Traeumen Sie Es, Machen Sie Es

By September 15, 2006Economy

Over the past week or so we’ve posted about the skills gap in Nebraska, Washington State, and Wisconsin. Guess it’s time to add Wolfsburg, Germany, to the list.

The German Engineering Association is reporting a shortage of 18,000 engineers, and one of the reasons for the shortfall, according to this story in Thursday’s Marketplace Morning Edition, is that many students are not that attracted to the study or profession. One survey ranked engineering as the seventh most preferred profession, trailing pastor or grade school teacher. The annual number of engineering grads has dropped from 43,000 to 33,000 over the last decade.

[ANTJE] LIENERT: I think we have a little bit a problem with the image of engineers at the moment. Our young people want to study more communication and journalism and stuff.

Boy, that sounds familiar. In response, German industry is trying to interest young people in science, math and engineering. One example of this push is Phaeno, a science center/museum located across the street from the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg.

For all the interesting comparisons to the shortage of skilled employees in U.S. manufacturing, we should note that the Germans face one other obstacle to finding enough engineers, etc., for industry: emigration. Last year, 145,000 Germans emigrated — the highest number since 1954 — fleeing a stagnant economy and high unemployment. Engineers and other skilled workers featured prominently in the opportunity-seeking group.

“Many highly qualified young people are leaving our country to seek their fortunes elsewhere, while only very few top people have been attracted to Germany in recent years,” said Ludwig Georg Braun, president of the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce, which represents more than 3 million companies. “This development is causing us growing concern.”

Two points:

  • Few of these much-desired, talented employees are able to come to the United States because the quota of H1B visas for highly skilled workers has been filled. The NAM supports increasing the number of those visas.
  • The United States could very easily wind up with the same kind of stagnant, emigrant-inducing economy unless policymakers lift the burdens on U.S. manufacturers. The list of necessary action is long. Today we’d start by calling for reauthorization of the R&D tax credit and enactment of OCS energy legislation.
  • Oh, yes. In case you were wondering, the German word for “skills gap” is Arbeiterfaehigkeitenluecke. We think.

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    • jgo says:

      The problem of the glut of talent, education and skills could be easily solved by reducing the very excessive numbers of H-1B and other guest-worker visas that are issued each year. For instance, over each of the last few years, and for the next couple years, there are projected to be fewer net new opportunities for skilled workers in the USA (some 61K) than the current limit of over 85K additional new guest-workers per year.

      If we were to take the executives and their lobbyists at their words — that these visas are only to be used to bring in “the best and brightest”, “the pre-eminent”, the super-stars — then the H-1Bs, L-1As, E-3s, and Fs with work addenda should be lumped together and limited to no more than 2,000 or 3,000 per year.

      But the fact — shown in numerous university research reports, several GAO studies, and a few professional association studies — is that these visas are primarily abused to drive down compensation and opportunities for US workers.

      Meanwhile, many of the firms that abuse guest-worker visa programs fail to make a good-faith effort to recruit within the USA. Currently, the US Department of Labor has been keeping information about jobs listed on LCAs under wraps, so that US workers don’t have an opportunity to apply for them. Many firms fail to include a human contact name, e-mail address and telephone number in their job ads. And few firms actively recruit at more than a tiny fraction of the thousands of 4-year colleges and universities in the USA. One executive, trying to claim difficulty in recruiting, only recruited from 26 US colleges and universities.

      Meanwhile, capable US workers who respond to job ads are told that they’re not interested in hiring US citiznes, only guest-workers, as was demonstrated recently at a congressional hearing:

      Sure, renew the R&D credit, and index it for inflation, right along with the credits for interviewing and relocating and educating and training.

      Zu viel Talent, zu wenige Gelegenheiten.