Magazine for ports, shipping and logistics

Growing gaps and probing questions

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.

Credits: istock/Tony Studio, Kühne+Nagel, J. MÜLLER, Rhenus Port Logistics, ZECH Logistics, Berufsbildungsstelle Seeschifffahrt, Prolog, BLG LOGISTICS

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.

Not only a shortage of skilled staff but also vacant apprenticeship jobs are changing the face of the German job market, as is the desire for a better work-life balance.
Jörg Buck, geschäftsführendes Vorstandsmitglied der Deutsch-Italienischen Handelskammer in Mailand

“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.

Jörg Buck, geschäftsführendes Vorstandsmitglied der Deutsch-Italienischen Handelskammer in Mailand

“We’re still too often caught up in our old values.”

Antje Streicher, Head of HR, J. MÜLLER Weser

Jens Tarnowski, Regional CEO Europe bei Hellmann

“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

80 3D figures of actual BLG employees, each measuring 25cm, were on display at the BLG LOGISTICS stand at the “transport logistic” trade fair in May. This was not only an eye-catcher, it also served to show appreciation of the dedication of around 20,000 BLG employees worldwide. Some of the 3D figures, made of polymer plaster, featured a QR code leading to a video where the person concerned spoke about their day-to-day work and the special characteristics of their job. After the fair, these figures were handed over to their live counterparts as a small token of thanks.

A dual education/training system needs to be strengthened

“In Germany, we’ve placed too little emphasis on vocational education and training in recent years, something that’s now catching up on us,” said Michael Guttrof, Managing Director of Zech Logistics and spokesperson for the working group on the shortage of skilled workers and recruitment of young people at the Bremen Port and Logistics Association (BHV) since the end of May. Accordingly, logistics in Germany is not much different from the German job market as a whole. Many people need to be involved if this is to change. “Firstly, politics has to, once again, put more emphasis on a dual system,” continued Guttrof. At the same time, however, Germany’s ability to compete internationally needs to be improved by tackling the problem areas of fiscal customs clearance and transport infrastructure, among others, and by shortening the long approval procedures. These three factors alone have already caused German logistics to lose many contracts to neighbouring countries.

According to Guttroff, it is basically up to the companies to target young talent. “Germany has rested on its laurels and relied on its role as world export champion for far too long,” he stated – also regarding the World Bank’s latest “Logistics Performance Index” (LPI), in which Germany has dropped to third place after ranking first in previous studies. “This isn’t a snapshot, more a reflection of the last few years,” the logistics expert explained. It is now down to the companies themselves to engage in counteracting the lack of public appreciation of logistics and in showing young people “how exciting and diverse logistics is”. He believes that personal contact, for example in schools, has a key role to play here. Advertising, videos and social media could also contribute to improving the public image of the industry. “Bloggers are also a possible option,” Guttrof suggested. “In order to make the industry attractive to young people, we, at BHV, have also discussed the extent to which individual companies can cooperate with each other in providing training. This would allow smaller companies to provide training too, and the trainees would have the opportunity to get to know the many facets of logistics. Some market participants will have to bite the bullet in terms of competitive thinking and cooperate more closely,” Guttrof concluded.

Profound change and more digital competence

For Sven Hermann, Managing Director of ProLog Innovation, management consultants for digital transformation and innovation management in logistics, the success of logistics companies in recruiting staff depends primarily on their public image and their choice of communication channels. “Today, contemporary employer branding includes, among other things, personal and authentic storytelling that positions the company as an attractive employer and reports on its corporate culture and working conditions,” stated Hermann. This also includes compelling recruitment videos, the promotion of corporate influencing, plus short and simple application processes. At the same time, it is important for employers to address the various target groups using the most suitable channels. “In this respect,” he continued, “I see TikTok, Instagram and YouTube as the most important portals for getting trainees and young people on board. LinkedIn, on the other hand, is more suitable for contacting experienced professionals and those willing to change jobs today or in the future.”

Looking ahead, he added: “The logistics industry will continue to change significantly.” It is his belief that the digital revolution and technological advancements could help close many of the gaps left by the increasing skills shortage. “A lack of skilled workers is currently slowing down the industry’s ongoing digitalisation. There is also an urgent need for more digital expertise in most companies,” urged Hermann, who is also a logistics professor at the Northern Business School in Hamburg. He stressed that human skills such as critical thinking and creativity will never be completely replaced by AI and the like. “This is why I’m sure that, especially in the tense field between programming, supply chain management and sustainability, a multitude of hybrid work profiles will emerge in the future, the like of which we don’t have on our radar right now. For companies, however, this means that lifelong learning and a positive approach to constant change must be promoted intensively.” (bre)

Jens Tarnowski, Regional CEO Europe bei Hellmann

“Germany has rested on its laurels for far too long.”

Michael Guttrof, Managing Director, Zech Logistics

Jens Tarnowski, Regional CEO Europe bei Hellmann

“The shortage of skilled workers is slowing down the industry’s digitalisation.”

Sven Hermann, Managing Director, ProLog Innovation

“Something has got to happen – and preferably yesterday!”

Interview with Sabine Zeller, Managing Director of the Maritime Training Centre (BBS)

A ship mechanic apprenticeship is celebrating its 40th anniversary in Germany this year. How has the significance of the profession changed over the years?
Sabine Zeller:
It goes without saying that vocational training in maritime shipping is subject to the same changes as training on land. An apprenticeship as a ship mechanic was first created 40 years ago as training for the entire shipping industry, in line with an ideal that envisaged there being all-round workers at all levels of shipping. However, only training at the level of a skilled worker has actually prevailed long term. This had the secondary effect of creating a unique selling point for German skilled workers in a global market. Much has changed since, especially due to the global economic crisis and its aftermath. While demand has fallen sharply in the international arena, it is still unbroken at a domestic level and looks set to rise even further in the coming years.

It seems, however, that the current number of new employees entering the maritime shipping industry will not be able to meet the current and future demand for junior seafarers. What does this mean for Germany as a location?
This development is nothing new, but so far it has always been possible to compensate for it by recruiting skilled workers from abroad. However, it is now becoming increasingly difficult, and the consequences of a lack of young seafarers are more and more visible in both the shipping industry itself and in the secondary market. Now there is a shortage of people with broad experience, who can put this experience to good use in a wide variety of areas. So something needs to happen – and preferably yesterday!

Is an apprenticeship as a ship mechanic still attractive for young people? How could the career options associated with it be anchored more firmly in the public consciousness than has been the case so far?
I am convinced that it is. In my opinion, there is hardly anything else more versatile and exciting than a career in the shipping industry. Here, we don’t just mean the training itself, which is diverse in that it covers all areas on board, but also the fact that it offers the basis for no less than three career paths at sea. We have to reach young people where they are and break new ground, not only in the medium we choose. Young people today have different wishes, goals, demands and expectations than previous generations. That’s just the way it is, and we have to show them that there is a substantial overlap that isn’t obvious at first glance. We try to address this through our various concepts and projects. But we can’t do this alone, of course. Companies that offer apprenticeships can also do a lot to make their workplaces more attractive and to communicate this in a way that is appropriate to the target group. (bre)

Jens Tarnowski, Regional CEO Europe bei Hellmann

Sabine Zeller, Managing Director of the
Maritime Training Centre (BBS)