Shortage of skilled professionals in the foundry industry: "No one really believes the warnings. As is so often the case."
1/17/2023 Young talents Interview

Shortage of skilled professionals in the foundry industry: "No one really believes the warnings. As is so often the case."

Over the next twelve years, around one seventh of the labor market will retire. But the new generation has a very different opinion on the position work should take in their lives. A conversation with HR consultants Ursula Maisel and Christoph Helm.

Christoph Helm and Ursula Maisel run a HR consultancy together, that specializes in the foundry industry.
Almost one-half of all companies in Germany are disrupted in their business activities by a lack of skilled personnel. This is shown by the current KfW-ifo Skilled Workers Barometer. "Germany is facing a demographic structural change of historic dimensions," warns Dr. Fritzi Köhler-Geib, Chief Economist of KfW.

By 2035, around one-seventh of the labor market - especially the so-called baby boomer generation - will retire. This is according to a study by the Nuremberg-based Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung (IAB), as reported by the Tagesspiegel. However, the problem could be solved or at least lessened, the IAB says in its study, if an increase in labor force participation rates could be achieved - for example, through targeted immigration.

Yet, according to Christoph Helm, Managing Director of MAISEL CONSULTING, this would only benefit the globally operating but hardly the medium-sized companies. The HR consultancy, which he runs together with Ursula Maisel, specializes in the foundry industry and will be celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Ms. Maisel and Mr. Helm, what is your current review of the foundry industry?

Christoph Helm: The shortage of skilled professionals has been around for a long time, especially in the foundry industry. Specialists in the industry have been in high demand for around 15 years already. Now, the demographic change is turning into a problem that has long been ignored. Vacancies are increasingly difficult to fill. The employer's expectations and those of the job applicant are difficult to align. The qualifications or job requirements have increased. Globalization is an emerging concern, languages are an emerging concern, flexibility is an emerging concern for employers. And at the same time, especially since the Corona pandemic, applicants simply don't want to sacrifice as much.

Ursula Maisel: Well, there has been a change in the value system at the level of the candidate, which, I feel, has been much accelerated by the Corona pandemic. The work-life balance has become what some employers call a life-life balance. Meanwhile, mobility has become the topic of our time. We are almost unable to find candidates willing to go abroad or just move to another state, compared to the past. Family and life balance have taken on a whole new meaning.

Or the other way around: Why do companies find it so difficult to adapt?

Christoph Helm: Perhaps because the decision makers are part of a different generation. And moreover, the issues on the company side have simply become more complex: Applicants are demanding more flexibility, but companies are currently unable to offer this flexibility at all. Many large companies are only recently opening to such demands. First, this requires a clear definition of these demands: What does "remote work" mean? From which locations is it legally permitted to work? And then, as always, it is also a matter of attracting young professionals to a comparatively old industry, namely the foundry industry. Yet, the foundry is one of the few value-creating industries that can work completely sustainably. We're talking about a product that is melted down from old tin cans and then finds its technical home in an automobile or a rocket. This is not yet adequately advertised. That's precisely the topic of Fridays for Futures, the young generation because they say: I want to work for a company that I can identify with and that works sustainably.

Ursula Maisel: HR marketing has never played a major role in the foundry industry. Now, the situation is getting more and more dramatic. But I would like to add one more point to Mr. Helm: I belong to the generation from which many of today's decision-makers originate. People always say that in a candidate market, employers must adjust to employees. In my opinion, however, they mostly already do that. Candidates now have a certain level of expectation which misses the mark because of their position of power. Depending on the role, working from home three days a week is not possible. My impression is that many companies try to fulfill candidates' wishes and still come up empty in the end. Candidates simply have too many options. They pick the company that offers the highest benefits and assets.

Another option for companies is to recruit candidates from abroad. How is that developing?

Christoph Helm: We ourselves are receiving more and more applications from India, Iraq, and Iran. These countries have very similar industries and study programs. There are foundries there, and the same CAD or simulation programs are used everywhere. However, such candidates can nearly exclusively be brought on board by a global corporation, and not by medium-sized companies.

Why not?

Christoph Helm: That's because of the still-existing language. The applicant may be able to speak English fluently in interviews, but oftentimes the problem remains that the colleagues with whom they would have to communicate are not fluent in the language, especially when it comes to technical topics. Or the regions are so rural that HR is afraid of really being able to integrate and retain the people.

Which points do companies now need to implement first?

Christoph Helm: Let's start from the beginning: When we ask young applicants in interviews why they chose this industry and this job, the answer is often that their father or grandfather did something very similar. So, I always ask myself: Why is that? Now I think it's passion. Many children have seen that their parents are passionate about their job and their industry and have therefore decided to do something very similar. It may also be that, unlike others, they simply had early contact with casting and have already developed a passion themselves. The industry may be subconsciously getting this point right. But how can you open up? There is casting in almost every industry, in almost every product - that must be made public.

Ursula Maisel: That's not publicly known yet. When I tell people what I specialize in, I always get the response, "What, the industry still exists?"

Christoph Helm: I mentioned it earlier: Casting can be a green product. Each company can promote and advertise this individually, but it is more important that the industry becomes much more globally present regarding such topics.

Caspar Braun, third place winner of the EUROGUSS Talent Award, also said in our interview that the opportunities for progress and efficiency are currently nowhere as great as in the foundry industry. Conversely, what do companies pay special attention to when selecting young applicants?

Christoph Helm: Our customers always outline a profile of requirements to us. And, of course, they are looking for a perfect match. But the general rule is: Companies are looking for as much professional experience as possible, at the lowest price possible. From the company's standpoint, the quality of the applicants has diminished due to the shortened study programs. What counts these days is professional experience and flexibility.

And what are applicants missing from the companies’ standpoint?

Christoph Helm: Professional experience has apparently always been a significant advantage in the industry, and clearly also knowing the industry because the industry is very reluctant to open up to related processes and industries. But the will to change something, to simply want to get involved, to shape things, to move things forward - that's what some applicants are lacking. 

Ursula Maisel: The drive that earlier generations still had, is sometimes lost - and I'm making a sweeping generalization here - among today's young professionals. Perhaps because many of them are in such a good financial situation that they don't have to work to the same extent as the older generation. The need has changed. It's more about self-realization than about how to feed your family or achieve a certain level of prosperity. Thanks to what the parents' and grandparents' generation has built, people entering the workforce today are better secured.

Have we become too satisfied as an industrial nation?

Ursula Maisel: Yes. And then, of course, there's my favorite topic: the welfare state. There is a desperate need for personnel in so many occupational fields. Actually, we shouldn't have any unemployed.

Christoph Helm: The structural shortage of talent, solely due to demographic change and the low birth rate in Germany, will hit us soon. This is hotly debated, but not everyone is aware of the magnitude. 

Ursula Maisel: No one really believes the warnings. As is so often the case.