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:

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

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. 

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Where are the available jobs?


With its unemployment rate of 7.7 % (national average: 6.3 %), jobseekers may encounter more difficulties in some regions.

Jobseekers looking for work in North Rhine-Westphalia will find the lowest unemployment rates in the following rural districts and/or towns in February 2017:

Demand for labour rose again in February 2017. The number of registered vacancies showed a year-on-year increase of 5.4 %.

Most vacancies in August 2016 were in the following rural districts and/or towns and cities:

In August 2016, the average number of unemployed applicants for each notified job vacancy in North Rhine-Westphalia was 5.2, compared with a national average of 3.9.

In the following occupational categories there were more vacancies than qualified unemployed persons:

Where are the available workers?


With an unemployment rate of 7.7 % in February 2017, North Rhine-Westphalia generally still offers employers good prospects of recruiting suitably qualified staff to fill their vacancies. Employers in North Rhine-Westphalia will find the highest unemployment rates and good supply of skilled labour in the following rural districts and/or towns and cities:

In February 2017, the average number of unemployed applicants for each notified job vacancy in North Rhine-Westphalia was 5.2, compared with a national average of 4.1.

The following are the main occupational categories in which there is currently a surfeit of qualified unemployed persons:

In addition, there is a large supply of labour for many semi-skilled occupations in agriculture, forestry and hunting, horticulture, care of animals, mechanical engineering and industrial engineering, textiles technology, production and processing, paper and packaging technology, food preparation, building construction and civil engineering, building finishing works (interior fittings), decorating, stucco plastering, protection of buildings, warehousing, postal services, logistics, cargo handling, site security, fire protection, cleaning, sales, the food service industry, office and secretarial work, personal hygiene, education and household management.

With its high concentration of institutions of higher education, North Rhine-Westphalia also has a good supply of graduate jobseekers in almost every academic profession.