Employees are missing everywhere, airports and restaurants can no longer fill their vacancies. But where have all the workers gone? Experts have analyzed how the bottleneck came about in the particularly affected sectors.

After more than two years of the pandemic, many want one thing above all: to enjoy more freedom. Finally going on holiday again without any worries, sitting in a restaurant or going to an open air with friends. Flights are cancelled, there are sometimes long waiting times in restaurants and festivals are on the brink. The reason for this is the lack of staff.

The problem of skills shortages is not new. But the corona pandemic has played its part in the fact that the need in some sectors is now particularly great. This also leaves experts puzzled as to where all the workers have gone.

The two researchers Anika Jansen and Paula Risius from the Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW) looked at exactly that for the hospitality industry. Because the consequences of the shortage of staff are particularly serious in the catering, hotel and tourism sectors: “Hardly any other industry lost so many employees to other industries in the first year of the pandemic,” write the two authors in their short study.

According to this, 216,000 people turned their backs on their jobs in 2020. For comparison: On an annual average, around 788,600 people were employed in the industry subject to social security contributions. In return, just over 116,000 people switched back to one of these professions.

Jansen and Risius also investigated where the former waiters, waitresses and hotel managers found accommodation. Sales are at the top of the list, so they started out as cashiers in supermarkets, for example. The researchers recorded 34,800 changes from gastronomy, hotels and tourism.

Around 27,200 people started a new job in the transport and logistics sector. The area of ​​corporate management and organization also benefited from job changes: 27,100 people started here, including in secretariats. Food production, cleaning jobs and education were also popular goals. They examined these changes using data from the Federal Employment Agency.

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What is surprising about their study: there were some changes, but overall fluctuation is lower than before the pandemic. The researchers attribute this, among other things, to the extensive use of short-time work.

This observation was also recently summarized by an evaluation by labor market researchers Enzo Weber and Christof Röttger from the Institute for Labor Market and Vocational Research (IAB). The reason for the personnel crisis is not a migration of workers in the sectors particularly affected by the pandemic, but rather the lack of personnel arose from the fact that some companies hired fewer workers during the crisis, the researchers explain.

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“This is a result across all industries,” says Weber. Accordingly, the expert concludes that there has not been a “big quit” like in the USA, i.e. a large wave of layoffs for more attractive jobs.

In the aviation industry, where flights across Europe are canceled or delayed precisely because of a lack of staff, according to calculations by the IAB experts, around 28 percent fewer jobs subject to social security contributions were terminated between March 2020 and December 2021 than in the pre-crisis period from March 2018 to December 2019. In the case of other services it was around 11 percent less for aviation and almost 60 percent less for cargo handling.

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Many also tried to keep their people because there was a shortage of staff, Weber said. And employees would also have avoided layoffs because of the poor prospects on the job market. But if the number of new hires falls over a longer period of time, employment will decrease.

“All corona-affected industries now have the same problem. They all want to cover their pent-up demand at the same time and at short notice,” said Weber. But the job market can’t afford it that quickly. He therefore assumes that the situation will only improve step by step and that normalization will not be achieved until next year – provided that there is no violent corona wave again in autumn.