Whether hospitals, retirement homes or outpatient services: There is already an enormous shortage of skilled workers in the care sector. It is not good news that employment growth in the care sector is noticeably losing momentum after many years of significant increases, as the Federal Employment Agency announced on the occasion of International Care Day this Friday. Since January 2022, the increase has been weaker than the average for all professions, according to a new report on the situation in nursing.

Britta Beeger

Editor in the economy and responsible for "Die Lounge".

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In the past five years, the number of employees subject to social security contributions in the care sector has grown by 11 percent or 166,000 – to just under 1.7 million. According to the Federal Agency, total employment subject to social security contributions grew by only 7 percent in the same period. Most recently, however, employment subject to social security contributions in the care sector increased by just over 1 percent compared to the previous year – and employment as a whole by just under 2 percent.

"Very ominous development"

How tense the situation is is also shown by some other indicators. For example, there are now only 100 unemployed people for every 33 registered jobs for nurses. According to the Federal Employment Agency, an easing of the situation is not foreseeable due to demographic developments. The Federal Statistical Office recently predicted that the number of people in need of care in Germany is likely to increase by more than a third by 2055: from around 5 million today to 6.8 million. According to the Federal Office, the vast majority – five out of six people in need of care – are cared for at home, and almost 800,000 live in a nursing home.

Trade union and industry representatives called on the federal government to take action on Thursday. "Fewer staff and more people who are dependent on care – this very threatening development must be stopped by all means," warned Sylvia Bühler, member of the Verdi national board. Christine Vogler, President of the German Nursing Council, expressed a similar view. The federal government must implement the coalition agreement, she demanded. Instead of – as promised there – to improve the working conditions in the care sector quickly and noticeably, aimlessness and piecemeal work are evident in many areas, Vogler complained.

Like them, many industry representatives consider Lauterbach's current care reform, which includes contribution increases and some benefit improvements, to be inadequate. This became clear on Wednesday at a hearing in the health committee of the Bundestag. Once again, the necessary changes would not be tackled, was a frequently cited point of criticism.

"The federal government is starting to paint the façade, while the entire building of the care is tottering," said the Federal Association of Private Providers of Social Services. The statutory health insurance companies warned against overtaxing the insured. Lauterbach burdens the contributors alone with new burdens, criticized the GKV-Spitzenverband. However, care is a task for society as a whole. The draft offers "no solution for a sustainable and viable stabilization of care".

With regard to the shortage of skilled workers, the Federal Employment Agency sees several possible solutions. For example, almost half of the nurses work part-time – an above-average figure. So there is still potential here. In addition, the further training of unemployed nursing assistants could help to alleviate the shortage of skilled workers.

In the case of unskilled workers, the number of unemployed clearly outweighs the number of registered jobs. And finally, more skilled workers would have to be recruited from abroad. A lot has already happened here: The proportion of foreign nurses has almost doubled in the past five years, mainly due to immigration from third countries – to 14 percent.