Two members of the Cucula team working on a piece of furniture

Germany’s struggling to find jobs for refugees

...and yet, there's lots of jobs to be done. So what's going wrong?

The way we talk about immigration, you’d think hundreds of thousands of people were moving from poor countries into rich ones on a daily basis.

In fact, of the ten countries that take the most migrants in the world, Germany is the only one classed as high-income. And the problem it’s now facing isn’t how many there are: it’s how to get them into work as quickly as possible.

Germany has taken in more immigrants than any other country in Europe, and most countries around the world. Although it’s not been easy, the fact is that Germany’s economy kind of needs them.

Germans aren’t having many kids, and the country is facing a skills shortage in everything from doctors, to IT specialists, to engineers. Sure, you could train Germans themselves to do those jobs – but that takes time, and refugees are available now. Plus, they really need the money, and most of them just want to settle somewhere and start their lives again.

The thing is, getting a refugee ‘integrated’ into a country – i.e., finding them work, a home, and a stable community – isn’t as simple as matching a job that needs doing with the skills they have.

Aydan Özoğuz, who’s in charge of the part of the German government responsible for integrating refugees into the economy, said in an interview this week that she thinks three in four of the refugees coming to Germany at the moment still won’t have a job in five years.

The right place at the right time

Then there’s the issue of a mismatch between the places people arrive, and the places where jobs are needed. In Germany, asylum seekers are distributed across the country via a formula which looks at how many people are in a particular area, and how much money it has in taxes, and decides on that basis how many migrants it should take.

But now people are saying these are the wrong things to be looking at: local housing, language classes, and job availability are a few of the criteria that seem to make a bit more sense.

The right skills for the right job

And although at first, a lot of the refugees arriving were qualified doctors and engineers, more and more people are arriving without formal education or training – at least not forms of education that are recognized by Germany. Over half of Syrian refugees arriving in Germany haven’t finished school, and only a quarter have a college degree.

Fixing the mismatch

All these obstacles that come in between person-that-needs-job, job-that-needs-doing and person-getting-job is what economists are talking about when they say there are issues in the ‘labor market’.

Given how huge the refugee crisis we’re in right now is, and the likelihood that it’s not going away anytime soon, Germany has started coming up with some ways to fix it. A lot of it is just about getting the skills people already have recognized, and investing in them so they develop the ones they don’t have yet, but the country needs.

One simple idea is something called the EU Skills Profile Tool, which is essentially a way of processing qualifications from other countries which don’t match the same format as a German CV. Another is a programme caled PerjuF (slips right off the tongue, doesn’t it?) which trains refugees and asylum seekers under 25 who are looking for some kind of vocational position. Other schemes train asylum seekers in the skills they need to go into apprenticeships.

And helping those who need it

But in Germany’s case, it’s also really important to Ozoguz that migrants aren’t just seen as an economic resource. “We don’t take in refugees according to their skills set,” she said. “The only criteria should be to help people fleeing war and political persecution.”

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