Crisis in Ludwigsburg County: Pharmacists desperate for staff

The manager of the market pharmacy, Eberhard Klünder, tries to attract qualified employees with a bonus. It’s not that simple. Photo: Werner Kuhnle

Are pharmacies threatened with closure or reduced hours? The work is demanding, but relatively poorly paid – which is primarily due to political decisions.

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An employee attraction bonus? This has long been a reality in many areas. A market pharmacy in Ludwigsburg, for example, offers €1,000 when a pharmaceutical technician (PTA) signs an employment contract there. Pharmacist Eberhard Klunder, who runs the oldest pharmacy in town with his wife Edith, doesn’t think it’s unusual: “Bonuses are everywhere these days; sometimes it’s money, sometimes it’s a business bike.” Other pharmacists in the region are tempted by pay above the standard pay scale and advanced training.

High demands, little money

In pharmacies, “the staffing situation is very tense,” says Sandra Barysh. She is a PTA and pharmacist, and teaches at the Kerschenstein School in Stuttgart, one of 21 technical schools for PTA training in the state.

At the same time, skilled workers would have to use their full potential for the first time. “Whether it’s the production of disinfectants or the production of cough and fever syrups, PTA does it all,” Barysh explains. It’s an “incredibly varied job” that requires “a lot of knowledge” and you can also work part-time, which is important because the job is mostly done by women. However, he is poorly paid.

“The starting salary according to the tariff is 2,419 euros.” However, this is not the merit of pharmacists, she emphasizes: “Politicians have not adjusted pharmacy fees for years, and now they have even increased the discount that pharmacies must give to health insurance companies again.”

However, many potential employees also lack the necessary knowledge. Eberhard Klünder complains that the level of trainees after the two-year training has been falling for years. “I recently had a young Syrian woman intern; but her knowledge of the language was not sufficient for consultation. This is a very important task for the PTA.” The Stuttgart Regional Council (RP) emphasizes that the training requirements of the PTA are regulated by federal law and the level is guaranteed.

The level of graduates is often already insufficient

Schools see it differently. According to Dominik Blosat, head of the private vocational college Flad in Stuttgart, which also trains the PTA, a migrant background with poor language skills is one problem, and the general drop in the level of many school graduates is another. “There are more and more students who do not know basic arithmetic, others do not know how to write correctly. You have to close the gaps first.” A B2 level of language skills is required, but: “Some of them make you wonder how they did it.” However, he says: “It doesn’t help to complain, you have to deal with it. And that’s why we’re reducing the curriculum to the bare essentials.

Such compromises are necessary due to the decrease in the number of students. According to the RP, 169 occupational permits were issued in 2009, compared with 156 the previous year – although there were fluctuations in the intervening years. In the last year, the number of students has halved in the Florida Vocational and Technical College.

New law for more powers

The decrease in the number of applicants is confirmed by Sandra Barysh: “We can no longer “seven”, as before, we accept all applicants with secondary education.” However, there is a six-month trial period. If you do not have the required grades, you cannot continue your studies.

She is pinning her hopes on PTA reform legislation with new curricula that are more hands-on than before. The law, which has been in force since this year, also expands the powers of particularly good specialists. After appropriate experience, it is also possible to become a teaching PTA, that is to supervise trainees, which is otherwise the job of a pharmacist. However, there is one drawback: there is no opportunity to improve qualifications in a specialty.

A dual system as a solution?

As for payment, some are in favor of a dual system in which there is money during study time. Barysh does not consider this a good idea: on the one hand, it would be necessary to hire people without a high school diploma. On the other hand, “you absolutely need a certain basic stock of knowledge. It’s useless if someone already knows a lot about the stomach and intestines, and then the client asks for advice because of a headache.”

In any case, Eberhard Klünder is not very optimistic that he will find more employees in the future. Because the problem is also the working hours of retail trade, including pharmacies, which many people find unattractive. “Recently, a health insurance company stole an employee from me. Now her working hours and pay are even better.”

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