Labor market – apprentice crisis in companies

Apprenticeship positions are currently being advertised in the companies. By the end of the year, they have given out most of their apprenticeships. It is the great recruitment process that has been going on for decades at this time. Apprenticeship and career fairs then run through the whole country, at which young people can exchange ideas with their future employers and get a feel for which occupation is suitable for them.

But this time nothing comes of it – again nothing. As in the previous year, the government imposed a lockdown. The gates of the exhibition halls must remain locked.

There is probably no alternative to the government’s measures due to the high Corona numbers, but they deepen the worry lines in Austria’s companies. Their products are in demand all over the world, and many companies between Vorarlberg and Burgenland are world market leaders in their fields. But there is a lack of staff to meet the high demand. They are already desperately looking for skilled workers – and now the number of apprentices is also dwindling.

According to the Public Employment Service (AMS), there are currently 15,102 vacant apprenticeships, which is 3,001 (24.8 percent) more vacancies than at the same time last year. At the same time, only 8,834 people are looking for an apprenticeship position. That is 447 (4.8 percent) less than a year ago. The result: 6,268 apprenticeship positions cannot be filled, 3,448 positions (122.3 percent) more than last year.

The canceled apprenticeship and job fairs are only the tip of the iceberg. The reason for the dwindling number of apprentices lies deeper.

There are still a lot of prejudices about apprenticeships, says Mario Derntl. Many parents warn their offspring that one would achieve nothing in life and earn little money.

He refutes that this prejudice is wrong. Derntl was a mechatronics apprentice at Voestalpine and then studied business administration. His vita says it all: “You can very well achieve something and earn money with an apprenticeship,” he says. “A trained industrial clerk has a higher lifelong income than someone with a degree in psychology.” Studies would prove that.

“Faßmann has not enough apprenticeship on his screen”

For two years now, Derntl has been the managing director of “Future Teaching Austria”, the largest cross-sector apprenticeship initiative in the country. Parents with prejudices are one thing, but the biggest sticking point for Derntl is the schools. “Education Minister Faßmann has too little focus on teaching,” he criticizes. “There is no educational or professional orientation in the lower school,” he says. It depends entirely on the teacher whether he is motivated to teach about possible professions or not. Derntl therefore calls for a separate compulsory subject “career orientation” in the third and fourth grades of the lower grades.

The problem has worsened in the corona pandemic: “In uncertain times, parents rely on the supposedly safe haven of schools,” explains Derntl. This trend is favored by the corona promotion clause. Pupils with negative school grades can move up to the next higher grade.

Much to Derntl’s annoyance. “Everyone loses: The student who doesn’t come along. The parents who pay huge amounts of tuition. The teachers who have to drag these students along,” says Derntl. In doing so, they would be absent from the labor market.

Herbert Weiss, chairman of the AHS teachers’ union, is also against the promotion clause. “The students drag on their deficits,” he says.

Like Derntl, Weiss can imagine “career orientation” as a compulsory school subject. “Additional hours for vocational orientation would certainly bring something,” he says, “for example with taster days in companies.”

At the expense of other subjects, however, the AHS trade unionist learns less. “The teachers have to incorporate more and more content in less time. They are at the limit with the content.”

Career orientation is not a compulsory subject

Education Minister Heinz Faßmann is responsible for teaching and schools. Since 1998 there has been “vocational orientation” as a compulsory exercise in the AHS lower level. “With career orientation, schoolchildren receive substantial support in making their career and educational path decisions,” says the education minister.

“A new curriculum is currently being developed for 2023/24, where professional orientation will be anchored accordingly.” Instead of “professional orientation”, the compulsory exercise should then be called “transition to secondary schools”. It does not become a compulsory school subject. However, the Corona promotion clause will be abolished: “The schools are open this school year, so no special regulations are required at the current time,” says Faßmann.

In addition to parents and the educational system, companies also have a responsibility. “For many young people, the employer’s vision and the meaning of the job have become more important,” says Derntl. “The role of the mentor should also be clarified.”

A1 Telekom is one of the few successful companies in recruiting apprentices. In 2020, the mobile communications company took on 60 apprentices, 2,300 have applied. A value that is unparalleled in the Austrian corporate landscape. But why is the rush to A1 Telekom so high?

Britta Schindler is the head of apprenticeship training in the company. A woman who bursts with enthusiasm when she talks about her job. “We are wherever young people are. On Snapchat, Discord, Spotify,” she says. “But we are also wherever the parents are. We provide information on the homepage and in our own exchange appointments, and advertise the apprenticeship at A1 in newspaper advertisements.”

There is also the opportunity to exchange ideas with apprentices. “It is important to speak the language of the apprentices. In addition to a good salary, you can also have fun with us, meet cool people and learn new programming languages, for example,” explains Schindler.

And then there is a bonus for in-house apprentices. “Anyone who recruits an apprentice who manages the first year receives 1000 euros,” says the apprentice boss. The result: “Of all the apprentices we took on, only five percent dropped out.”

A1 Telekom’s efforts will probably also pay off in terms of recruiting apprentices this year. In order to awaken the domestic interest in apprenticeships again across the board, parents and the school will also be in demand.

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