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Germany’s move to keep workers employed through retraining

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When Emrullah Karaca started working at a factory in Gifhorn, Germany, where auto parts supplier Continental makes hydraulic brake components, he was looking for a temporary job after graduating from high school.

But after spending more than two decades building a career at the factory, Mr. Karaka, a 49-year-old father of three, learned that Continental planned to close the plant by 2027. Faced with the daunting task of job hunting, he will return to school to obtain his trade certificate, provided by his employer.

This is a necessary step if he wants to find a job in Germany, where despite an extreme shortage of skilled workers, degrees and certificates are still more important than work experience. “I didn’t need it until now because I’ve always been here,” Mr. Karaka said.

The training program that Mr. Karaca and his 80 colleagues will undergo is part of a program launched by Continental to help employees at Continental or nearby companies acquire the skills they need for their new jobs.

Continental is not the only company facing the challenge of Germany’s changing industrial landscape, with manufacturing transforming to meet low-carbon goals bringing upheaval to the workforce. So in 2021, it joined 70 other companies, including Bayer, DHL, Infineon and Siemens, to form the Opportunity Alliance, an initiative aimed at helping them retain their collective workforce of 2.7 million people.

Experts welcomed the alliance. Germany lags behind other countries in automating manufacturing and is facing thousands of layoffs in the automotive and engineering sectors as its industry continues to catch up, while more than 700,000 jobs remain vacant across industries.

Jutta Rump, director of the institute, said: “This is basically a problem of conflicting priorities that we are facing at the moment: on the one hand, layoffs combined with a rigorous personnel adjustment process; on the other hand, the workforce Shortage. ” Employment and employability in Ludwigshafen.

At Gifhorn, where Continental makes brake lines and valve blocks, the company faced falling demand and rising energy costs, and it soon became clear that the plant would not survive.

“We know we will need significantly fewer employees,” said Ariane Reinhart, member of the executive board and head of human resources at Continental.

That leaves Mr. Karaka and about 800 other employees facing an uncertain future. “We all thought we would be here until we retired,” he said.

German companies have a tradition of social responsibility, and Continental’s leaders are keenly aware of the role the plant plays in the community of 41,000 people, where it is the third-largest employer.

“There are two possible options: Either go with the classic approach, and classic means a lot of loud strikes, union politics and the involvement of politicians,” said Ms. Reinhardt, who helped establish Continental’s company-wide training center in 2019. Or you find a new way of doing things. “

Germany prides itself on its vocational training, which is delivered through a dual-track system that combines school courses with practical work experience. Some 330 occupations require industry certification, and anyone without one is basically out of luck—no matter what skills he or she acquires on the job.

“Without certified qualifications, it’s difficult to even get an invitation to an interview,” says Sven Mewes, a member of Continental’s human resources team. He is working with employees like Karaka to determine which training or courses are suitable them. .

Training courses offered by Continental and other alliance members are supported by Berlin and local governments. Political leaders are eager to keep as many people working as possible.

Despite cuts in many areas last year, the government set aside more than 3 billion euros ($2.79 billion) for companies to provide training programs and certification courses for employees facing unemployment.

In Germany, nearly 20% of people who have been unemployed for more than two years do not have any formal qualifications, which may leave them on the sidelines as they would rather accept a low-paying job than spend three years earning a certification.

At a coalition meeting this year, Andrea Nahles, head of the Federal Employment Agency, cited the example of a job center in the western city of Mönchengladbach, where the local unemployment office selected 130 people from among the long-term unemployed. “Unemployment training” courses began. Get a career certificate and start a high-paying job.

Amazon then opened a warehouse in the town, attracting all but the 13 original participants to work on site for €16.50 an hour, without any certification. But within a few months, they were all laid off and returned because they were unemployed, Ms. Nahles said.

“They’re back in the same situation,” she said. “It just goes to show how difficult the whole process is.”

In addition to in-house training, Continental has taken further steps to assist its Gifhorn employees, reaching out to other companies in the region to find workers and proactively training outgoing employees for new potential positions.

For heat pump manufacturer Stiebel Eltron, which needed hundreds of workers as it expanded, the offer proved fortuitous. The company signed an agreement with Continental last year, agreeing to invest 65 million euros to take over part of the existing factory and employ more than a third of Gifhorn’s employees. Lower Saxony is investing an additional €5 million in the project, with neither company announcing specific terms.

“We’re giving 300 people a perspective and a future,” Ms. Reinhart said.

This week, Continental announced that Rheinmetall, the arms maker that is rapidly expanding to meet demand for more ammunition in the war in Ukraine, has agreed to hire up to 100 workers at a factory less than an hour away, guaranteeing nearly Future jobs for 100 employees. half of Gifhorn’s total workforce.

Before starting their new jobs, Continental employees will have the opportunity to improve their skills through the company’s in-house training center, one of 14 it has set up at its plants across the country. So far, workers aged 28 to 60 have signed up to qualify as industrial electricians, warehouse logistics specialists or machine and factory operators.

These classes are held during business hours and are scheduled according to participants’ shift schedules. Workers continued to receive wages during the school year, which was compressed into a few months instead of the standard three years.

Karaka is supporting one child through college and two other children through high school. He said that while he was disappointed that his time with the company was coming to an end, he was excited about the opportunity to find a new job.

“This is the right decision for my future,” Mr. Kakala said. “I have to be able to show what I can do.”

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