Germany’s Paid Training Leave Attempts to Plug Digital Skills Gap

The German government wants to introduce paid leave for employees to undergo training.

In comments widely reported in the German media, Labor Minister Hubertus Heil said that an upcoming bill will introduce the concept of paid educational leave for up to a year, building on similar models that have been implemented elsewhere in Europe.

Specifically, Heil said the system will resemble a similar program in Austria, with 60% of workers’ wages funded by the federal government during the training period, or 67% for those with children.

While Heil may look to the Austrian model for inspiration, the concept of paid leave for education actually has deep roots in Europe, with Poland first implementing the idea as far back as 1949.

In more recent history, Portugal and Luxembourg both introduced paid educational leave schemes in 1979, setting a precedent for their modern form. Since then, an upward trend has continued and in one 2012 study, researchers identified 62 training leave instruments in the 33 European countries they analyzed.

Over the years, countries have introduced such initiatives for various reasons.

For example, Hungary and other post-Soviet states used paid educational leave to counteract rising unemployment during their transition to market-driven economies in the early ’90s.

Explaining the rationale behind the proposals in Germany, Heil said that paid leave would open up new opportunities for employees in view of a shortage of skilled workers.

Of course, Heil is not the first to observe that a skills shortage affects certain industries and regions in Germany. According to the government, shortages in the fields of medicine, care services and mechanical engineering are especially acute, with the south and east of the country more affected than the rest.

To address these issues, the country has invested in vocational training schemes and liberalized its immigration policy to make it easier for skilled non-EU workers to settle in Germany.

But while measures intended to upskill the national workforce have so far focused on unpaid education or apprenticeships, which are typically undertaken by younger people, the planned paid leave scheme will target mid-career professionals.

Employers Embrace Ongoing Training

Around the world, there is a growing recognition among employers that structured learning doesn’t have to end the moment someone enters their first job out of school.

For example, Amazon this month launched the Next Mile education program to support training by reimbursing its Delivery Service Partners up to $5,250 per year in tuition costs for each eligible employee. Participants can choose from 1,700 degrees, certificates and courses to help them increase their skills and advance their careers.

In general, the trend for ongoing learning has emerged in tandem with the rapid digitization of the economy and the associated need for digital skills that has affected almost every occupation.

In the European Commission’s 2022 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), Germany ranked below the EU average for the prevalence of digital skills.

It found that 49% of the German population had “at least basic” digital skills, compared to an EU average of 54%. For “above basic” digital skills, the DESI found that just 19% of the German population qualified, compared to a 26% EU-wide average.


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