of a possible “economic miracle.”
These newcomers, he said, were young, well-trained and highly motivated. Just the people Germany was looking for.
But now that attitude appears to be hopelessly optimistic. In July, sobering data emerged that Germany’s 30 largest companies had hired a total of only 54 refugees. Deutsche Post had taken 50, software giant SAP two, and pharmaceutical firm Merck two more.
The 30 largest companies promised 300 training places, but could only fill a tiny proportion. Out of an expected 2,700 internships, just 500 materialized. Again Deutsche Post outperformed everyone.
ThyssenKrupp, BMW and Daimler did their best, but clearly expectations were too high.
The refugees themselves do not expect too much. They do not want state handouts, and expect to have to go out to find work.
One year after Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “We can do it,” many wonder if Germany can indeed manage the refugee influx and create enough jobs.
Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel wrote to the country’s biggest companies, accusing them of doing far too little to integrate refugees. But he praised small and medium sized companies for their efforts. The mid-size business sector has been a rare success when it comes to refugees entering the workforce.
Of the several initiatives of the last few months, one with the highest profile was “We are together.” Some 113 companies, including Deutsche Telekom, Lufthansa and VW, signed up with the aim of creating 1,800 internships, 534 training positions and 449 permanent positions.
The German Chamber of Commerce runs another network, “Companies for the integration of refugees,” with 800 members. The network has generated around 371 internships, 278 training places and 312 regular jobs for refugees.
The Munich Institute for Economic Research, known as Ifo, surveyed over 1,000 human-resource executives this year about the effectiveness of these networks. It found that only 7 percent of German companies already employ refugees, although 34 percent have plans to do so this or next year. These are small steps and it is is clear the integration into the labor market will take time.
At the end of the year, around 1.3 million refugees were registered in Germany. The federal labor agency calculates some 30,000 refugees have found a job since last spring.
One of the biggest obstacles for them to find work is their lack of language skills. Very few refugees speak German, and only about one third are able to communicate in English. And many lack basic qualifications and certificates.
In addition, businesses that want to hire refugees have to deal with a huge amount of bureaucracy. There are numerous legal issues, and any prospective worker needs to be given time off to deal with authorities. Nor is there any guarantee how long refugees will be allowed to stay in the country.
Many of them are overwhelmed by the paperwork. Official documents are not always available in Arabic or Farsi. Many end up signing papers they don’t understand. It is important to remember that most of these refugees are incredibly young. Most are under 30, if not under 25. They want to find work, but many of them, after having completed their courses in integration and the German language, find few available jobs.
The refugees themselves don’t expect too much. They don’t want state handouts, and want to go out and find work. The countries they come from do not tend to have employment offices handing out jobs. But many are also not willing to spend three years training: they want to work and earn money immediately.
In July around 322,000 refugees were registered as jobseekers, and some 141,000 were classified as unemployed.
The German government estimates that unemployment will rise in the coming year, for the first time since 2013. The finance ministry believes the numbers could rise by 110,000 to around 2.9 million. By 2020, it could rise to 3.1 million.
A recent survey showed that a quarter of refugees who are looking for work have not even completed high school and 74 percent do not have any sort of formal training. Only 9 percent have a university degree.
There are national differences. Syrians and Iranians are significantly better educated than asylum seekers from Iraq.
The employment agency estimates around 154,000 auxiliary jobs that could be filled by refugees, mainly in catering, logistics and the cleaning industry.
Labor Minister Andrea Nahles wants to create what she calls “100,000 new job opportunities” and what the rest of the industry calls one-euro jobs. These are low skilled jobs, paying less than the minimum wage, which refugees can do while waiting for something better to come along.
Experts estimate it will cost Germany between €20 billion and €50 billion to integrate these refugees into the labor market. Frank-Jürgen Weise, head of the Employment Agency and the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, said some time ago he was skeptical about all the claims of refugees being a windfall for the labor market. “Now that they are here, we should give them a chance and make something of it,” he said.
It is generally accepted that it will take years before a majority of the refugees are working and paying taxes.
Research shows that in the past, 20 percent of the employable refugees had found work after a year. After five years, half were employed, and after 15 years, some 70 percent had jobs. Then they had reached the level of other immigrants.
Angela Merkel has invited, or possibly summoned, the chief executives of some of Germany’s main companies to the chancellery in mid-September to talk to them about the integration of refugees in the labor market.
The new integration act is in force to speed things up. Refugees will be given language lessons faster, and their paperwork will be fast-tracked through the system.
The government also plans to ditch requirements requiring employers to hire foreigners only if there is no suitable German candidate. The new legislation also guarantees that any asylum seeker offered a job after completing a training course will be able to work for two years, regardless of how the application for asylum goes.
The issue of residence, however, remains unclear. German authorities want to avoid creating enclaves where members of an ethnic minority live together, and would rather encourage people to settle where there are jobs. But this is rarely clear cut: How can people be expected to know what jobs are available until they actually move there?
Questions like this one need to be resolved soon.
This article originally appeared in Tagesspiegel. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org