The German job market in general, and logistics in particular, are in a state of flux. Both are influenced by, among other things, baby boomers reaching retirement age, a shortage of skilled workers, apprenticeship vacancies and employees’ reassessment of their private and professional lives.
The German Economic Institute’s (IW) Research Unit on Securing Skilled Labour (Kofa) recently reported that more than 630,000 vacancies for skilled workers could not be filled last year, which is claimed to be the largest skilled labour gap since observations began in 2010. According to the Federal Employment Agency, there are many vacancies, especially in transport and logistics, in retail and in the medical health professions. They also recently reported that Germany has 34.9 million employees paying social insurance contributions, of which some 1.6 million are trainees. Nevertheless, 68,870 of the 545,960 registered apprenticeships remained unfilled last September. Although these figures only reflect individual facets of the German job market, they clearly show that the shoe is pinching in many places. Where exactly this is and what can be done about it is a subject on which market participants have, in part, different views, as selected experts told LOGISTICS PILOT.
Not only Generation Z thinks differently
For Marc von Grünhagen, Head of Human Resources at Kühne+Nagel in Bremen, the staffing situation in logistics has changed a lot in recent years. “It has become increasingly difficult over the past few years to meet the demand for skilled workers,” he explained. “Nevertheless, we are fortunate that we can also fill many positions internally with staff who have completed their training and already know the company and the industry well. We take on over 300 trainees every year.” However, he believes that companies are finding it harder to find staff that fit the profiles they are looking for. “Finding an administrator in the classic sense can be done,” he continued, “but the more specialised the role and the greater the experience required, the more difficult the task becomes.” In addition, von Grünhagen has noticed that many applicants tend not to want to commit to a long-term job. “In the past, employees remained loyal to their industry for many years. Today, however, a majority of them also want to try their hands in other areas. Plus, society as a whole, not just Generation Z, has shifted its approach to private and professional life, so much so that the amount of work that had to be done in logistics during Covid, with overtime being the order of the day, is no longer deemed ideal.”
Von Grünhagen is also considering how to enthuse people in general, and young people, in particular, for logistics. “As I see it,” he said, “a successful approach requires a targeted combination of social media campaigns and face-to-face interactions – one without the other doesn’t work! The new media provide the necessary background noise, while appropriate ambassadors – be they parents, teachers or other influencers – have to spark an interest in logistics because it is and remains a people business!” Overall, he also feels the industry is “somewhat spoilt”. “In the past, we were often able to fill gaps ad hoc with our own trainees. Today, we have to be prepared for it to take at least a year, what with notice periods and familiarisation periods, before filling a vacancy is possible.” This is also due to the fact that logistics has a greater need for personnel than years ago and that the demands have increased. “Today, any computer can calculate a simple transportation route from A to B, but not the complex logistical issues behind it,” von Grünhagen explained, outlining one of the essential qualities of logistics specialists.
“Logistics is and will remain a people business!”
Marc von Grünhagen, Head of HR, Kühne+Nagel
“Active sourcing” on the rise
Antje Streicher, Head of Human Resources at J. MÜLLER Weser since May 2023, has also noticed significant changes over the 20+ years she has been working in human resources. “Companies used to receive sackloads of applications,” explained Streicher, who believes we can now speak of a “real employee’s market”. “But now an increasing number of companies are undertaking ‘active sourcing’, and contact interesting prospective candidates on their own initiative.” Like Marc von Grünhagen, she has identified that values have changed significantly and that aspects such as time for family and friends or shorter commuting times are playing an increasing role, as is the work-life balance. “Plus, applicants are increasingly concerned with sustainability and whether or not they identify with the company and its values,” Streicher continued.
In terms of a shortage of skilled staff, she feels that companies, educational institutions and politicians have a duty to work together. “We’re all still too often caught up in our old values and need to use our resources differently than we used to,” she said. This includes, among other things, better recognition of qualifications obtained abroad and the consideration of whether some complex activities could be divided up so that they can be carried out by employees with different qualifications. In their search for trained staff, J. MÜLLER is currently operating in two different worlds, so to speak. “We’re a large employer in Brake and can attract youngsters. In Bremen, however, we’re feeling the competition from numerous larger companies.” J. MÜLLER considers its active presence at recruitment fairs, in schools and on social media to be an important recipe for success. Often there are also trainees, who make up an impressive ten per cent of the J. MÜLLER workforce. “They’re authentic and simply speak the younger generation’s language better than us,” Streicher admitted.
“That’s what makes our industry sexy!”
For Udo Klöpping, Head of Global HR at Rhenus Port Logistics, communication is a key aspect concerning potential employees. “But listening to them and recognising what they need and want from an employer is even more important,” he added. However, this has changed just as dramatically in recent years as the job market itself. “German logistics is in a much better position today than it was ten years ago,” he continued. “This is because we’ve succeeded in showing that we’re the ones who ensure that goods and food actually reach the consumer. That’s what makes our industry sexy!” Nevertheless, Klöpping also mentions a shortage of skilled workers, which not only manifests itself in the declining number of truck drivers, but has also long been felt at German ports. “The situation will worsen in the next few years when many experienced staff members retire. Here, it’s important to ensure the next generation in both the commercial and industrial trades.”
At Rhenus Port Logistics, prospective logistics candidates are approached in a number of ways. For example, the company goes to schools at an early stage to reach out to young people. There are also plans to increase the number of in-house apprenticeships, bucking the general market trend. Moreover, “active sourcing” has also long been practised to attract interesting candidates. “In general, the main thing is to show more appreciation for how tradespeople perform than before. At the same time, progress must be made on the appropriate professional qualifications to enable people leaving school without qualifications to enter the sector.” As for commercial professions, Klöpping has also identified a completely different trend. “We’re amazed that, although young people live on their mobile phones, their willingness to go on international assignments has declined significantly,” he added. Yet it is precisely the exchange between people from different economic regions that makes logistics so exciting and consolidates Germany’s role as a global logistics expert.
“We’re still too often caught up in our old values.”
Antje Streicher, Head of HR, J. MÜLLER Weser
“German logistics is in a much better position today than it was ten years ago.”
Udo Klöpping, Head of Global HR at Rhenus Port Logistics