Expert talk: How to successfully use the potential of foreign skilled workers for your company

Foreign skilled workers can be an opportunity for medium-sized companies in times of a shortage of skilled workers. Personnel consultant Hans Ulrich Gruber and Professor Frank Schäfer give expert tips.

The shortage of skilled workers is great and will become even greater in the coming years. It is already the number one obstacle to growth for many German SMEs. One attractive option is to integrate good skilled workers from other countries. In the podcast, personnel consultant Hans Ulrich Gruber and Professor Frank Schäfer, head of the intercultural management programme at the OTH Weiden, talk about the actual situation in local companies and how to successfully integrate foreign professionals.

The experts: personnel consultant Hans Ulrich Gruber and Professor Frank Schäfer

For many years, personnel consultant Hans Ulrich Gruber has maintained good contacts with international companies as well as with skilled workers from abroad. His motto: “If the onboarding is successful, the cooperation is a win-win for both sides.” In this way, he has already been able to successfully fill numerous positions for medium-sized companies. Both at home and at the SMEs’ locations abroad.

Professor Frank Schäfer is head of the intercultural management course at the OTH Weiden. Since his studies in business administration at the University of Würzburg and the State University of New York, which he completed with honours, he has been involved with the topics of business structures for SMEs as well as market and corporate strategy, both nationally and internationally.

How does demographic change affect the shortage of skilled workers?

Hans Ulrich Gruber: According to the employment agency, we have a shortage of around one million skilled workers. In practice, this cuts across all sectors, specialist areas and hierarchical levels. From IT to engineering to health care. In the next nine years we will see a further decline of around 4 million skilled workers. So creativity is needed to counteract this. The number one obstacle to growth is currently the availability of employees.

Professor Frank Schäfer: I also see in practice that there is a glaring shortage of skilled workers. Some companies are growing very fast. They experience a limitation due to a shortage of skilled workers. As a result, I am observing a change: companies are opening up very strongly to foreign skilled workers.

Are medium-sized companies using the potential of foreign skilled workers to counteract this? And how does this affect the corporate language?

Hans Ulrich Gruber: It varies greatly. Here in Bavaria, the company language in many companies is German. However, there are many best practice examples. Companies that are very international. They have employees from different nations and the company language is usually English.

I am thinking of a major practical project by a German company in Austria. They had the language skills and were able to successfully integrate a pipeline builder from India. You realise that it’s a great advantage if the Indian colleague can also switch to English. That worked very well. We have engineers in many countries who would like to come to Germany. For example, from Turkey, Latin America or Iran. It’s always the same issue. How high is the German language level? And isn’t it easier to integrate the colleague in English?

Professor Frank Schäfer: Our owner-managed companies are open-minded and are beginning to integrate foreign employees. So, they are able to change. Here in the Upper Palatinate, due to the proximity to Eastern Europe, Eastern European specialists have been integrated into the team as a matter of course for many years.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that a company has to decide whether to have English or German as its business language. Many companies do significant foreign business with a high proportion of turnover abroad. They communicate in English anyway. Now communicating with one or the other employee in English is solved rather pragmatically. In the meeting, one employee communicates in German and the other in English.

Are there other points that companies need to address in order to better prepare for international skilled workers?

Professor Frank Schäfer: Language competence is only half the battle. The other half is the corporate culture of an intercultural organisation. This is different from that of a purely nationally structured organisation. Managing this process of change and integration is a task. I have to be aware: These employees have different experiences with hierarchy, management, leadership and taking responsibility for their own tasks. It is important to understand how the employees are shaped. For this, I also have to know the respective country of origin. In the end, it’s about forming a powerful team from different nationalities.

Hans Ulrich Gruber: For the success factors it plays a big role whether I am aware that every person has a basic character. As a German, I have to be aware that when I work with Chinese or Indian professionals, it’s a different story. Here it is important to convey to the team that people from other countries have inherited different values and live by them. On the other hand, this is a great opportunity. It is the leadership’s task to accompany the employees and integrate them into the team.