SZ: Despite the ongoing pandemic and further lockdown phases, the Munich job market has come through the crisis well. Were you surprised, Mr. Hüntelmann?
Wilfried Hüntelmann: All in all, we saw a positive trend, but 2021 was an eventful year on the labor market. The first half of the year was heavily influenced by anti-pandemic measures, before unemployment fell month by month in the second half of the year. The decisive factor was that we invested heavily in short-time work in the first half of the year – it was the key element in getting through the crisis.
How many people were affected?
We had up to 100,000 employees in Munich on short-time work. The peak was reached in February. After all, the restaurants, hotels, fitness studios, parts of the retail trade and many other businesses were largely closed. However, the numbers were not quite as dramatic as in 2020, but 12,000 companies still took advantage of short-time work. This has stabilized the job market. Without short-time work, the numbers would look different.
What do they look like, the numbers for 2021?
The unemployment rate in Munich averaged 4.5 percent for the year and was therefore the same as in the previous year. In 2019, i.e. before the Corona crisis, it was only 3.3 percent.
Was there a noticeable upswing on the labor market when shops and restaurants were allowed to reopen in spring?
Yes, we saw a higher demand for personnel relatively quickly. When the economy recovered from the lockdown, there were real catch-up effects. As a result, job vacancies returned to pre-crisis levels by the end of 2021. However, the number of unemployed is still above the pre-crisis level, although we had a very good situation in 2019.
What is the best protection against unemployment?
Clearly: A professional qualification is important so that you do not become unemployed. This statement has come true in the Corona crisis. People without professional qualifications were more affected by layoffs. At the end of December, every second unemployed person had not completed vocational training. We want to persuade these people to catch up on a professional qualification. Sometimes the focus is initially on acquiring the German language or we try to strengthen basic skills, for example in mathematics.
Are there more long-term unemployed today than before the pandemic?
We hit a historic low in 2019 and were very happy about it. Unfortunately, as the pandemic lasted, the number of long-term unemployed increased significantly in 2021: Compared to 2020, it increased by almost half. Unemployed people from helper jobs in particular found it difficult to find a job again. This is about activities for which no specific training is required: dishwashers, cleaning staff, auxiliary activities. Many of them have now been unemployed for a year or more.
Not every company suffers from corona-related restrictions. Many companies simply continue to work during the crisis. Where are people wanted?
Around 80 percent of the companies were not directly affected by the corona measures. On the construction site, for example, work has been carried out, and employees are constantly being sought here. And of course in nursing, but that’s a record that already has a crack. We’re also looking for educators or professional drivers, that’s a big issue, and not just in England. And then we have a high demand for well-trained professionals and specialists in the IT sector.
The shortage of skilled workers will remain an ongoing issue. What do you recommend to companies?
For example, they should also consider the potential of their employees. That’s why we support employers when it comes to developing their employees’ qualifications. And we try to train those who have not completed vocational training. But that won’t be enough. We will continue to need qualified workers to immigrate in the future in order to cover our need for skilled workers as much as possible.
How will the Munich labor market develop this year?
At the moment, short-time work is being used more frequently again. So we have strengthened our staff so that companies receive their short-time work allowance in good time. We are currently experiencing an economic downturn due to Omikron, partly also due to interrupted supply chains. It helps that the relaxed requirements for short-time work benefits have been extended until the end of March. I’m assuming that we’ll get through the winter robustly. The good thing is that the companies are holding on to their employees, opting for short-time work and not for layoffs. So they expect that they will need the people again soon and the economy will pick up.