Arrived from Reunion, Steven Maillot, 23, joined the ArcelorMittal plant in Eisenhüttenstadt in Germany for an apprenticeship with this steel giant.

This sector is one of the most affected by the shortages of skilled workers which are hitting Europe’s leading economy and becoming a major mortgage for its future.

Faced with this challenge, the government of Olaf Scholz presented a bill on Wednesday aimed at relaxing the rules for obtaining visas and work permits for nationals of non-EU countries.

For example, it will soon no longer be necessary to present an employment contract to settle in the country, this being replaced by a point system measuring the “potential” of integration of candidates, on the model of what is already practiced Canada.

The objective is to attract more employees. Berlin is thus going against the general trend in Europe of closing borders to immigration.

“We will make sure to bring into the country the skilled workers that our economy has urgently needed for years,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said as she presented the bill which still needs to be passed by parliamentarians.

The new system will “remove bureaucratic hurdles” and “allow skilled workers to come to Germany quickly and be able to start” working, she said.

For Steven, it was a better salary and better career prospects that made him decide to leave his island for this town near the border with Poland, on the eastern borders of Germany.

A relief for ArcelorMittal, whose manager for Germany, Reiner Blaschek, recognizes that it is “increasingly difficult” to attract young interns like him.

The shortage of skilled workers has become a real headache. Two million jobs are currently vacant in Germany as the baby boomer generation retires en masse.

Due to the aging of the population, the labor market is expected to lose seven million people by 2035 if the government does nothing, according to a study by the Institute for Labor Market Research (IAB).

All sectors combined, 44% of German companies surveyed by the Ifo institute say they were affected by labor shortages in January.

Faced with this critical situation, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz encouraged employees not to take early retirement.

However, relying on the German population alone “will not be enough” to make up the shortfall, Mr Scholz warned parliament earlier this month.

Manufacturers are trying to meet the challenges of shortages themselves by offering their own training to foreigners.

The new town of Eisenhüttenstadt, (literally “ironworks town”) was built in the 1950s during communist East Germany.

ArcelorMittal employs 2,700 people there and welcomes around fifty new interns like Steven Maillot each year.

“For my professional career, I have to stay here,” he told AFP in the factory, far from Reunion, admitting that he misses his home island.

Adequate training is important to prevent “young people from slipping through our fingers”, said Labor Minister Hubertus Heil during a recent visit to ArcelorMittal where he met apprentices.

But it is particularly difficult to find candidates in eastern Germany, due to lower incomes than in the west and a less hospitable reputation.

The shortage could also “hinder important transition missions” in Germany towards “electromobility or renewable energies”, warned Achim Dercks, deputy director of the German Chambers of Commerce (DIHK), earlier this year.

ArcelorMittal, for example, plans to replace a blast furnace running on fossil fuels on the German site with a new hydrogen and electricity unit by the end of 2026.

The shift to greener production processes will eliminate some jobs, but create new ones that will need to be filled.

“We are facing a major technological shift,” Blaschek says, “if we are going to convert our facilities in the next four years, we have to start changing our training now.”

29/03/2023 14:47:52 – Eisenhüttenstadt (Allemagne) (AFP) – © 2023 AFP