In 2015, as more than a million refugees and migrants streamed into Germany, many pundits and industry leaders initially praised Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “welcome policy” as not only being humane but also economically savvy. But now, as Politico reports, a new reality appears to be setting in as the German analysts have a closer look at just who the migrants are. The official government line continues to be that migrants could take some of the unoccupied jobs caused by Germany’s declining labor force (there are as many as one million such jobs). But the director of the Munich-based Ifo Center for the Economics of Education is quoted in the story that “[f]rom everything we know so far, it seems that the majority of refugees would first need extensive training and even then it’s far from certain that it would work out.”
The Politico story also notes that, according to the OECD, on average, an eighth-grader in pre-war Syria had a similar level of education to a third-grade student in Germany. And an official from the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce is quoted as saying, “[s]omeone who comes from Eritrea and says he was an electrician might have repaired a radio or laid a cable there, but he might have never seen a fuse box, as we use it in Germany.”
Our very own Adam Garfinkle anticipated this back in September, writing:
I will only note that many Germans seem to think that the Levantine Arabs now entering their country by the hundreds of thousands will act like their Gastarbeiter Turks. They are in for a shock. Many also think that they’re getting the cream of the educated crop from Syria. I heard several observers note that the people coming are young men, coming not directly from Syria but from camps in Jordan and Turkey. They are presumed to be engineers, doctors, and the like, and given Germany’s age-cohort imbalanced demographic picture, the consensus among the saintly is that they will boost the German economy in the not-too-distant future. This means that they know not the first thing about the real status of education in the Arab world. Only a tiny percentage of these asylum seekers are well enough educated to hold down a middle-class enabling professional job in an economy like Germany’s.
As these dynamics play themselves out, the nature of the challenges facing Germany will shift. Germany very much needs skilled workers, but unskilled workers suffer from higher unemployment. If you add un- or under-employment to the cultural clash between Germany and the newcomers, the challenges of assimilating the refugee inflow becomes more even more daunting.