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Personalmangel gegensteuern

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Staff shortage - definition, causes and possible solutions

Staff shortages are making the headlines more and more often. No wonder, because it is becoming an ever greater problem for companies in Germany. There is not only a shortage of workers in the care or service sectors. There are also personnel shortages in highly qualified industries such as automotive, where it affects both workers and management personnel. Find out below what the causes of this personnel shortage are, what costs are incurred by an unfilled position and how you can take countermeasures.

What is a shortage of personnel and how is it measured?

Shortages of skilled workers can be determined using the so-called vacancy time. The German Federal Employment Agency analyses this at regular intervals, broken down by sectors and regions. Here, the vacancy refers to the time between a position being advertised and its successful filling. This period has been rising steadily for over ten years. Whereas in 2007 there was an average of 63 days between a job offer and the conclusion of an employment contract, by 2019 the figure had risen to 130 days.

The Institute of the German Economy in Cologne has determined that at the end of 2020 there were already 195 so-called bottleneck professions for which there were more vacancies than applicants. And this trend is set to continue, with estimates suggesting that there will be a shortage of more than three million skilled workers in 2040.

What are the causes of this worrying trend?

Demographic change

The main cause of the personnel shortage is demographic development. After all, Germany is a society that is getting older and older. This means that in the future there will be more and more pensioners and fewer and fewer people of working age. Currently, many of the baby boomers are retiring, leaving gaps that can no longer be filled by young people.

A forecast by Statista from 2021 assumes that the working-age population will fall to around 46 million in 2030. If the trend continues at this rate, only just under 35 million people will be of working age in 2060. This is an enormous decline that will have an impact on the entire national economy.

A global competition for the best brains

The fewer skilled workers are available, the more valuable those who still exist become. Particularly in highly specialized industries, applicants can now choose their jobs. The days when countless applicants applied for a job and the HR department had the choice are long gone. Today, it's more the other way around, and companies are under scrutiny from applicants. Unattractive working conditions, rigid hierarchies, low salaries, hardly any opportunity for a successful work-life balance and too little personal freedom can therefore be reasons why applicants spurn jobs.

German companies have to outcompete not only companies from Germany, but today they also have to hold their own against competition from abroad. This is because German specialists are open to a move abroad if the position meets their own needs.

Those who persist in old structures and operate the same personnel management as they did twenty years ago will have little chance of attracting and retaining top-qualified employees in their own companies today. A lack of flexibility and a lack of courage to change in companies can therefore also contribute to the personnel shortage in Germany.

Cost of Vacancy

A lack of personnel is also a financial problem, because an unfilled position costs money, since every missing employee reduces productivity, which in turn reduces sales. This cost of vacancy can be calculated using a formula: Based on the annual salary of the vacant position, the importance it has for the company and the vacancy duration, it is possible to calculate the costs per day and unfilled position for companies. Even with an assumed salary of 40,000 euros, an importance of 3 and an average vacancy of 92 days, each day that the position is not filled costs the company 480 euros. That alone is reason enough to fill every vacancy as quickly as possible.

But Cost of Vacancy does not only refer to financial disadvantages, because every unfilled position has further consequences:

When a key team member is missing, it lacks in productivity as well. Everyone else has to work more, which can lead to stress. Sometimes customer service suffers because phone calls cannot be answered or processed in a timely manner. This may also affect the company's image. Customers may no longer perceive the company as reliable and high-quality and turn away. In the worst case, orders are also not processed in time because there are not enough staff. The high workload often leads to absences due to illness, which further aggravates the situation, as even more work has to be distributed among the remaining team members. Inevitably, quality suffers as a result.

The consequences are particularly dramatic when management personnel are missing. This is because the remaining colleagues are often unable to implement the tasks adequately, as they often do not know the necessary internal information and have neither the expertise nor experience in this area. This can lead to errors that jeopardize entire processes. When bosses have to fill in for other colleagues, there is no time for important customer discussions or meetings. The resulting instability can damage the company's image on the outside, even among job seekers. Perhaps potential applicants suspect that there must surely be reasons why the company has so many unfilled positions and don't apply in the first place. In short: It is an enormous advantage to fill vacancies with qualified personnel as quickly as possible.

How can you counteract this?

You may now be asking yourself what you can do to prevent staff shortages in your company in light of these prospects. Because even if you have no influence on external factors such as demographic change, there are still a few things you can do to constructively counter the situation in your own company.

Personnel marketing is essential today. Your task here is to present yourself to the outside world as an attractive employer. A positive corporate image and transparent communication are important cornerstones for this. To achieve this, you should also address the individual target groups in detail, because young applicants today attach different importance to things than was the case a few years ago.

The keyword is employer branding. You proceed in a similar way to any other marketing campaign. The starting point is a competitive analysis in which you work out what your unique selling points are. Based on this data, you can then launch targeted employer branding campaigns that will reach applicants in the long term. These can be social media campaigns, classic advertising campaigns or trade fair appearances, for example. You should also give your job ads a reality check and adjust them if necessary.

However, the basic prerequisite for successful employer branding is that the structures and processes in your company are also attractive in reality. Therefore, a successful HR strategy also includes possible restructuring and changes within the company itself. Even if it is painful, it may be necessary to break away from old structures and take a step into the future. Many applicants today attach great importance to a good work-life balance and personal freedom. That's why you should also always ask yourself how you as a company can become more attractive to skilled workers.

This also necessarily includes a modern management style. Instead of rigid hierarchies, for example, flexibility and transparency are needed today to attract applicants to companies.

How interim management can help with staff shortages

And this is exactly where interim management comes into play. Because it is often the case that medium-sized companies in particular find it extremely difficult to cope with the changed requirements. The neutral view of an interim manager from the outside makes it much easier to recognize and initiate necessary changes.

Because when companies reach their limits and realize that they are heading for a crisis in personnel marketing, the external experts can provide on a temporary basis important impulses and contribute specialist knowledge that was not previously available in the company.

In addition, interim managers step in when there is a staff shortage in the management level. They seamlessly take over specialist tasks and ensure that everything continues to run smoothly.

But interim management can also take the very measures needed to constructively address the staff shortage in the company. A concrete task for an interim manager could be, for example, a new internal and external communication strategy in personnel marketing.

Interim management is also a solution when change management is needed to make the company fit for the future. Especially when far-reaching changes are needed within the company in order to be more interesting for skilled employees, interim managers can help.

Facing the personnel shortage constructively

Demographic change is in full swing, and competitors abroad are not asleep when it comes to poaching the best employees. Even if you have little influence on this, you can still take effective countermeasures to make your company as future-proof and attractive to applicants as possible.

Interim management allows you to bring specialist knowledge and expertise into the company on a temporary basis and thus implement specific tasks quickly and effectively. If you have any further questions about interim management, especially in the automotive sector, please feel free to contact us by mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at +49 (0)89 1894 6057.