Coronavirus is majorly impacting the training market

There is huge uncertainty among trainees and applicants. Some worry about their qualifications, others that the training market will take a hit. The coronavirus crisis has made it harder for companies and young people to come together.

The German economy and its next generation of skilled workers has been hit hard by the coronavirus. Around 750,000 companies introduced reduced working hours in the middle of April, however under the Vocational Training Act (BBiG) they are required in principle to continue providing training. For many small businesses as well as entire sectors such as the hotel and restaurant trade, the long period of shutdown has made it difficult or virtually impossible to deliver occupation-related skills. Not everyone has been able to restructure their training plans or to place their trainees in different departments. At some point, there is no more theory to learn and only very few companies are ready for digital training. 

In order to reduce the risk of infection from the coronavirus, vocational schools and other training centres based outside companies were closed. The concern is now for trainees who are about to take their final examinations and for school leavers who will flood the training market after the summer holidays. Initial and continuing education and training examinations have been delayed, probation periods have been shortened, appointments are uncertain, training fairs have been cancelled, placements cannot be started and there are no clear regulations relating to application procedures. So, what can be done to prevent entire cohorts being lost to the coronavirus pandemic?

"Train", was the message for companies at the end of May from Federal Minister of Labour Hubertus Heil, who approved a package of measures together with the partners of the Alliance for Initial and Continuing Education and Training for ensuring and providing stability for dual training. This includes a recruitment bonus for companies which take on trainees from insolvent businesses. Digital equipment for the vocational schools is to be improved and access to digital guidance and placement provision is to be made easier for companies as well as young people. In order to further support the 2020/21 training cohort, companies shall also be able to benefit more from the advantages of collaborative training schemes and contract-based training. 

Trends on the apprenticeship market 

  • Fall in number of training contracts to 525,100—a decline of 1.2 per cent compared to 2019. The decline is largely due to the craft trades, industry and commerce.
  • Fall in applicant numbers from 556,000 to just below 550,000
  • At the end of September 2019 there were still 53,100 vacant positions (- 7.8 per cent) compared to 24,500 applicants without a training position (+-0)

At the end of April the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit, BA) announced 455,000 training positions. That is 39,000 less than the previous year.

  • The BA is now talking in terms of a fall of 9 per cent in the training positions offered.
  • In view of these trends, the German Trade Union Federation (Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB) warns of not stumbling from a coronavirus crisis into a skilled worker crisis.

The survey results from the portal and the market research company Potentialpark emphasise the urgency of this protective shield. More than two-thirds of the 700 trainees (69 per cent) questioned stated that they had been affected directly in their profession by the impacts of the pandemic. One in three of them is no longer able to work due to increased risk of infection. Because there was nothing for them to do in the training companies, 14 per cent of them were sent home temporarily and 16 per cent are working reduced hours. A further 13 per cent believe they will not be taken on after the training and 12 per cent fear they will lose their training position entirely. Trainees in the hotel and restaurant industry, in the media, in design and in the nursing and healthcare professions, have been particularly severely affected.

Around 1,700 students were surveyed and of these 59 per cent fear they will not receive a training position due to the coronavirus crisis and 12 per cent believe that training for them is currently uncertain, which is why they want to refocus their goals. Occupations categorised over the course of the pandemic as system-relevant and essential are very popular; these are perceived as more attractive by 45 per cent, and 22 per cent of respondents are seriously considering these. But how can the future workers and companies be brought together in these times?

Having grown up with digitalisation, young people of course look to the internet when searching for training and do so with an open mind - this was already the case before the coronavirus pandemic, but now even more so. They google more (74 per cent), participate in digital applicant days (42 per cent) and job fairs (32 per cent), or rely on social media (29 per cent). They are not daunted by digital recruitment: 71 per cent are happy with the idea of video call interviews and 64 per cent would be happy to chat with the company in order to clarify questions relating to training during the current crisis. Trainee fairs which have been shifted into the digital space due to the situation are already showing impressive results. According to "Handelsblatt" around 12,000 participants were counted at a virtual event in Hamburg, and a further 4,500 in Lower Saxony.

HR departments are still working with analogue methods

Despite all this desire for action, in companies the young applicants are faced with old-fashioned selection procedures and outdated processes which are now being superseded by the pandemic. For this reason, 80 per cent of all applicants feel there is a lack of information from the training companies and 56 percent complain about tedious application processes. "In many companies HR staff continue to screen the applications by hand—despite the digital setting," writes Springer author Felix von Zittwitz in relation to the current challenges in employer branding and personnel marketing (page 142). In a market which still has more positions and applicants, young people do not have to wait, they can afford to walk away from an application process and move on. According to the author’s information, more than one third choose to do exactly this. This harms the employer brand. So, what is to be done?

Using the coronavirus crisis for change in recruitment

To begin with, it may also help those companies which are digitally less well equipped to regard the crisis as an opportunity for experimentation as regards the candidate experience, and to try out digital solutions which are available yet still only used hesitantly in recruitment.

An example of this is introducing the use of chatbots for responding to urgent questions 24/7. Springer author Luc Dudler regards the application via chat as "more direct, more comfortable and more appealing" (page 102) than traditional procedures. Chat functions can be offered via the career website, but also via social media, Whatsapp or Telegram. The advantages of chatbots in recruitment are (page 103 et seq)

Source: (online expert library on economy topics), revised by iMOVE, September 2020