View from Germany: German Apprenticeships

By Corinna Bienger on Email

The system of education after school is very unique in Germany – or so we feel. Over a period of thee years, our young people join companies for a dual education, meaning learning on the job mixed with terms in vocational schools. But Germany also has a string of technical universities, whose main role is to equip the country’s future labor force.

Such apprenticeship schemes have their roots in the country’s medieval guilds. They play a major part in the continuing success of today’s Germany – in spite of the continuing troubles besetting the euro zone.

The German economy is quite export-oriented and one of its strengths is high-quality, hi-tech products, but you do need a plentiful supply of medium and high-qualified labor to deliver these products. That is why Germany has what’s known as a ‘dual system’.

The apprentices must be given structured training by their employer, alongside the general and vocational education they receive. It all ensures Germany has enough labor to do the jobs.

However, what is abundantly clear is that there’s little point in other European countries to be creating tens of thousands more apprenticeships, if there’s no commercial demand for the precise skills the young people are to be taught.

For apprenticeships to work for young people, for industries, and for taxpayers, the trainees need to be fed into long-term successful businesses, committed to planning future products and investing in the workforce, which will be equipped to produce them.

You need a school system which supports this work system. We have this tradition in Germany of being loyal to the company. We also have a technology focus here in Germany. For that you need very skilled people.

It’s a system supported by politicians and society and needed by the companies. And for countries that have all but lost their industrial base, that’s a tall order indeed.

There is a down side to this kind of apprenticeship education, though. Jobs are based on this education, and a cross-over is difficult to accomplish. You can’t work in a hotel, for example, if you haven’t been educated for it for three years. That requires people to stay in their line of work, but then it also makes Germans highly qualified in their jobs.


Photo © York Labour

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Corinna Bienger