Germany is an aging society that is running out of skilled workers. That’s where the many young refugees come as they are, right? But it is not quite that simple, the OECD also found in a study.

No knowledge of German, no training: the Syrian Beniyan Bachar was like so many others when he came to Germany as a young refugee. Today the Kurd is 23 years old and completed his training as a hairdresser in Osnabrück in Lower Saxony in summer 2019 – as the best of his year. “I’m just happy,” he said when he received his award in the local chamber of crafts.

A success story and a practical example of how things can go in the best case: On the one hand, a young refugee who is hardworking and willing to learn a lot. On the other hand, a team of trainers, language teachers and social pedagogues who stand by him throughout the training.

Germany |  Beniyan Bachar |  Best in hairdressing at the Osnabrück Chamber of Crafts (Osnabrück Chamber of Crafts)Only happy: Beniyan Bachar (left) with his report card

Not a sure-fire success

“Our companies have mostly had positive experiences with trainees with refugee experience,” says Holger Schwannecke, General Secretary of the Central Association of German Crafts (ZDH). “Which doesn’t mean that such training is a sure-fire success.” The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) comes to this conclusion in a current study. It is called “Utilizing the potential of migrants” and examines the obstacles that those wishing to learn in Germany face on their way to and through training.

The number one obstacle is a lack of language skills, but often a poor school education due to the war. According to the OECD, job preparation measures are essential for migrants. However, the OECD warns that it will take time to learn German, possibly to graduate from school, to write applications, to go to the authorities, or to find an apartment.

Race with your asylum procedure

The time that many do not have because they want to make money quickly or are afraid that they will be deported when they are out of work. In Germany, it also depends on where you live, who is entitled to vocational preparation, at what age and for how long. In seven federal states, young people between the ages of 16 and 18 are only entitled to vocational preparation, while others also have migrants aged 21, 25 or 27. The OECD demands that this be standardized.

Compared to young people who were born and grew up in Germany, migrants are less likely to take up company-based training. Holger Schwannecke, General Secretary of the Central Association of German Crafts (ZDH) regrets this, but he also knows why: “To make money.” A hairdressing apprentice receives 450 euros in the first year of training. It is 550 euros in the second and about 700 euros in the third year. This is far less than you can earn in an unskilled job.

“It’s cool, I want that too.”

Only after passing the apprenticeship is it financially uphill and, of course, socially. “The importance of vocational education and training in Germany is often underestimated,” said Schwannecke. The young people must be made aware of this. “We have to attract more successful entrepreneurs with a migration background as role models so that the young people can see that they did it, that’s cool, I want that too.”

Germany Abdulraham Alabsi from Syria |  Apprentice at Heraeus (picture-alliance / dpa / D. Kögel)Training with close assistance necessary

Without migrants, many craft businesses would no longer be able to meet their skilled workers’ needs. Around half of all trainees with a nationality from one of the eight most common asylum-seeker countries complete training in the craft sector. Between 2015 and 2018, the number of trainees without a German passport in craft almost doubled, currently there are 18,680. Nevertheless, every tenth apprenticeship in the craft sector remained vacant last year.

High dropout rate

However, it is not enough to get young refugees interested in training only. Measured by the total number of trainees, an above-average number of them drop out of their training again. 

Germany Presentation Study Exploiting the Potential of Migrants |  Ludger Schuknecht (DW / S. Kinkartz)Ludger Schuknecht presented the OECD study in Berlin

Refugees need much more support during vocational training, according to the OECD study. “We need assisted training, more communication between schools, companies and social welfare offices and an early warning system so that we can intervene in time to keep people on track,” says OECD Deputy Secretary-General Ludger Schuknecht.

Deficits also among employers

However, there are still companies that do not train refugees at all. “There is discrimination that does not have a racist or other backgrounds, but simply comes from the calculation, that there is a higher risk and that one does not understand each other so well,” said Schuknecht.

Germany Berlin Summit Immigration of skilled workers |  Horst Seehofer, Hubertus Heil, Angela Merkel, Olaf Scholz, Peter Altmaier (Getty Images / AFP / J. Macdougall)At the end of December, the federal government presented the law on skilled workers immigration

The greatest risk remains the ambiguous legal situation. For some time now there has been a regulation that protects trainees should their application for asylum be rejected. If you have an apprenticeship contract, you can complete your apprenticeship and then continue working for two years. However, this so-called “3 + 2” regulation is interpreted very differently by the authorities in different regions.

Hope for March 1st

“The worst thing for companies is if someone is taken away from them in preparation for training or in training,” said ZDH General Secretary Schwannecke. “Word gets around and then it says among colleagues: I wanted to help, but you don’t need to do that, because they’ll get you away anyway.”

In the craft sector, it is hoped that the immigration law for skilled workers, which will come into force on March 1, 2020, will improve the situation. Schwannecke summarizes that companies don’t care what is regulated where and in which law. They just asked for legal certainty. “I hope that in the interests of qualification and training, the regulations will be applied generously.”


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