News › Pho­to­nics indus­try Thu­rin­gia · Growth seriously threa­tened by shortage of skil­led workers


The pho­to­nics indus­try in the Free State of Thu­rin­gia is again report­ing increased reve­nues and gro­wing work­forces in 2023. By the end of 2024, the majo­rity of com­pa­nies expect reve­nues to increase and are plan­ning to fur­ther expand their work­force. The big­gest chall­enge is fil­ling new posi­ti­ons. Curr­ently, 1,000 skil­led workers are being sought. These are the key fin­dings of the PHOTONICS Report Thu­rin­gia, which was pre­sen­ted today (16.6.2023) in Jena by the Opto­Net asso­cia­tion of com­pa­nies. For this pur­pose, 123 com­pa­nies pro­vi­ded detailed infor­ma­tion on their busi­ness figu­res and future prospects.

Posi­tive busi­ness situation

Asked about their cur­rent busi­ness situa­tion, around three quar­ters of the com­pa­nies refer to a »very good« (24%) or »good« (53%) eco­no­mic situa­tion. »The indus­try has come through the corona cri­sis well and is show­ing resi­li­ence even in the con­text of infla­tion, rising energy pri­ces and sup­ply chain dif­fi­cul­ties,« explai­ned Anke Sieg­meier, mana­ging direc­tor of Opto­Net. »In par­ti­cu­lar, the con­ti­nuing boom in semi­con­duc­tor manu­fac­tu­ring and a good order situa­tion from pro­duc­tion tech­no­logy are having a posi­tive effect.«

Sales up

Annual sales in the pho­to­nics indus­try have increased from EUR 3.4 bil­lion to EUR 3.8 bil­lion since the last sur­vey in 2021. The growth is dri­ven by com­pa­nies of all sizes and tech­no­logy sec­tors. Com­pa­nies also expect growth, in some cases strong, for the cur­rent fis­cal year and 2024: just under 60% of com­pa­nies anti­ci­pate rising revenues.

Increased rese­arch spending

Invest­ment in rese­arch and deve­lo­p­ment rea­ched a new high in 2022. Almost half a bil­lion euros was spent by com­pa­nies on the deve­lo­p­ment of new pro­ducts and pro­ces­ses, cor­re­spon­ding to an R&D ratio of around 13%.

High export share

At 72%, the export share of sales is more than twice as high as the average export rate of the manu­fac­tu­ring sec­tor in Thu­rin­gia. (37.3% in 2021) The per­sis­t­ently high export rate unders­cores the high inter­na­tio­nal ori­en­ta­tion of com­pa­nies and shows how important free trade and func­tio­ning sup­ply chains are for con­tin­ued posi­tive development.

More employees and 1,000 vacancies

Since the last sur­vey at the begin­ning of 2021, around 1,000 new employees have been recrui­ted. This means that a total of 18,300 skil­led workers are employed in the pho­to­nics sec­tor in the Free State, 2,450 of them in uni­ver­sity and non-uni­ver­sity rese­arch insti­tu­ti­ons. At the same time, around 1,000 vacan­cies are curr­ently being adver­ti­sed. Not only engi­neers, phy­si­cists and com­pu­ter sci­en­tists are nee­ded, but also skil­led workers for the pro­duc­tion areas. Fil­ling vacan­cies is beco­ming incre­asingly dif­fi­cult and a leng­thy challenge.

Growth at risk

Almost two-thirds of the com­pa­nies sur­veyed now assess this situa­tion as a serious threat to the sec­tor, pri­ma­rily because they are plan­ning for »signi­fi­cantly more« (17%) or »more« (52%) employees in the near future to imple­ment their goals. In the con­text of an upco­ming wave of reti­re­ments, a low trai­ning rate of curr­ently 3.2% and the expec­ted num­ber of gra­dua­tes from Thuringia’s uni­ver­si­ties, this demand will pro­ba­bly not be met.

No high-tech wit­hout good STEM edu­ca­tion and immigration

To ensure that the shortage of skil­led workers does not lead to a loss of com­pe­ti­ti­ve­ness and mar­ket share, important levers must be set in motion in the edu­ca­tion sec­tor and in the recruit­ment of for­eign skil­led workers.

A shortage of tea­chers, lost hours and resul­ting defi­cits in STEM edu­ca­tion for young peo­ple could do serious damage to Thu­rin­gia as a tech­no­logy loca­tion and are per­cei­ved by exe­cu­ti­ves with great con­cern and alre­ady as a dis­ad­van­tage for the location.

