German carmakers are spying an opportunity in the influx of refugees pouring across the country’s borders as a means to fix its looming labor shortage.
Daimler AG Chief Executive Officer Dieter Zetsche, striking an unusually political tone on the eve of this year’s Frankfurt International Motor Show, said that absorbing as many as 1 million migrants this year, while a “Herculean task,” holds the promise of laying the foundation for another economic upswing similar to the country’s postwar boom in the 1950s and 1960s.
His message: while not every person arriving in Germany is a brilliant engineer, mechanic or entrepreneur, many of those displaced by war, persecution and poverty are highly skilled and motivated, and may be just what the economy needs as the population shrinks and the number of people entering retirement age surges.
“In an ideal case, this can help foster another economic miracle,” Zetsche said on Monday, referring to the German boom after the World War II that helped turn the country into Europe’s largest economy. “Many examples of successful integration can be found in Silicon Valley.”
The European refugee crisis as a central talking point at a car expo shows the depths to which the topic has come to dominate the public discourse, with Germany accommodating more migrants than any other European Union member state. With unemployment at a record low and gross domestic product growing at the strongest pace since 2011, the country has become a main destination for the millions of refugees and economic migrants trying to escape conflict and hardship in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Even with immigration, Germany’s population may shrink to as low as 68 million people by 2060, from about 80 million now, according to the Federal Statistics Office .
The number of people of working age is forecast to drop as much as 30 percent to 34 million by 2060, and the portion below 20 years is estimated to fall to as low as 11 million from 15 million, data published by the office in April show.
Germany has seen thousands of migrants cross into the country in recent months, and the government re-instated temporary border controls on the southern border with Austria on Sunday to help manage the influx.
Zetsche said Stuttgart-based Daimler will support housing for migrants in its home state of Baden-Wuerttemberg and match donations by employees. Martin Winterkorn, the CEO of German carmaker Volkswagen AG, said in a separate interview at the car show on Monday that his company would seek to find trainee jobs for immigrants.
“A lot of highly qualified people are coming over,” Winterkorn said. “That’s an opportunity to use these highly skilled people to give them jobs at our sites and plants. And we see opportunities to train other refugees who aren’t as skilled. This would be our contribution to deal with the refugee crisis.”
VW has begun discussions at its trucks unit about sponsoring language courses and job training for refugees in both Germany and in Sweden.
“It’s certainly good” in the long term to have an influx of immigrants who can help to outweigh Germany’s lack of population growth, though it will require significant effort for the country, said Andreas Renschler, VW’s trucks chief.
Car manufacturers, among the largest corporate employers in Germany, owe much of their success to the contribution of immigrant labor as beneficiaries of so-called guest workers recruited to power the postwar boom.