The shortage of skilled workers in Germany will continue to worsen in many areas in the coming years – especially in sales, daycare centers, social work and hospitals. This is the result of a study by the employer-related Institute of the German Economy (IW). In order to close the impending staff gap, more people must be put into work – and later retire. “If we manage to let the baby boomers work just a little longer, that would already help us enormously,” said study author Alexander Burstedde.

In the study, the IW uses known data to break down how the shortage of workers will develop in individual occupational categories by 2026. The biggest gap is likely to be in childcare, nursing and care for the elderly, and social work. Before them is the sale, which lacks cashiers, for example. However, the area is subject to large fluctuations.

A major reason for the shortage of skilled workers is that the baby boomers, i.e. the generation with the particularly large number of births, are gradually retiring. Immigrant workers alone could not fill this gap, at least not at the current pace of immigration.

That’s why it’s important to keep people in work longer, said Burstedde. “Today, employees retire at an average age of 64,” he said. “If we just get a little more out of it, we’ve already achieved a lot.” Because letting older people work is by far the most important lever against the shortage of skilled workers, said Burstedde. “Roughly speaking, about three times as important as immigration.” It is necessary to make the right offers for older people – such as working part-time.

Prevent burnout in nursing and medical professions

Sebastian Dullien, economist at the Institute for Macroeconomics and Business Cycle Research (IMK) of the union-affiliated Hans Böckler Foundation, agrees. Older people could play an important role in fighting the skills shortage, he said. “However, you have to give them the flexibility in the workplace that they need.”

In order to fill the large staff gaps in hospitals, for example, a new organization of work is needed. “In the nursing and medical professions, we are running out of people because they can no longer do it,” said the economist. It must not happen that employees burn out here. In order to make the professions attractive again, better pay is also needed.

The German Professional Association for Nursing Professions is also critical of overtime. “We are already seeing in the nursing professions that absences due to illness and early retirement are significantly higher than in other professions,” said their national manager Bernadette Klapper. Increasing the working hours under these conditions exacerbates the problem. Instead, care structures are needed that make it possible to work until retirement.

Skills shortages decreased slightly in the fourth quarter of 2022

Apparently, there is no shortage of qualified staff: As a study by the Hans Böckler Foundation showed in the summer, at least 300,000 full-time positions in care could be filled by returnees and top-ups, provided that the working conditions develop for the better.

The number of staff in the “health, social affairs, teaching and education” area is already a focal point. In December, more than half of the advertised positions remained unfilled, as reported by the IW’s Competence Center for Securing Skilled Workers (Kofa) in another study. After all, it also revealed that the skills shortage fell slightly in the fourth quarter of 2022. However, the experts emphasized that it remained at a high level.

Businesses in the construction industry and trades are also heading towards a major shortage of staff – above all in the sanitary, heating and air-conditioning technology sectors. In the coming years, for example, they will have to manage the energy conversion of many homes. The training figures here are a bit better than the general trend, said Carsten Müller-Oehring from the Central Association for Sanitary, Heating and Air Conditioning. “However, that is in no way enough to cover the great need for specialists that is required to fulfill the politically proclaimed tasks,” said Müller-Oehring.

As described in the study, it is important to keep employees in work for a long time. However, it should not be forgotten that crafts sometimes involve heavy physical work.

For the study, the IW only considered employees subject to social security contributions. Statements about future developments are based on data from 2015 to 2021 – immigration as a result of the Ukraine war is therefore not taken into account.

In 2021, a good 400 of the 1,300 occupational groups examined suffered from staff shortages. By 2026, that will increase to almost 560. “The shortage of skilled workers is spreading to other professions,” says the study.

Study author Burstedde, on the other hand, sees measures designed to reduce unemployment as a comparatively weak lever against the shortage of skilled workers. “It’s very low and doesn’t seem to be rising, even in times of crisis,” he said. “Companies keep their people – even when push comes to shove.”