With workers lacking in Germany, some firms recruit from the army

  • People
  • Tuesday, 28 Nov 2023

Former soldier Vergez-Larrouget at his new job at Amazon's logistics centre in Sulzetal. Photos: Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert/dpa

Only a few years back, Rudolph Vergez-Larrouget worked in a field camp in Niger, where the nearest hospital was 10 hours away.

At the time, he was part of Operation Barkhane, deployed for the French military in its campaign against Islamist terrorists in the Sahel region. His current workplace could hardly look more different.

Today, Vergez-Larrouget works at an Amazon logistics centre in the German city of Magdeburg, some 150km west of Berlin. In a stark contrast to his deployment in West Africa, his main concern in Magdeburg is for books, tablets, toys and dog food to be packed up for delivery as efficiently as possible.

When asked about similarities in his two jobs, he says: "The processes are all incredibly standardised."

As part of a military exchange programme, the now 31-year-old also spent some time with the Bundeswehr, as Germany's armed forces are called, studying at the army's university in Hamburg.

His military supervisor from back then now also works at Amazon. The online retail giant is one of many companies in Germany that are turning to the army to counter the country's growing lack of skilled workers.

And with some 20,000 soldiers leaving the Bundeswehr on average each year, it is a recruitment pool worth turning to, something which firms, international and local alike, are increasingly aware of. There are now more than 4,500 cooperations between the army and companies including with Amazon, US carmaker Tesla, which opened an electric car plant just outside Berlin last year, and national supermarket chain REWE.A worker uses a forklift truck to reach high shelves at the Amazon logistics centre in Sulzetal. A worker uses a forklift truck to reach high shelves at the Amazon logistics centre in Sulzetal.

But the police, Germany's national railway operator Deutsche Bahn and the German postal service are also hiring former recruits.

The soldiers often leave the Bundeswehr having enjoyed a thorough education, but companies also value that many of them, especially officers and corporals, have been in leadership positions from very early on in their careers, where they were often responsible for personnel as well as equipment worth millions, a spokeswoman for Deutsche Bahn says.

In 2023 alone, Deutsche Bahn is looking to hire more than 25,000 new employees, the spokeswoman said. To meet this goal, it was important to exhaust the entire potential of the labour market, she added.

Which is no mean feat, because the situation in the German labour market is more than tight, from an employer's perspective.

According to a recent report by the Institute for Employment Research (IAB), the so-called labour market tension, which describes the ratio of vacancies to people looking for employment, is at an all-time high. Companies therefore often cast a wider net when looking for skilled workers, using various recruitment methods, according to the IAB.Amazon is specifically recruiting members of the German armed forces. Amazon is specifically recruiting members of the German armed forces.

While smaller-sized businesses still tend to rely on word-of-mouth, larger companies tend to use a mix of different recruitment strategies, says Alexander Kubis from the IAB research unit for labour market processes and institutions.

"The more difficult it is to find personnel, the broader a company's search," he says.

Former soldiers have the advantage that they know quite early on when they will be available, says Felix Klein, founder of a job site specifically designed for ex-recruits looking to enter the labour market.

Klein, who served in the army for 12 years, created the platform 14 years ago, finding at the time it was difficult for soldiers leaving the army to find work.

Nowadays, the Bundeswehr has an in-house office with 800 employees dedicated to facilitating the forces' transition into the free labour market.

"In the meantime, more and more companies have soldiers on the radar as a source of personnel," says Klein.

The Bundeswehr also benefit from the cooperation with companies. The prospect of a secure future post-service makes joining the armed forces more appealing, a spokeswoman said.Amazon packages travelling on a conveyor belt. Amazon packages travelling on a conveyor belt.

In recent years, more than 94% of the soldiers who left the army were able to find a job in the civilian labour market in the first year after their service ended, he said.

Vergez-Larrouget always knew that he wanted to work in the private sector after his term of service. He was attracted by the creative freedom and the more open decision-making processes, he says.

"You see the results very quickly here, allowing you to analyse them," he says about his work at Amazon.

But in the end, he concedes, they only send packages. – dpa

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