In America, STEM education; in Germany, it's MINT | Business Roundtable


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In America, STEM education; in Germany, it's MINT

Oct 14, 2011

Business Roundtable members place great emphasis on what's called STEM education, that is, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education, as too few U.S. students adequately study these fields in high school, technical schools and college. As a result, tens of thousands of critical jobs go unfilled for lack of qualified applicants. It turns out German industry experiences the exact same problem, and even has its own catchy acronym, MINT, to describe the areas of study. And yes, tens of thousands of MINT-related jobs are available in Germany, too.

MINT stands for Mathematik, Informatik, Naturwissenschaft und Technik, which is to say, math, information technology, science and technology. We came across the term watching the German evening news, "Heute Journal," via Internet Thursday on the national network, ZDF, a broadcast heavy on economic stories. The four leading economic research institutes had just released their fall forecasts for 2012, predicting a GDP growth rate of 0.8 percent for the coming year. Ach! (Bloomberg, "German Institutes Cut 2012 Forecast, See No Recession"; Der Spiegel, "EU and Germany Face Challenges But No Immediate Recession.")

It was the follow-up story that drew our attention, a four-minute report on how German companies are struggling to find skilled workers, especially engineers, and the shortage is hampering their ability to expand. The head of the national employer group pointed to shortages in the MINT professions as a significant problem, and spoke briefly to the willingess of industry to train new workers. Yet 1.2 million of the three million unemployed Germans lack even the basic certificate one earns for completing a technical course of study. (The German educational system places a greater emphasis on vocational studies than does the United States, generally speaking.)

In any case, the parallels with the United States were stunning. Which leads us to wonder whether it's not the U.S. education system per se that's falling short, but rather that technological demands of the rapidly changing modern industrial society are outstripping human ability. A thought, anyway. 

We've taken liberty of translating the piece (inadequately, to be sure), which one can also watch beginning at the 4:30 mark of the webcast.

Marietta Slomka, moderator, ZDF: In their fall economic forecasts, the economic institutes dealt not only with the Euro-crisis and the bank rescues, but also generally with Germany’s economic situation. And in the job market, things actually look quite good.

The institutes start with the assumption that unemployment will continue to decline. Indeed, this year the number of jobseekers is under 3 million. The goal, of course, is to get these people into paying jobs. And in fact, there are a million job openings in the economy.

Businesses are looking for people. One seeks employees, the others seek jobs. So why aren’t they getting together? What’s not working out? Our Christian Kirsch has been looking into the problem.

Christian Kirsch, ZDF: Germany has its hands full with things to do.  The economy is strong, there are orders, jobs, customers. And that’s true with ifm, a middle-sized company in Tettnang, Swabia [Southwestern Germany] Good times for job-seekers, actually. Still, ifm is anxiously looking for engineers and many positions are going unfilled.


Bernd Boolzen, managing director, ifm ecomatic: Right now we have more than 100 openings here in Germany alone, from which about 80 percent – certainly 80 percent in the purely technical fields – are immediately available.

Kirsch: So boom times in the jobs market. And ifm is representatives of large parts of Germany industry. But something’s not running quite right in the economy. The Department of Labor reports 500,000 registered openings, and just as many employees are being sought elsewhere. In Germany, then, one million openings but three million unemployed. How is that possible?

Employers say those looking for work and those hiring workers have different requirements. “Mismatch” is the term.

Dieter Hundt, president of the German Federation of Employers: For example, there are 160,000 unfilled positions in the MINT professions – Mathematik, Informatik, Naturwissenschaft und Technik [math, information technology, science and technology] – and half of these 160,000 are engineers who simply don’t exist.

And, on the other side, with the unemployed, we have approximately about 40 percent who lack the necessary technical/vocational training, who haven’t completed their technical training certificate.

Kirsch: That’s 1.2 million lacking a technical training certificate. And those who haven’t learned anything really have few opportunities in a job market where it’s specialists, technical experts and workers who are in demand.

Such statistics can be a little misleading. Booming companies are looking to hire the unemployed? It’s not that simple, according to labor researchers.

Karl Brenke, German Institute for Economic Research: Many who looking to fill positions aren’t oriented toward hiring the unemployed, but are rather considering people who already in a job. If I’m looking for an engineer, I don’t hope to find him at the unemployment office, but instead I get him from another business.


Kirsch: Experience is simply required. And despite the export boom, the stubborn core of unemployed is unlikely to ease any. The conditions for filling temp jobs or low-paying jobs are proving unattractive; earning so little and sacrificing so much, better to stay unemployed.

A further problem: Many employers simply insist on the perfect applicant.

Brenke: One searches for workers who are a 100 percent fit. Earlier, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the employer was ready to provide additional training.

Kirsch:  That’s also the case today, employers say. It’s just that the applicants have to be ready to undertake the additional training.

Hundt: In addition, we have the problem of regional mobility, that the unemployed are not so widely distributed, that leads to the problem that we can’t match demand to supply.

Kirsch: So, they pass one another by in the German labor market. And at ifm, dozens of jobs continue to go unfilled.

Apropos stunning parallels, at the 12 minute mark of the broadcast, ZDF does a report on hydrofracking and natural gas, buying into the worst of the U.S. enviro fearmongering. So if the Germans are getting out of nuclear power, dislike coal, and lack the transmission capacity for millions of new wind turbines, and now natural gas is under attack, just where is all their electricity for manufacturing going to come from, anyway?