Siemens engineers part-time solution to graduate squeeze

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The Independent Online
AS GERMAN unemployment continues to rise, the electronics giant Siemens is pioneering a strategy to help engineering graduates get a foot on the career ladder.

The company is developing flexible part-time working arrangements, so it can take on a third more electrical engineers than it needs. At the same time, it is talking to German universities about helping graduates who work part-time to make up the hours on research projects or as teaching assistants.

Heinrich von Pierer, chief executive, said the company had realised that it had to carry on hiring plenty of graduates. Otherwise, the proportion of younger employees would be too low and the company's potential for innovation would be weakened.

But with business poor and the company pushing through cost-cutting programmes, including extensive job cuts, Siemens' requirement for new engineers has plummeted. Last year the company took on 1,500 electrical engineering graduates; this year it needs just 600. This compares with a pre-recession average of 3,000 a year, about a quarter of the total drawn from from western German universities.

Engineering students, who once would have walked straight into careers in industry, are now joining the swelling numbers of job-seekers. At the beginning of this year, unemployment in Germany had reached 3.6 million, and it is expected to carry on rising into 1995, passing through the 4 million barrier.

Moreover, as an internal Siemens document on employment points out, if you add all the people on job-creation and training schemes as well as those in early retirement, there are 6 million jobs missing in Germany.

It is feared that German unemployment will not fall much below 3 million for the next 10 to 15 years, with an average jobless quota of between 9 and 11 per cent.

Siemens says that by developing part-time working solutions, it is sending a signal which it hopes other big companies will pick up. According to Siemens' research, the combined number of electrical engineering graduates hired this year by the other leading electronics companies in Germany - ABB, AEG, Bosch, IBM and SEL - will be just 600. 'Even excellent students are having problems in getting started in their careers,' Mr von Pierer said.

As a first step, Siemens will take on 900 electrical engineers this year, instead of the 600 it needs. Of the recruits, 300 will be full-time and 600 part-time, working between 19 and 25 hours a week. The part-timers will have normal employment contracts, which means that on the basis of the foot-in-the-door principle, they stand a good chance of full-time jobs once prospects improve.

'Young engineers can get started in their areas of expertise, offering them future prospects, while using the flexibility to pursue other things, such as academic or applied research work,' a company spokesman said.

Siemens says universities have welcomed the initiative and are looking at ways of integrating the graduates in teaching and other programmes.