Vocational Training in Germany Dual Is Better

A trainee of an auto repair shop screwing a new bumper on a car; Photo: © dpa
A trainee of an auto repair shop screwing a new bumper on a car | Photo (detail): © dpa

A trainee of an auto repair shop screwi
There are 344 recognized skilled occupations in Germany. The register ranges from alteration tailor to bicycle mechanic.

Virtually unbeatable?

“The combination of theoretical courses and practical application in the workplace has made vocational training a successful model of the German education system”, said the Federal Minister of Education, Annette Schavan, at the launch event of the information tour “Vocational Training: Practically Unbeatable” on 9 May 2012 in Berlin. And in fact vocational training in Germany has a good reputation. The unemployment rate among young people is, according to Eurostat, one of the lowest in Europe. What is so special about vocational training in Germany?

The dual system

Whoever completes a course of training in a skilled occupation in Germany has learned his craft at both the workplace and at vocational school. Workplace and vocational school are the two pillars of what is called the “dual system”. The practical part of training takes place at the workplace. This could be a technical, agricultural, commercial or industrial business. Also included are the public administration sector and health and social services. The theoretical and specialist foundations of the individual occupations are taught at vocational school. As a rule, the trainee spends from eight to twelve hours per week at the school; the rest of the time he spends at the workplace.

Vocational school ends with a final examination, which is held by the relevant competent body. Examining bodies include the Chamber of Trades and Handicrafts, the Chamber of Industry and the Chamber of Commerce, the Bar Association and the Schools of Administration. Depending on the given occupation, the entire period of training lasts between two and three and a half years. Normally, there is no formal requirement for receiving a position as a trainee. It lies in the discretion of the business, however, whether to demand a secondary general, intermediate general or high school diploma. About 60 percent of school leavers opt for vocational training. Currently, there are half a million people in an apprenticeship.

The ideal case

If all goes well, the interplay of theory at vocational school and practice at the workplace is of advantage to everyone concerned. The businesses benefit from the vocational school pupils’ theoretical input; the trainees from the direct implementation of their new knowledge and skills. If the two sides like one another, trainee and job can come together in the end. The take-on rate is generally good. Businesses can train up-and-coming skilled workers in accordance with their needs and both sides know after three years where they stand.

Not only for training, but also for life

In the dual system young people acquire not only specialized knowledge and learn about its practical implementation. At the workplace and in school the trainees also gain life experience, a general education and social skills. They learn things not only for school but also for life. Those with international interests can complete part of their training abroad. Thus there are exchange programs in various occupational groupings with Turkey; stonemasons can train in Italy.

Training Report and Training Pact

The state of vocational training in Germany is analyzed in detail and summarized every year in a Report on Vocational Training published by the government authorities responsible for education policy. The 2011 Report on Vocational Training states that the training situation last year was an improvement over the previous year. Overall, more training contracts were concluded. Another important instrument for ensuring quality of training is the National Pact for Training and Skilled Manpower, which was adopted for the first time in 2004. Participants were the German federal government and the main associations of German industry. In the first phase, the Pact will be continued until 2014.

Between lack of applicants and education chain

Nevertheless, not everything is looking so rosy for vocational training. Last year the number of applicants for an apprenticeship fell by a quarter; in the new federal states the figure has even halved. This has various reasons. For one thing, the demographic development here makes itself felt. There are fewer and fewer people of training age. For another, more school leavers want to go on to university. At the same time, many young people have difficulties in starting training. The challenge consists, on the one hand, in giving targeted encouragement to weaker candidates and, on the other hand, in awakening the interest of young people wavering between the choice of university or vocational training. The idea is to lure stronger candidates through a greater permeability between vocational training and the academic world, while steadily providing new promotion packages for the weaker ones.