A flood of high school graduates meets a shortage of skilled workers. A generation of young, ambitious high school graduates is being crushed. The country of poets and thinkers provides state-required training that bypasses the labor market.
Susanne Benary heads the youth welfare committee in her town. She lives in Neuss, a small town that benefits from its suburban existence near Düsseldorf. But what Benary says doesn’t sound like a bacon belt, but rather an acute shortage: “There will be staff cannibalism,” she predicts, referring to kindergartens. Because educators are as rare as snowflakes in the desert, the welfare organizations that run kindergartens will poach each other’s employees, Benary fears. And SPD mayor Reiner Breuer openly threatens: The constantly growing city will not build any more new kindergartens as long as no staff can be found.
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The war for heads – in Neuss it hits the little ones. Early childhood education is postponed until later. The specialist radar that has just been published by the Bertelsmann Foundation shows that this is not an exclusive Neuss problem: the shortage is continuing in elementary schools. There will be a shortage of more than 100,000 skilled workers for all-day care by 2030.
So it’s not just construction, maintenance or IT in which specialists are being sought. It is also so bad for the skilled workers because many high school students who once did a solid education now prefer the university. For a quarter of them, this turns out to be a misjudgment of their interests or an overestimation of their own abilities. You will drop your studies.
Dazzled by a supposedly good Abitur, students move to universities, colleges and technical colleges in a few months. Like lemmings: 392 German universities are currently offering a total of 20,359 courses – almost twice as many as in 2007. Around 2.9 million students are currently enrolled. But in the MINT subjects alone – i.e. mathematics, computer science, natural sciences and technology – around 43 percent of those hungry for knowledge dropped out of their studies in 2021.
This number contains the educational dilemma in which Germany is stuck: there is a flood of high school graduates and yet there is a shortage of skilled workers. Germany is training past the market. Nobody wants to go back to the GDR era, when the planned economy prescribed what and who had to learn. But things can’t go on like this either. 20 years ago, hardly 30 percent of a cohort got the university entrance qualification, meanwhile it is more than half. In Thuringia, just 40 percent of the Abi class celebrated a trauma with a first grade.
But even a 1.0 is no longer a guarantee, for example, of a place on a medical course. The best German universities no longer accept a 1.0 with only 820 points in the Abitur. It has to be more than 850 or 870 points – purely arithmetically, a high school diploma of 0.9 or 0.8. Only those who have brought home 15 points, i.e. a one plus, in all upper school exams almost continuously for two years. The reasons given by the universities for the even stricter selection of elites: There are simply too many 1.0 candidates.
Alongside better and better grades, the academization of professions for which solid training outside of a university or technical college was once sufficient is progressing. The hotel clerk becomes a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in restaurant management, the freight forwarding clerk a BA in logistics management. The midwife has also become an academic. She has had to study since 2020, so the state wants it – following many EU states – with the Midwifery Act (HebG).
But it is paradoxical. At the same time, both in-company trainers and university teachers complain: The oh so good high school graduates lack fundamental knowledge at the university and in the company. Not just in math and science. Just a few months before the start of the corona pandemic, under which the learning conditions for the students have deteriorated considerably, the President of the German Rectors’ Conference, Peter-Andre Alt, warned: “There are serious shortcomings in terms of the ability of numerous high school graduates to study. We live in the fiction that the requirements for studying are met with the Abitur. Reality shows that far too often this is not true.” First-year students meet the requirements much worse than they used to, and there is even critical feedback from the universities when it comes to understanding texts and writing skills.
Is the learning researcher Elsbeth Stern possibly also right for Germany? With a view to the Swiss school landscape she examined, the professor at ETH Zurich explains succinctly: “At least 30 percent of middle school students do not belong in grammar schools – because they are not overly intelligent.”
But it is not just education policy with its desire for more and more high school graduates that is raising false hopes and thus actively contributing to the labor shortage in individual sectors. The grammar schools themselves rarely promote the prospect of a job without a degree. Instead, students are drummed into it from day one of high school how important the numerus clausus will be for their ability to study and thus for their entire future. An enormous pressure under which many young people go to their knees.
In the same way, companies miss the opportunity to make themselves known as an attractive training company in schools. As a rule, all high school graduates in Germany in the middle school must complete an internship. Usually two weeks in a company or an organization of their choice, they should gain an insight into working and professional life. The first opportunity for companies to inspire high school and comprehensive school students to train as specialists. But hardly a student hires there later.
The companies don’t manage to get the young people enthusiastic about themselves – despite great support from the employment agency. Clever medium-sized companies do not park student interns in the company so that they can “watch”. They lure with elaborately designed and accompanied internships to inspire young people for a new subject. Do good – and advertise with it. Even with an apprenticeship, there are many paths and career paths open to you. But how many high school seniors know that? Even EU-funded internships abroad, such as for students, are possible for trainees – even in smaller companies. But very few companies take advantage of this opportunity.
High school graduates looking for a job could lure larger medium-sized companies with a dual study program. Practice in the company, theory at the university of applied sciences – this is an ideal combination for many high school graduates who are not born bookworms. And a good compromise for companies: their dropout rate is lower than that of other students and more than half are still working for the company after three to five years.
But the state also has a duty not to lure young, ambitious people onto the wrong academic track. For example, the examination system in vocational training is to be evaluated and the permeability of training occupations that build on one another is to be simplified. But how many students will ever hear about it?
The original of this article “”Personal cannibalism” threatens: why we train past reality” comes from WirtschaftsKurier.