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'They fire, we hire' - Germany seizes on Silicon Valley's woes

Published 01/30/2023, 11:04 AM
Updated 01/30/2023, 11:21 AM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An almost full moon is seen behind the quadriga of Brandenburg Gate, as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Berlin, Germany, April 7, 2020.  REUTERS/Annegret Hilse/File Photo
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By Rene Wagner and Jan Schwartz

BERLIN (Reuters) - Faced with a tight labour market and a shortage of workers with key software engineering skills, some German companies are looking at thousands of layoffs in Silicon Valley as an opportunity to recruit top talent.

The U.S. West Coast has always been the main destination for ambitious software engineers looking to work in the best-paid, most elite corner of their profession, but the mass redundancies have created a pool of jobseekers that Germany is eager to tap.

"They fire, we hire," said Rainer Zugehoer, Chief People Officer at Cariad, the software subsidiary of automaker Volkswagen (ETR:VOWG_p). "We have several hundred open positions in the U.S., in Europe and in China."

Spooked by inflation and the prospect of recession, Google parent Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Facebook (NASDAQ:META) owner Meta have announced a combined almost 40,000 job cuts.

While Germany is also teetering on the edge of recession, its companies have grown more slowly in recent years and, in a country notorious for still handling business by fax, there are huge technology leaps to be made.

Germany, with one of the world's oldest populations, has gaping holes in its labour force: according to IT industry group Bitkom, 137,000 IT jobs are unfilled.

The government is simplifying immigration rules and dangling the prospect of easily-acquired citizenship to tempt skilled would-be immigrants, and regional authorities are pressing ahead.

"I would like to cordially invite you to move to Bavaria," wrote Judith Gerlach, digitalisation minister in Germany's wealthiest region on LinkedIn in a post addressed to the recently laid off.

Especially with the euro at dollar parity, few European companies pay rates that compete with the hundreds of thousands of dollars on offer at California's most successful companies, but some hope cheaper healthcare and lower costs compared to hotspots like San Francisco can help.

"And did I mention Oktoberfest?" Gerlach added, adding Munich's famed beer festival to the strong labour protections that might prove attractive to the newly jobless.

Some are sceptical, with Bitkom's Bernhard Rohleder noting that Germany is competing not just with other countries for the most talented, but with potential recruits' home countries too.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An almost full moon is seen behind the quadriga of Brandenburg Gate, as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Berlin, Germany, April 7, 2020.  REUTERS/Annegret Hilse/File Photo

Germany's penchant for red tape could be another challenge: companies are already reporting months-long delays in securing appointments for their new hires to get work permits.

"Bureaucracy in Germany is utterly crippling for most highly-qualified workers when they first encounter it, especially if they don't speak German," said Diana Stoleru of Berlin startup Lendis.

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