The current political, social, and geopolitical situation - war in Ukraine, environmental protection, and economic competition with China - poses numerous challenges for Germany. The issue of skilled workers is of major importance because the location needs skilled workers for functioning industries and recovery. But there is a great shortage here. Companies in the industrial valves sector also must come up with something.
In Germany, out of 801 occupational groups, more than 352 are currently facing shortages of skilled workers. According to a recent assessment by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection, 55 percent of companies already see the shortage of skilled workers as a risk. According to the Federal Ministry, there is not yet a nationwide shortage of skilled workers, but it has manifested itself in some occupations - throughout Germany. Particularly affected are the skilled trades, professions in the metal and electrical industries as well as in the other STEM fields. The reason is to be found above all in demographic change. Therefore, the shortage of skilled workers will continue to occupy companies for years to come.
The economic sectors in which industrial armatures play an important role are also affected by the shortage of skilled workers. For example, there is the machinery and plant construction sector in Germany: around 60 percent of the approximately one million people employed in this sector are skilled workers. Florian Scholl, labour market statistics expert at the VDMA, explains that shortages of skilled workers have recently worsened: “In June 2022, almost 80 percent of companies in the mechanical and plant engineering sector reported serious or noticeable shortages.”
The monthly economic surveys of the Ifo Institute also support this tense picture. According to the Ifo Business Survey, 43 percent of the companies in the mechanical engineering sector reported that production was being hampered by a shortage of skilled workers, more than ever before in the united Germany. Almost no company expects the situation to improve in the short term. “On the contrary, almost 40 percent of the companies even see a worsening of the situation in the coming months”, says Florian Scholl.
Another example is the chemical industry: according to a study by the management consultancy A.T. Kearney, more than 30,000 jobs in the German chemical industry could not be filled by 2030. Growth and innovative capacity are therefore in danger. The demand for skilled workers can still be met. In particular, the lack of skilled workers in research & development and in technological development will impair the innovative strength of German chemical companies in global competition in the future.
Demographic change one of the main reasons
So, manufacturers of fittings, valves, seals, and actuators cannot escape the topic. Despite the importance of this industry, it suffers from a shortage of skilled workers, which has a negative impact on production and the growth of the companies. If you ask around in the industry, those responsible confirm the currently tight personnel situation in their companies. “We are noticing the shortage of skilled workers very strongly in the technical departments, for example in the case of welders or industrial mechanics”, says Marco Tenhaef, sales manager at MIT Moderne Industrietechnik GmbH & Co. KG. “It is becoming increasingly difficult for SMEs to compete against corporate groups and to find qualified personnel. In total, we have about eight vacancies.” Wilfried Drehmel, Managing Director at Waldemar Pruss Armaturenfabrik GmbH, is also currently looking for new employees: “We are currently advertising for two project managers in sales, and we have several vacancies for machinists in production, as well as for mechatronics technicians in final assembly and service.”
But what are the reasons why qualified employees cannot be found for vacancies? One of the main causes is demographic change. Many employees are retiring, while there are too few qualified young workers who want to enter the industry. Another factor is the lack of attractiveness of the industry for young people. Often, work in this industry is seen as dirty, exhausting and not very interesting. In addition, there is increasing competition for skilled workers with other sectors, such as mechanical or electrical engineering. Another challenge is the lack of skilled workers with specific knowledge and skills required for the production of industrial armatures and seals. In particular, there is a great need for skilled workers with experience in CNC machining and materials science.
Stronger focus on training
In order to solve the shortage of skilled workers in the industrial valves and gaskets sector, there are various approaches. One possibility is to increase the attractiveness of the industry for young people. This can be done through targeted marketing campaigns and cooperation with schools and universities to raise interest in the industry and inform young people about career opportunities in the industry. Marco Tenhaef of MIT Moderne Industrietechnik takes the following approach: “We are a family-run SME and our employees are very important to us. We attach great importance to open and personal communication at all levels. We have a very family-like atmosphere. That is how we can assert ourselves against the “big“ ones.“ The company offers many benefits for the workers, for example a job bike, a company pension scheme and recently a subsidised lunch scheme has been tested. There are similar benefits at Pruss Armaturenfabrik. “Among other things, we offer the employees 13.2 monthly salaries and are guided by the IGM collective agreement“, says Wilfried Drehmel.
Another possibility is to promote the training of skilled workers. This can be done by providing apprenticeship places and supporting further education and training. Current figures show that there is a lot of potential in this area. Last year, some 8,000 training places in mechanical engineering-related occupations remained unfilled. In addition, the quality of applications in the mechanical and plant engineering sector has declined over the past three years, as shown by a VDMA flash survey on recruiting young people. According to the results, every second personnel manager is confronted with a slightly poorer and every tenth with a much poorer receipt of applications.
However, if the companies have found promising young talent, the chances are high that the training will be completed, and the newly qualified skilled worker will stay with the company. According to the survey, many employees in the mechanical and plant engineering sector are satisfied with their jobs. Fluctuation hardly plays a role in the industry. The vast majority of employees work for a company for at least ten years. “Many employees even stay with the same company until they retire“, says Jörg Friedrich, head of VDMA education.
Skilled workers from abroad as a solution?
The experts at the VDMA see immigration as another way of counteracting the shortage of skilled workers and thus demographic change. The Skilled Workers Immigration Act (FEG) has been in force in Germany for about two years. According to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), the law is intended to expand and facilitate immigration opportunities for professionally qualified persons in order to meet the demand for skilled workers. In this context, however, the VDMA calls for an applicable and functioning skilled labour immigration law. “As an affected industry, we also want to be heard and involved in the legislative process“, emphasises Fabian Seus, Head of the Labour Market Competence Centre at the VDMA. It is important that the announced reform of the Skilled Workers Immigration Act allows and even facilitates access to vocational training in Germany for young people from third countries who are capable of receiving training. The recognition of foreign qualifications must be made easier.
All in all, many different gears have to mesh in order for the industrial valves sector to master the shortage of skilled workers. Companies that are not open to new concepts and ideas will have little chance against the competition on the labour market. In this context, it is also important to find suitable solutions together with associations, universities, and politics - because the current challenges are difficult to master as a lone fighter.