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Welders and other skilled workers are in demand in many places

Photo: Patrick Pleul / dpa

The German government wants to get refugees in Germany into work more quickly – at the beginning of November, for example, it shortened the time during which asylum seekers are not allowed to start jobs. Job centres, on the other hand, are to provide more close support to refugees with the prospect of staying after their integration courses, promote them more and demand more, as Federal Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) announced in October. But can these measures help to alleviate the shortage of skilled workers in Germany? What do the experiences of recent years show? This is what researchers from the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) and the University of Bamberg asked themselves. The researchers have found that more and more of the refugees studied have a job – and are increasingly working as skilled workers.

According to the study, refugee men in particular worked more often than four years earlier: in 2020, 55 percent of them had a job, compared to 16 percent in 2016. For women, employment rose from 6 to 17 percent during this period. The study, which is exclusively available to SPIEGEL in advance, is based on data from the SOEP (Socio-Economic Panel), for which thousands of people are surveyed every year. The study took into account people who had moved in between 2013 and 2020, most of them in 2015 and 2016. Respondents had participated in the SOEP's annual surveys at least three times.

According to the study, most refugees entered the German labour market as assistants or skilled workers. Over the four years examined, however, advancements were particularly visible among men: In 2020, a third of 18- to 65-year-old refugee men were already working as skilled workers, and only 18 percent were still working as assistants. The same trend was seen among refugee women, only at a lower level of employment: in 2020, ten percent worked as skilled workers and five percent as assistants.

According to the study, 2020 percent of all working refugees worked as skilled workers in 60. This means that they have two to three years of vocational training or a comparable qualification. Assistants, on the other hand, either do not need a vocational qualification or a maximum of one year of vocational training.

Language and qualifications are crucial

However, in occupations that require the highest level of education, refugees are still the exception, according to the data. And compared to the rest of the population, refugees are also more likely to switch from higher-skilled tasks to auxiliary work. However, the authors believe they can explain why some refugees with a university degree work in unskilled jobs: These refugees would probably use their work as a livelihood while trying to meet all the requirements for a job in their actual field, according to the study.

According to the study, there is therefore "potential for the further recruitment of skilled workers", especially in the case of refugees who work as assistants. Labour Minister Heil, for example, recently appealed to employers to "give refugees a chance, even if they do not yet speak perfect German".

The data would show "how much it pays off to attend language courses and participate in other qualification measures," says Cornelia Kristen, Senior Research Fellow at SOEP and Professor of Sociology at the University of Bamberg. The data set shows which factors make a change from an unskilled to a skilled job more likely:

  • On the one hand, language skills are essential.

  • On the other hand, the qualifications must be right: either the refugees bring educational qualifications from abroad that are recognised here, or they acquire qualifications in Germany.

According to the study, the integration of women into the labour market also leaves opportunities untapped. In addition to the above-mentioned reasons, which affect job finding, this is also due to issues such as a lack of childcare. In another study, the researchers found that in refugee couples where both are employed, women spend "only" 40 minutes more per day on unpaid care work – such as childcare, housework, errands and repairs – than men. That's less than the rest of the population.