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This is how industry fights against future unemployment

Germany’s industry is facing major upheavals. Thousands of jobs could be obsolete in the future. Companies like Continental are already preparing their employees for tomorrow’s job market.

There are well-known names, big brands with a long tradition that symbolize the German economy: chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturers such as BASF or Bayer, car manufacturers such as Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW, suppliers such as Schaeffler or Continental.

They all employ hundreds of thousands of people in Germany and they all face a similar challenge: Due to digitization and automation, they will need fewer workers in the coming decades than they do today. The result: Thousands of well-paid jobs are likely to disappear in the near future.

According to estimates by the Ifo Institute, around 100,000 jobs are likely to be created in the auto industry alone; Industrial jobs which, thanks to collective bargaining agreements, brought in a lot of money for thousands of skilled workers, but also unskilled temporary workers and their families. If these people become unemployed, not only some of them are threatened with social decline. Rather, Germany’s prosperity is in danger.

Continental closes plant in Aachen

Not only politicians and the Federal Employment Agency (BA) have recognized this growing problem, but also more and more companies. It is clear to many companies that they have to do something to enable their employees of today to have a decent life tomorrow.

One example of such a company is the tire manufacturer and automotive supplier Continental. In Aachen, the Dax group is currently in the process of closing an entire plant, a total of 1,800 employees are affected.

Conti HR director Ariane Reinhart: The manager has to close a plant in Aachen. (Source: Continental)Conti HR director Ariane Reinhart: The manager has to close a plant in Aachen. (Source: Continental)

However, so that they are not released into unemployment, Continental is already taking care of further training for its employees, well before the closing date at the end of 2022. “We work with trainers and job coaches to enable our colleagues as direct a transition from work to work as possible,” says HR Director Ariane Reinhart. “This enables them to prepare for the external job market within working hours and with full salary. This is particularly helpful for unskilled and semi-skilled workers.”

Employment agency finances further training

In fact, there could be more such qualification initiatives in the future. The federal government has created the prerequisites for this. The so-called “Qualification Opportunities Act” is intended to ensure that employees can complete further training and courses parallel to their current job, which prepare them for future professions – within their company, but also elsewhere.

Detlef Scheele, the head of the employment agency, thinks this is a good way to go. And for one who is urgently needed. “At the moment, however, we can hardly estimate how many jobs could be lost as a result of the digital transformation,” he says.

“One thing is clear, however: jobs will be cut in industry. This is all the more regrettable because these are part of the basic social inventory of the Federal Republic of Germany,” continued Scheele. “The new legal possibilities can provide a remedy, they are a real opportunity for numerous people – and also for companies.”

Special transfer company established

What he means by that: The downsizing of jobs does not always have to result in layoffs. In many cases, the employees can also be trained internally. From previously unskilled workers on the assembly line of a tire factory, employees in the IT department become.

More training
The Qualification Opportunities Act has been in force since 2019 and promotes further training for employees in their companies. Specifically, the companies receive financial subsidies from the Federal Employment Agency if they enable their employees to receive further training during working hours to prepare them for the labor market of the future. Depending on the size of the company, the BA pays between 15 and 100 percent of the training costs.

In practice, it can look like that at Continental in Aachen: There the company has set up a kind of transfer company, i.e. a company in which employees are initially housed after they have been given notice and continue to receive their wages.

The biggest difference to a conventional transfer company: Instead of leaving the placement of new employers mainly to the BA, the companies also ensure that their former employees receive advanced training that makes it easier for them to start a new job – at another Conti location, or on site at another company.

The job market is changing rapidly

“The city of Aachen has set up a round table for this, at which we sit together with the employment agency, social partners, business associations, universities and individual companies from the region,” says HR Director Reinhart. “There we discuss which companies have needs and then organize retraining with trainers and job coaches, for example for logistics companies.”

In the past, according to Reinhart, this has already been successful at the Hanover location, for example. There they cooperated with Deutsche Bahn and informed employees about career opportunities at Deutsche Bahn through information events.

Employment agency boss Detlef Scheele: Not all industrial jobs will be retained. (Source: imago images / Phototek)Employment agency boss Detlef Scheele: Not all industrial jobs will be retained. (Source: Phototek / imago images)

A prime example, which, according to Scheele, does not always work. In many cases, great efforts are needed – not least because the labor market is changing so much. “There is no longer a ‘classic’ unemployed person,” says the BA boss.

Difficult move from the belt to the bed

It used to be easier to transfer production workers to another factory. Today, many would have to completely reorient themselves, for example in the skilled trades, but also in completely different fields of work such as care, where numerous positions are open.

“Exactly this change from the conveyor belt to the bed, so to speak, is difficult for many,” says Scheele. “It starts with the actual job and ends with the income, which is currently well below that of a skilled worker in the industry.”

Nevertheless, he is confident that the model will catch on and that the Qualification Opportunities Act will help many people. “Industry in particular, but also companies in other branches of the economy, have recognized that they have a responsibility for their employees,” he says. “I am convinced that significantly fewer people will be left without a job in the long term.”

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