By Léna Krichewsky, research officer, Education for All Global Monitoring Report
What do all those experts and politicians mean when they point to the “German model” as a kind of magic recipe to solve the problem of youth unemployment by improving the skills of the young? The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, announced a few days ago that he intended to rapidly increase the number of apprentices, showing that in his eyes this is one of the major lessons to be learnt from Germany.
The burning question, however – which we will explore in the forthcoming 2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, on youth, skills and work – is whether a system like Germany’s can work as well in other countries.
How does the German model work? From the learner’s perspective, apprenticeship in Germany is a “dual system” in which a balanced curriculum of structured training within a company is accompanied by part-time classroom tuition in vocational and general subjects. Apprenticeships are open to all students who have completed lower secondary education (age 15) and last from two to three and a half years.
Apprentices are considered as employees and are paid by the training company. They can choose from among about 350 occupations, reaching from hairdressing and car repair to insurance and financial services. Because apprenticeships are such a good route into skilled jobs, many students who have completed upper secondary school also start an apprenticeship, even if they have the credentials to enter university. (The German education and research ministry has put online a brochure explaining the system.)
Regulation and partnership are the two principles that make the system so successful. Representatives of the federal state, the individual states, employers and employees work together by consensus to develop curricula, provide training, and carry out assessment, certification and quality assurance.
Mutual trust and long-term commitment to human resource development are the key ingredients that enable the dual system to deliver the skills that meet employers’ requirements while guaranteeing employees sufficient skills to change jobs and move up the career ladder. They are also the aspects of the dual system that make it so difficult to replicate elsewhere.
Germany’s economy has been described as having a “high skills equilibrium.” A broad industrial base, with a large number of small and medium-sized companies involved in export-oriented activities, requires a highly skilled workforce. Accordingly, companies see apprenticeships as a vital investment to guarantee their long-term competitiveness.
In Germany, economic growth and an ageing population are currently helping keep youth unemployment lower than in most other European countries. Given the economic downturn and demographic growth in other countries, however it remains to be seen to what extent elements of the dual system can help to solve the problem of unemployment on a large scale.
Léna Krichewsky has been seconded to the GMR team from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, (GIZ, German Agency for International Cooperation).
Photo: Metal industry trainees (Source: Meyer-Werft/BIBB, German Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training).