High costs and taxes are forcing German manufacturers to shift production abroad. Unemployment, while starting to edge lower, remains near its post-war record.
But Germany still needs engineers. And lots of them. According to surveys, in the past 12 months about 30% of the biggest manufacturers have taken on engineers.
Telecommunications, recently described as a ‘jobs machine’ by minister for research Jurgen Ruttgers, is the industry most likely to have space for newly qualified engineers. Mannesman Mobilfunk took on 19% more engineers last year, according to the German Industry Association, VDI.
The biggest employer of engineers is Siemens, with 41,000. Daimler-Benz, the country’s biggest industrial concern, is another massive employer, along with other car manufacturers and energy conglomerate RWE.
But it’s not only the giants where engineers are finding jobs. The smaller, family-owned companies, or mittelstand, are also hiring, says the VDI, which advises new graduates to look not only among the big companies.
Dasa, the aerospace arm of Daimler-Benz, hardly fits the mittelstand category, but is also taking on more newly-qualified engineers about 600 this year and 700 next year, according to personnel director Hartwig Knitter.
But Dasa’s growth is not necessarily good news for home-grown engineers.
The company has a pan-European outlook which is reflected in its recruitment policy. Fluent English is greatly valued, as are other languages, says Knitter. In fact non-German graduates ‘have their nose in front’ when it comes to communications skills.
German graduate engineers could also be held back by being three to five years older than their British or French counterparts. ‘Other countries have shown that good engineers can be produced in shorter time’, says Knitter, who describes the age of German graduates as a ‘relative disadvantage’.
With the general election on 27 September, a change of government looks highly likely, but neither the social democratic SPD or the conservative CDU are expected to win an absolute majority. Helmut Kohl’s centre-right coalition could be replaced by an alliance between the SPD and the Greens or even a ‘grand coalition’ between the CDU and SPD, like the arrangement from 1969 to 1972.
Indeed, a grand coalition could be preferable for industry and business, according to consultant Roland Berger. ‘Between 1969 and 1972 things changed a lot. I would welcome a reforming coalition,’ he says.
Many industry leaders share his desire for reform, especially in the area of taxation and welfare.