Shortage of Skilled Workers Hinders Innovation


Despite the persistently high level of unemployment in Germany, there is a great demand for well-qualified skilled workers. One out of every seven service providers has trouble to engage in innovation activities due to a shortage of suitably qualified personnel. As a result, the implementation of new products or production processes is delayed or impeded with negative effects on their competitiveness. The shortage of skilled workers has increased in importance by 50 % over the past two years: In 1997, such a shortage merely affected one out of ten businesses in terms of innovation activities.

These are the findings of a survey on innovations in the services sector carried out annually among 2,500 businesses in this sector sector by the Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW) in Mannheim on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. According to the results, the shortage of skilled workers primarily leads to projects not even being started. However, even if they are tackled, the shortage of skilled professionals often results in an extension of the project duration. Since the German labour market does not dispose of appropriately qualified workers, innovations are doomed to fail even if the company has sufficient financial resources.

Knowledge-intensive and innovative industries such as IT and telecommunications services as well as banks and insurances are affected particularly often by the shortage of suitably qualified personnel (usually engineers, software engineers and other IT-related jobs). Apparently, the demand for labour cannot be met. Only in exceptional cases, unemployed persons - e.g. from the shipbuilding and mining industries - manage to make their way into the banking or IT services sector. This is not necessarily due to a low level of qualification but a wrong qualification of the possible applicants.

The shortage of skilled professionals does not only have considerable consequences for economic and technological policy but also for education policy. Hiring skilled professionals from other countries is only a short-term solution for this problem. In the medium and long term, Germany must provide its own young qualified recruits. As early as at school age, pupils should receive support in making an appropriate choice of profession. In the medium term, the creation of new professional profiles may improve the situation in ICT professions. However, training contents for existing professional profiles also have to be adapted to the demands. Moreover, the scientific environment at universities and universities of applied sciences needs to be further improved in order to prevent the emigration of leading scientists and increase the attractiveness of Germany as a research location.


Günther Ebling, E-mail: