The benefit of foreign qualified professionals to the German skilled crafts sector
The benefit of foreign qualified professionals to the German skilled crafts sector
Correct as of: 17/07/2023
Whether in the building and electrical trade or in plumbing, heating and air-conditioning – Germany has a shortage of qualified craftspeople. What are the benefits of recruiting skilled workers from abroad to fill vacancies, and what do you need to think about during the process? This article gives you an overview of the severe skills shortage and the options for employing foreign qualified professionals in the skilled crafts.
How bad is the skills shortage in the German skilled crafts sector – and who is needed?
More than 138,000 reported jobs in June 2023 and 40,000 training vacancies in the skilled crafts – there is a severe shortage of qualified professionals and new recruits. Against this backdrop, the German economy and the skilled crafts sector are “more dependent than ever on foreign qualified professionals,” said the President of the German Confederation of Skilled Crafts (ZDH) in his video statement to mark the anniversary of “Make it in Germany”. Last but not least, the skilled crafts also play a decisive role in the implementation of the energy transition, which will lend even greater weight to this issue. According to KOFA, a centre of excellence for securing skilled labour, ever since 2015, there have been more vacancies in the German skilled crafts sector than unemployed skilled craftspeople. The shortage of specialists climbed to a new record high in 2022: in purely arithmetical terms, there were no suitably qualified unemployed people anywhere in the country for an average of 128,891 vacancies.
The demand for skilled workers spans various professional fields. Most of the top shortage occupations are in the building trade: above all, there is a shortage of skilled workers in construction electrics, followed by plumbing, heating and air-conditioning. In terms of qualification requirements, the greatest shortage of specialists (108,000) in 2022 was for people who had completed vocational training, i.e. journeymen and women. In relative terms, however, it was even more difficult for craft enterprises to fill vacancies at master craftsperson level: in this sector, more than six out of ten vacancies remained unfilled in 2022 (vacancy surplus rate of 63.6 per cent). The above-mentioned tight labour situation in the skilled crafts sector points to the need to utilise the potential of skilled craftspeople from abroad for the local labour market.
The current situation: foreign craftspeople in Germany
Skilled crafts and migration have long been closely linked: for example, it is tradition in skilled crafts for journeymen and women to move from one town to another for several years – the object being to share knowledge and technology, and to respond to changing labour market needs. Today, too, foreign qualified professionals make an important contribution to securing skilled labour in the crafts sector. For one thing, people who are already in Germany, such as refugees, play an important role in this context. The skilled crafts sector provides opportunities for integrating this group of people into the labour market.  In addition, new immigration to Germany also provides potential to counteract the shortage of skilled workers and young talent: by bringing in experienced craftspeople and new trainees.
Overall, the proportion of foreigners among employees subject to social security contributions in the skilled crafts sector scarcely differs from that in other sectors of the economy: on 31 December 2022, around 522,000 – or 15% – of the approximately 3.5 million employees subject to social security contributions in the skilled crafts sector had a foreign nationality. The situation is different on the training market, where the proportion of foreigners among new apprentices in the skilled crafts sector was 13.6% in 2021, compared to 11.1% among all training occupations. Indeed, the skilled crafts sector accounted for more than a third of all foreign apprenticeship entrants in 2020.
Finding skilled workers abroad – what do you need to think about?
Employers seeking to hire a skilled craftsperson from abroad should first determine how to go about finding new employees. Other questions that arise concern visas, the recognition of foreign professional qualifications, and language skills.
Do you need practical support in the placement and integration of new skilled workers from abroad? Then the current projects and initiatives for recruiting skilled workers may provide you with inspiration. You will also find descriptions of initiatives specific to the skilled crafts such as HaBiZu. In addition, the CRAFT project has contributed a guest article to this issue of the newsletter.
Recognition of foreign qualifications
The question of the recognition of qualifications plays a key role in the immigration process, not only for the foreign qualification holder but also for the potential employer. In this context, the arrangements for regulated and non-regulated professions differ and depend also on the residence requirements applicable to the migrant skilled worker. To find out whether a profession is regulated, simply use the so-called “Profi-Filter” or Recognition Finder on the Anerkennung in Deutschland portal. The following applies:
In regulated professions, all foreigners must have their qualifications recognised in order to practise their profession, regardless of their nationality. In the skilled crafts sector, this is particularly the case if the professional wants to become self-employed as a master craftsperson in a skilled craft requiring authorisation by setting up their own business. The chambers of crafts are responsible for the recognition of these qualifications.
In non-regulated professions – the normal case for training occupations in the skilled crafts sector – a distinction must be made as to whether the employer intends to recruit citizens of the European Union / EFTA States (Liechtenstein, Iceland, Norway or Switzerland) or from third countries. Although the recognition procedure is not mandatory for EU/EFTA nationals, it may help to ensure transparency and a better assessment of the applicants’ professional skills. The need for further training or re-qualification can then be determined precisely. According to the current legal situation, receiving the full recognition of the equivalence of the foreign professional qualifications of people from third countries is one of the prerequisites for them to be granted a visa to work as a skilled worker (for more information on visas and residence, see below). Given the recently agreed reform of the legal situation regarding skilled worker immigration (see below), changes and simplifications can be expected on this front.
You can find out more about recognition in the “For employers” section of our portal. The “Unternehmen Berufsanerkennung (UBA)” project offers companies practical help and tools, as well as communication and networking opportunities on the issue of the recognition of professional qualifications. The contact for craft enterprises is the Project Office of the Zentralstelle für die Weiterbildung im Handwerk e. V. (ZWH) in Düsseldorf. For more information and to use the “Recognition Finder” to find the German reference occupation for a foreign occupation, simply go to the “Anerkennung in Deutschland” portal.
Bridging the knowledge gap with an adaptation training
If a foreign professional needs to bridge a knowledge gap in Germany so as to receive full recognition of their foreign qualification (thereby compensating for any lack of knowledge), they can undergo an adaptation training.
In the skilled crafts sector, the procedure is as follows:
After applying for recognition at the competent chamber of crafts, the applicant receives a recognition notice of “partial recognition”. (The notice shows what knowledge the skilled worker has and what substantial differences exist in comparison to the German reference occupation for which training can be completed.)
After having been contacted or after approaching the skilled worker, the chamber of craft’s adaptation training advisers get involved and draw up a qualification plan.
An agreement is concluded between the applicant and the company, with the chamber of crafts being on hand to advise. Questions regarding insurance cover or subsidies are also discussed.
Now the skilled worker (where applicable, with the appropriate visa for the recognition of foreign qualifications) can embark on adaptation training and bridge their knowledge gap in Germany with the support of the company.
Once the professional has completed their additional training, they can submit the subsequent application for recognition. Now in possession of a new notice of full recognition of equivalence, the skilled worker can switch to regular employment.
Visa and residence
Citizens of the European Union and of EFTA States do not need a visa or a residence permit to work in Germany. Nationals of other countries (third countries) require a residence title authorising them to engage in the intended employment in Germany. Depending on the requirements and the professional’s plans, there are different types of visa available:
Please note that the current reform of the skilled worker immigration rules will enter into force in a staggered way from 18 November 2023. You will find an overview on the Federal Government’s website and, coming soon, on “Make it in Germany”.
Prospects of self-employment and business succession
The skilled crafts sector is also affected by demographic change, and entrepreneurs are increasingly on the lookout for a successor for their business. Self-employment may therefore offer qualified professionals in the skilled crafts sector a long-term perspective in Germany. Basic information for foreign professionals on setting up a business can be found on the “Make it in Germany” portal and on the business start-up portal of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action. The first thing to consider on the path to self-employment are the professional requirements. In addition to the general requirements, special rules apply to the skilled crafts: in regulated skilled crafts requiring authorisation, the person running the business must have the title of “master craftsperson” (Meistertitel). This requirement is a form of regulation relating to the “master craftswoman/craftsman” training qualification. Those with a foreign professional qualification in the skilled crafts that is not classified as equivalent to a master craftsperson’s certificate can obtain the master craftsperson title through appropriate further training in Germany.
Citizens of the EU, EEA and Switzerland not only have the option of having their qualifications recognised – they can also apply for an exemption permit. This permit allows experienced craftspeople to pursue a skilled craft requiring authorisation on a self-employed basis, even if they have not passed a German master craftsperson’s examination or an equivalent examination. The prerequisite for approval is evidence of professional experience in accordance with Section 9 para. 1 No. 1 of the Crafts and Trades Regulation Code (HwO) and EU/EEA Crafts Regulation (EU/EWRHwV) (for example, by providing evidence of six years of uninterrupted self-employed activity). In some professions, such as dental technology and optometry, it is not possible to obtain an exemption permit. For more information, please consult the chambers of crafts.
Whether language skills are absolutely necessary for skilled workers from abroad depends on the type of visa required. You can find an overview of the necessary German language skills depending on the type of visa in the “Make it in Germany” graphic, which is available under Downloads in the “Explanatory Graphics on the Visa Process” section. Even if language skills are not always formally necessary, they are very important for professional practice as well as for integration purposes.
The following options are available for learning and improving German:
Craftspeople who want to immigrate to Germany should take a German course beforehand.
Employers can support their (future) employees by subsidising a preparatory language course, helping to organise a German course near the company, and giving employees time off to attend language courses.
The BAMF also offers special vocational language courses for apprentices, referred to as Azubi-BSK, which provide tailored and continuous language support throughout the duration of training.
Finding accommodation is often a challenge for skilled workers from abroad, especially those without a network in Germany. They are therefore grateful for any assistance provided by their future employer. The company can help, for example, by providing information on the local housing market and the area, organising furnished accommodation for the first few weeks, or arranging a flat through its network. It is important that new immigrants have an address where they can register quickly.
Generally speaking, new employees have a stronger feeling of integration, satisfaction and loyalty to the company when they receive additional assistance from their employers. This can take place in the company, such as by providing them with a welcome folder or designating a person to act as their mentor. But new immigrants can also be assisted in their everyday lives, e.g. when dealing with the authorities.
In Germany, there are regulated professions. This means that Germans and non-Germans are only allowed to work in these professions if they have obtained a very specific qualification. This applies, for example, to nurses, doctors, teachers and lawyers. It also applies to certain master craftsmen and craftswomen, if they work as self-employed entrepreneurs. People with a foreign qualification who wish to work in a regulated profession in Germany require recognition of their foreign qualification or a professional licence.
The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) is an international organization which currently includes four countries: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. The EFTA's main objective is to promote free trade among its member states and with the EU.
A Chamber of Crafts (Handwerkskammer, or HWK for short) represents the interests of the trades in the form of a corporation under public law (Körperschaft des öffentlichen Rechts). All proprietors of a trade or similar business are members of the Chamber of Trades for that given area.
Professionals who graduated outside of Germany must prove that their qualification is recognised as being equally suitable for the access to the German labour market. After the verification procedure, the applicants receive the recognition notice. The document indicates whether the foreign professional qualification is fully equivalent to a German reference occupation.
The reference occupation (also: reference qualification) describes a German professional qualification. In the recognition procedure, the international qualification is compared with the German reference by assessing its equivalence. The determination of the reference occupation applies to regulated as well as non-regulated occupations.
Professional qualifications are the intellectual and social skills required to exercise a given profession.
German: Demografischer Wandel
Demographic change means a change in the population structure and the composition of societies.
A residence title entitles people from abroad to enter and reside in Germany. Residence titels may be granted in the form of a visa, residence permit, an EU Blue Card, a settlement permit, or a permanent EU residence permit.
The Immigration Act provides for two titles which govern entry and residence in Germany: the settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis) and the residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis). The residence permit is temporary and is granted for a specific reason, such as gainful employment, training or family reunification, or else for humanitarian, legal or political reasons.
Self-employment is a form of gainful employment in which a person manages a business/company independently. It also includes all the liberal professions.
Regulated skilled crafts
German: Zulassungspflichtige Handwerke
The Trade and Crafts Code (HwO) determines which crafts are subject to authorisation and which are not. If you want to set up your own business in a skilled craft sector requiring approval, you often need a title of master craftsman or other proof of qualification. You can find out in the Trade and Crafts Code which professions belong to those requiring approval.