Structuring the World of Work – The Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training

Copyright: Siemens-PressebildThe Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (Das Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung – BIBB) is the think-tank for future-proof occupations in Germany. It is a forum for research and debate on modern regulation standards for initial and further training in almost five hundred qualified occupations. In addition, it is instrumental in helping disadvantaged persons to gain a foothold in the working world.

The new information technologies (IT), for example, are a wellspring of new occupations – which, in some cases, then replace the old ones. In Germany, however, this process does not simply follow its natural course, it is directed into officially regulated channels. For in contrast to unskilled labour, occupations are nationally regulated in "registers of training requirements" and thus have to be placed on a legal footing. At the same time, both corporate organisations and trade unions have their traditional spheres of influence, and here the representatives of new interests are not suffered gladly. Thus, in Germany, new occupational profiles are by no means generated purely by the requirements of technology, but are developed in consensus between the state and the established organisations of employers and employees.

Introducing new occupations in consensus

This "triple alliance" of the much-quoted Deutschland AG (i.e Germany Co.) meets at the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training whenever the formal introduction of new occupations is on the agenda – as, for example, a few years ago in the IT field. The institute’s officials are legally bound to stimulate and moderate the joint decision-making process as neutral experts.

Furthermore, the Institute, with its 500 employees, observes and evaluates the extent to which the various branches of industry are satisfied with the old and new occupations, and where initial and further training has to be updated. Thus the five new IT professions ranging from systems electronics technician to IT merchandiser have proved to be a great success after the first four years. Although only one third of people in the same age group leave school with Abitur (academic requirement for university entrance), every second trainee in the computer world has Abitur - and decides nevertheless to do a three-year training course in a specialist company combined with classes at vocational school rather than go to university. Work in the knowledge and information society of the 21st century is becoming ever-more demanding, more academic. With its new occupational profiles the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training gives this development a definable, practice-oriented structure.

Focus on further training

Traditionally, vocational training and academic education in Germany are two separate worlds. Whereas the Hochschulrektorenkonferenz aka HRK (Association of Universities and Other Higher Education Institutions) is i.a. the definitive organ for decision-making and counselling for academic professions ranging from teacher to doctor and researcher, the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training exercises the same function for all other occupations – and thus for the majority of employees in Germany. At the same time the Institute is the seat of the National Agency for International Vocational Training Programmes of the European Union - as for example in the Leonardo project.

In addition to initial training, further training, life-long learning, is increasingly becoming one of the Institute’s key concerns. Counselling in specific fields is facilitated considerably by the new electronic instruction media such as internet and CDROM. In internet forums, for example for instruction personnel ("foraus"), all participants and those interested can inform themselves as to the latest developments and exchange questions and tips.

Further vocational training, however, is far more than merely a preserve for particularly assiduous employees. In the "Bologna-Copenhagen Process", on track into the European common educational policy, it is becoming a high-ranking political issue. At first on a national level, in "qualification frameworks", so-termed by the responsible ministers of the EU partner countries, the required competence in vocational and academic education is to be compared, with the aim of establishing equivalences wherever these can be ascertained. In charge of this delicate task for the universities is the HRK, for vocational training the Federal Institute. Already the Institute is asserting itself as the political spearhead of vocational training: our IT further-education course has attained the level of a Bachelor’s degree! Whereby the universities are now demanding in-depth negotiations on this issue.

Better vocational chances for the children of migrants

The Federal Institute does not merely represent the sunny side of vocational training. It is also the custodian of the disadvantaged. These are often migrants with special additional qualifications which, however, are often not recognised in the working world. A research project "Intercultural Competence of Young Qualified Employees with a Migration Background", for example, aims to clarify and underline the role often played by migrants –for example, as forwarding agents in boosting business or as doctors’ assistants in improving health care. Furthermore, the Institute develops and tests training models for young people with no school-leaving qualifications, who are otherwise virtually without a chance in the job market. This project is called "good practice" – which could also well be the brand name of the entire Institute.
Hermann Horstkotte
The author is a lecturer at the Technical University of Aachen.

Translation: Heather Moers
Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Online-Redaktion

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January 2005

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