»Against this back­drop, we are cal­ling on the Thu­rin­gian state govern­ment to make signi­fi­cantly grea­ter efforts to ensure high-qua­lity sci­ence edu­ca­tion in all types of schools, a stra­tegy to com­bat the shortage of tea­chers and tar­ge­ted career gui­dance,« said Anke Sieg­meier. »Com­pa­nies are wil­ling to do their part and are alre­ady inves­t­ing a lot of time and money in acti­vi­ties to sup­port schools. Howe­ver, none of this helps if valuable tea­ching time is not used.«

The pho­to­nics indus­try is open to for­eign spe­cia­lists: while many com­pa­nies (80%) alre­ady employ peo­ple with an inter­na­tio­nal back­ground, their share of the total work­force is still quite low (about 13%). In prin­ci­ple, howe­ver, almost all com­pa­nies can ima­gine rely­ing on inter­na­tio­nal spe­cia­lists to a con­sidera­ble ext­ent (44%) or at least for indi­vi­dual posi­ti­ons (50%).

Very good marks for OptoNet

The majo­rity of the com­pa­nies sur­veyed are mem­bers of the Opto­Net pho­to­nics net­work and use the ser­vices offe­red by the asso­cia­tion of com­pa­nies in the areas of coope­ra­tion media­tion, tech­no­logy manage­ment and recruit­ment of young talent. These offers of the office are almost exclu­si­vely rated as »very good« or »good«, and more than 90% of the respond­ents also recom­mend mem­ber­ship to other indus­try repre­sen­ta­ti­ves. Thus the mana­ging direc­tors Anke Sieg­meier and Nora Kirs­ten see them­sel­ves con­firmed in the set­ting of prio­ri­ties. They see the net­work as an important player in the future when it comes to bund­ling the strengths of the loca­tion in the fight for scar­cer per­son­nel, deve­lo­ping new stra­te­gies and main­tai­ning exch­ange and fair play in the region.

About Opto­Net e.V.

Opto­Net bund­les the inte­rests of curr­ently 116 com­pa­nies, rese­arch and edu­ca­tio­nal insti­tu­ti­ons in pho­to­nics and pro­mo­tes net­wor­king and coope­ra­tion with the aim of advan­cing the deve­lo­p­ment of opti­cal tech­no­lo­gies in the region, incre­asing com­pe­ti­ti­ve­ness and rai­sing the natio­nal and inter­na­tio­nal visi­bi­lity of the clus­ter. Opto­Net sees its­elf as a ser­vice pro­vi­der for its mem­bers, crea­tes a com­mon com­mu­ni­ca­tion and coope­ra­tion plat­form and is actively invol­ved in secu­ring skil­led workers, pro­mo­ting young talent and loca­tion mar­ke­ting. Since spring 2023, the clus­ter manage­ment has been cer­ti­fied with the ECEI GOLD label »Clus­ter Manage­ment Excellence«.

The PHOTONICS Report 2023

The report on cur­rent busi­ness figu­res, sales and employ­ment fore­casts has been published every two years since 2001. The sur­veys were con­duc­ted on behalf of Opto­Net by the CATI labo­ra­tory of the Insti­tute of Socio­logy at the Uni­ver­sity of Jena.


Sur­vey period  Janu­ary to March 2023
Addres­sed com­pa­nies and rese­arch insti­tu­ti­ons 204 204
Suc­cessful sur­veys 123 123
Inter­view form  Tele­phone interview
Average inter­view length  27 minu­tes
Con­duc­ted by  CATI Labo­ra­tory, FSU Jena, hea­ded by Tho­mas Ritter
Sci­en­ti­fic support Dipl.-Soz. Chris­toph Thieme


Die wich­tigs­ten Zah­len im Überblick

Com­pany 186
Sales 2022 3,8 Mrd. EUR
Share of sales for rese­arch & development  13%
Export share of sales  72%
Total employees (indus­try & research)  18.300
Employees in industry  15.850
Employees in research  2.450
Average com­pany size  85 Employees
Trai­nees 500
Trai­nee ratio  3,2 %

Sel­ec­ted over­views & graphics

Copy­right and cita­ti­ons: Repro­duc­tion or dis­tri­bu­tion of con­tent for com­mer­cial or non-com­mer­cial pur­po­ses is only per­mit­ted with the express per­mis­sion of the publisher. Publi­ca­tion of results with refe­rence to source is permitted.