Labour market information

Print this page

Germany - Nordrhein-Westfalen

Short overview of the labour market


North Rhine-Westphalia borders Lower Saxony to the north and north-east, Hesse to the south-east, Rhineland-Palatinate to the south and Belgium and the Netherlands to the west. With almost 18 million inhabitants, it is the most populous of all the federal states, and the fourth-largest in terms of surface area. Just under two million of its almost 18 million inhabitants are foreign nationals. Most of these foreign citizens come from Turkey, Poland, Italy, Greece and the Netherlands. Of Germany’s 80 largest cities, 29 are located in North Rhine-Westphalia. The Rhine-Ruhr conurbation in the heart of the state, with around ten million inhabitants, is one of the 30 largest metropolitan areas in the world and is the core of the most densely populated part of Europe. The largest city in North Rhine-Westphalia is Cologne, which is also one of Germany’s oldest cities. The state capital is Düsseldorf.

There are major variations in the jobs market in North Rhine-Westphalia. Some structurally weak cities, particularly in the Ruhr area, stand in contrast to the highly dynamic Rhineland region along the axis formed by the cities of Düsseldorf, Cologne and Bonn, and the northern regions of Münsterland and Ostwestfalen-Lippe.

In February 2017, the unemployment rate in North Rhine-Westphalia was 7.7 %, the national rate being 6.3 %. This represents a year-on-year decrease of 3.0 %. North Rhine-Westphalia’s unemployment rate is considerably higher than those of the other non-city states of western Germany, primarily because of its problem areas in the Ruhr Valley, which puts it in eleventh place among the German federal states.

In December 2016, a total of 6 676 900 people were employed in jobs subject to social security deductions. This represented a year-on-year increase of 2.04% in the number of people employed in jobs subject to social security deductions.

The main sources of employment in North Rhine-Westphalia included:

  • Manufacturing (in particular of metals and electrical equipment)
  • Wholesale and retail trade; maintenance and repair of motor vehicles
  • Residential care and social work activities

In percentage terms, the strongest jobs growth between February 2016 and February 2017 was recorded in the following sectors: 

  • Temporary employment agency activities (+7.8 %)
  • Residential care and social work activities (+5.2 %)
  • Business support services (not including temporary employment agency activities) (+4.3 %)

A minimal decline in jobs was experienced in the areas of provision of financial and insurance services (-0.5  %) and manufacture of predominantly consumer goods (-0.3. %) and, once again, in the mining, energy and water supply, and waste management sectors (-0.1 %).

North Rhine-Westphalia is an important industrial region, despite the ongoing structural crisis in the Ruhr and Bergisches Land areas, and is the number-one region for energy in Europe. Roughly a third of Germany’s electricity is generated in the region.

Of the 50 largest German companies, 25 have their head office in North Rhine-Westphalia. These include world-class groups such as Deutsche Telekom, Bertelsmann and RWE.  In addition, North-Rhine Westphalia is Europe’s most important commercial centre. The headquarters of many of Germany’s largest retail companies are located there, including the Metro Group, REWE and Aldi. 

Text last edited on: 08/2017

Are you satisfied with the information provided on this page?

Need help?  
Need help?