In an inconspicuous office building in the commercial area of ​​a Cologne suburb, prospective educators go to school.

Today the topic of culture is on the timetable.

The participants of the course wrote on pieces of paper what constitutes their own personal culture.

One by one they come forward.

Some talk about their traditional family vacation, baking cookies at Christmas, the Cologne carnival.

Many emphasize that they find safety and security in it.

One of them is Pascal van Koten: a self-confessed fan of 1. FC Köln, carnivale and trained chef.

Until the corona pandemic, he worked in a restaurant in the southern part of Cologne.

When the restaurant closed during lockdowns in the first year of the pandemic, van Koten stayed at home, like millions of other people working in the hospitality industry.

The youth home, where he also worked on a voluntary basis, remained open.

"At the time I asked myself: What are you doing now?" says the 39-year-old.

In the youth center he found his passion for working as an educator.

Van Koten checked the job exchange at the employment office and found what he was looking for.

Now he's going back to school and doing his second vocational training as a career changer.

Lots of career changers

Germany needs people like him.

Day-care centers, social institutions and day-care facilities everywhere are complaining about a lack of staff.

"The shortage of skilled workers in German daycare centers has reached blatant proportions in some places," says Waltraud Weegmann, the federal chairwoman of the German Daycare Association.

“Day care centers are reducing their opening times, closing groups or not giving places to new children.” Several estimates put at least 20,000 vacancies in day care centers for children this year alone.

In the west in particular there is a shortage of staff, and more and more educators will be retiring in the next few years.

That is why there will be up to 70,000 vacancies in 2025.

But now something important has changed.

Up until ten years ago, the number of prospective childcare workers was falling steadily.

The job was not very attractive and was considered to be badly paid.

This trend has reversed, largely unnoticed by the general public.

Most recently, the number of people starting training in the educator professions has risen by almost 14 percent to almost 40,000, and since 2009 the increase has been 70 percent.

A total of around 820,000 people work in day-care centers for children today, almost 10 percent more than before the pandemic.

Among the beginners are many career changers from other professions.

Kirsten Fuchs-Rechlin, head of the training initiative for early childhood education professionals at the German Youth Institute, explains the rising number of trainees with the fact that the training is increasingly reaching different target groups.

"In particular, the remunerated, practice-integrated training courses have contributed to the increase in attractiveness," she says.

In addition, the requirements for teacher training have been relaxed in many federal states.