"Kurzarbeit" is a German expression that essentially means, "We're cutting your hours, but we're not laying you off." It's an imperfect solution to a nagging problem in a world beset by economic stagnation, flagging manufacturing, and, in the US, massive layoffs and the waste of "human capital."
Rather than sacking loyal, trained workers, many struggling German companies simply cut the hours of all employees in order to preserve jobs and, ultimately, the enterprise. On days when they don't work, employees attend training sessions. German workers are treated as assets, not "overhead," and German managers are making a bet -- sticking out their necks -- in hopes that new orders will come in, and an economic recovery will indeed come.
Everyone is in the same boat. Labor-management negotiations are sometimes contentious, but both sides know they must live with the other. The result is consensus. While work weeks are reduced under the German system, few lose their livelihoods. Everyone has a reason to get out of bed each morning and go to work.
Especially for US engineers, it's grim to contemplate the sheer amount of expertise and wisdom lost as companies have shed thousands of skilled workers during the Great Recession of 2008. Despite the bottom-line mentality of managers, American engineers and workers remain the most productive in the world.
One thing is clear: Any nation that wishes to remain competitive in global technology and manufacturing must nurture its workforce. In our 40th anniversary year, this publication is championing the revival of US manufacturing. We can learn from the Germans and their enlightened policies for treating skilled workers with respect while preserving jobs and the dignity of work. The result there has been the nurturing of German industries, most of which have survived and prospered in the middle of a European sovereign debt crisis.
Some readers will counter: What? Adopt a German system just this side of socialism? True, labor costs may be higher in Germany, but Deutschland remains perhaps the only growing economy in Europe, a bastion of stability on a continent wracked with economic angst. And German manufacturing quality remains superior because workers are well-trained and maintain a largely optimistic view of the future. Job security makes workers more productive.
Still, notes a friend of EE Times who survived the worst days in Germany after World War II and prospered under its post-war vocational system, "there is no free lunch in Germany."