Prekarisierung der Arbeit, Krise der Berufsausbildung und Strukturveränderungen im deutschen Handwerk

The subject of research is the craft sector in Germany, within which three hypotheses are investigated: 1. Growing work precarity, 2. an occupational training crisis and 3. structural changes.

The first hypothesis, that precarity in this sector is growing, has been investigated by comparing the earned income trends within and outside of the craft sector as well as in different crafts, identifying the degree of low-wage labour and pay under collective agreements, and quantifying individual self-employment and illegal employment. The investigation also covers the degree to which working in the craft sector is linked to a risk of falling into poverty, for instance with regard to pension payments after retirement.

The second hypothesis regarding an occupational training crisis has been investigated by comparing the change in the number of masters and apprentices in various crafts to the industrial sector and service industry, comparing the drop-out rates for occupational training programmes, and examining indicators of dequalification.

The third hypothesis, of structural changes such as digitalisation as well as shifts toward freelance work and multi-branch operations, has been investigated by comparing present studies and findings. Other topics include women in the craft sector and specific health burdens caused by working in this sector.

Examination of the hypothesis that precarity is growing in the German craft sector has yielded the following results: The earned income of journeymen in Germany is dependent on general income trends, levelling out at around 75 percent of the income level of employed persons with comparable qualifications. The lowest collectively agreed income levels often lie just above the legal minimum wage.

Since the lowest collectively agreed income levels for many craft sectors are either below or just above the low-wage threshold, broad swathes of the German craft sector fall into the low-wage category – with exceptions including some Western German craftspeople such as house painters and decorators or construction workers, whose income lies well above the low-wage threshold, by more than 15 percent.

Actual income levels in scaffolding construction are up to a quarter lower than the levels stipulated in collective agreements, and up to 20 percent below the general income level for persons with comparable qualifications, but still well above the low-wage threshold. Real wages for journeymen working in scaffolding construction have decreased to the extent that their real earnings in 2017 were less than in 1995, meaning that they could not adequately benefit from the general increase in prosperity nor from the advancements in the productivity of their craft. Real wages for construction workers have remained generally steady since 2007, with only a minimal increase.

Since 1956, the proportion of crafts businesses employing craftsmen in Western Germany which are bound by collective agreements has drastically decreased to only about 30 percent in total; this number rises to over 40 percent in the plumbing, heating and ventilation crafts as well as among automotive mechanics, roofers, house painters and decorators, and electricians; only about 40 percent of all crafts businesses across Germany are now subject to a collective agreement, and only about 54 percent of all craftspeople employed, which means that half of the German craft sector is not covered by any such agreement.

The crisis surrounding collective bargaining coverage of employers in the craft sector correlates with low trade union membership in the sector.

The level of marginal employment is above average among building cleaners and hairdressers, while below average in other crafts. Individual self-employment has risen dramatically in the craft sector, and it can be assumed that combined business models utilising illegal employment are at least part of the cause.

Since most of the minimum wages in the craft sector and the average wages actually paid to craftspeople are too low to entitle them to pensions that exceed the basic provisions, or even the poverty line, the employment system within the German craft sector by and large cannot be deemed to provide sufficient protection against old-age poverty.

Taking into consideration the previously mentioned findings regarding precarity, large parts of the German craft sector can be classified as precarious.

Examination of the hypothesis that occupational training in the German craft sector is experiencing a crisis has yielded the following results:

Compared to occupational training in the industrial and commercial sectors as well as higher education, occupational training in the craft sector has suffered a considerable drop in apprenticeship enrolment and thus lost a great deal of its appeal and perceived significance.

While occupational training has stabilised at a low level of enrolment in certain crafts such as plumbing, heating and ventilation, roofing, and house painting and decorating, the crisis continues to worsen among hairdressers, bakers, butchers, building cleaners, masons and stone sculptors, among other crafts.

The rate of drop-out in the craft sector is very high compared to other sectors, indicating considerable deficits in quality within the system of occupational training for young craftspeople.

Combined with the tenuous transitions from occupational training to the employment system within the craft sector, marked tendencies toward dequalification in this sector are also apparent.

The fact that the proportion of semi-skilled and unskilled workers in crafts such as scaffolding construction in Western Germany is in fact increasing instead of decreasing despite the general trend toward higher qualifications is also an indicator of the tendency toward dequalification within the sector.

The stark drop in participation in master classes, even relative to overall employment in the craft sector, compared to the simultaneous stark increase in the significance of higher education in Germany is another manifestation of the tendency toward dequalification.

In summary, it can be determined that the occupational training of trade professionals is experiencing a crisis.

Examination of the hypothesis that the German craft sector is undergoing structural changes has yielded the following results:

The German craft sector is facing substantial, sometimes contradictory structural changes such as a shift toward multi-branch operations and industrialisation on the one hand and individual self-employment and freelance work on the other.

At the same time, digitalisation is putting all business models within the sector to the test and in some cases replacing them.

The structural changes mentioned are also closely interwoven with the growing precarity faced by craftspeople as well as the crisis affecting occupational training in the sector, and these factors may influence or exacerbate one another.


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