Dual vocational education and training in Germany – a blue print for Europe?

Germany's dual vocational education and training could serve as an example for other European countries in order to fight youth unemployment. [EPA/MARTIN SCHUTT]

This article is part of our special report Looking for jobs after the crisis.

To tackle the long-running problem of high youth unemployment across Europe, the EU has introduced a range of initiatives and so-called “guarantees”. A long-term strategy could contain the adaptation of a dual education system, which has worked well in Germany and several other EU countries, EURACTIV Germany reports.

In Portugal, Mafalda studied computer science. But after graduation, she could not find work. “The studies lacked practical relevance, they contained too much theory that did not benefit me on the job market,” says the 26-year-old Portuguese.

“In Portugal, you either do vocational training – but in that case you lack the theoretical basis – or you study like me and the companies do not know what to do with you as you lack practical experience.”

Mafalda has been doing an apprenticeship as an electronics technician for a company in Berlin for the past year. “Here I can work with the most modern systems and have good prospects for being able to work in my profession afterwards, either in Germany or in Portugal,” she says.

The connection between theory in a vocational school and practical experience in a training company has become a tradition in Germany, enabling young people to be integrated into the job market better and faster.

Lacking vocational qualification as obstacle

According to Destatis, the German Federal Statistics Office, 18.2% of youth in the Eurozone were unemployed in November 2017, but youth unemployment in Germany was only 6,6%. Unsurprisingly, interest in the German vocational training system is on the rise as a result.

In a survey by McKinsey conducted in eight European countries in 2013, 27% of the companies surveyed indicated that they could not fill job vacancies because most young people did not have the necessary qualifications.

Last November, the European Commission presented a recommendation to governments with 14 key criteria for valuable and sustainable vocational training.

“The criteria are essentially already largely implemented in Germany,” explains Dr. Regina Flake, responsible for the Research Unit on Securing Skilled Labour at the Cologne Institute for Economic Research.

Nevertheless, there is no obvious remedy for other countries, says Flake. “What is self-evident in Germany – that German companies support the dual vocational training and even provide a vocational training pay – is not so self-evident in other European countries. For that reason, knowledge transfer is very important, knowing that vocational training systems cannot be copy-pasted par for par,” he says.

Different countries, different traditions

report by the IDW*, to which Flake contributed, suggests that conditions for dual vocational training are very different in the seven European countries that were analysed. “Vocational training in many countries has not yet reached its full potential,” the study concluded.

“In southern European countries, there is a great image stigma of vocational training,” says Flake. Vocational training usually has a lower reputation than studying. For this reason, politicians and industry need to work together to ensure that vocational training is an attractive option to young people and their parents.

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Measures such as the EU’s so-called ‘Youth Guarantee’ have, however, shown little results so far. The “guarantee” to provide employment or a training vacancy for each unemployed young person within four months has not become reality. In 2017, more than half of all unemployed young people in the EU had been jobless for more than six months.

Success story, but no blueprint

“For my parents, it was not easy when I decided to start an additional vocational training after I finished my studies – in addition, so far away, in Germany,” Mafalda recalls. “But there is no similar training to be found in Portugal. And maybe I can even stay in this enterprise. I like the working climate and the advanced training offer, too. In my profession, there are constant technological developments. If I want to stay attractive in the job market, I have to be able to educate myself further.”

According to Flake, much is required to ensure that the combination of working-world based learning and vocational training does not remain as the exception in Europe, including a strong role for social partners; high mobility of young people; a better image for vocational training and targeted career counselling, and special offers for high-performance and underachieving young people, as well as flexibility in the education system.

*The report was co-financed by the Hans Böckler Foundation as well as the Vodafone Foundation Germany and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.