NN20, January 1996
By: Ullrich Boehm, University of Bremen

The German Dual System of VET - Implications for Germany of its Model Critiqued Abroad
Pages 5-7


1. Introduction

The core of Vocational Education and Training (VET) in Germany is the so-called Dual System (usually 3 years apprenticeship in enterprises or other workplaces, combined with one or two days per week in a vocational school). The major part of VET in Germany is organised and financed by the private sector. Traditionally more than two thirds of the age cohort entered apprenticeship; still today, more than 50% do so. It is a highly political issue in Germany to make sure that more than 600,000 apprenticeship seekers per year find a place for vocational education. News and critical comments on this issue can be found in the mass media almost every day, and even Chancellor Kohl, who very rarely comments on educational policy, shows interest in the apprenticeship problem.

Abroad, in the South, the German VET system is in high demand. Should we compare the German VET system with the Volkswagen Beetle which lost attractiveness in Germany but is still produced in developing countries? Most recent examples of transfer of the German system can be found in Chile, Egypt and Indonesia. The governments of these countries are convinced that the German VET system is one of the main reasons for Germany's economic success. Therefore, during my work in various developing countries, I did not find that the German system was critiqued abroad. (I dare say that I was more critical about the German system than the partners in the South) But I found that some key issues of the German system are even more difficult to solve in developing countries. 

2. Key issues of discussion

2.1 Costs and financing and the debate "Standort Deutschland"(Germany as a location for production)

More than ever before, the employers in Germany see apprenticeship as a cost factor. The investment costs in human capital are included now in the general debate going on in Germany on "Standort Deutschland" (Germany as a location for production). The paradox result of this kind of "Standort" debate is that more and more employers are becoming aware of their chances to transfer their production lines to Eastern Europe or Asia. Big industries have reduced the number of places for apprenticeship by 30 percent; and one quarter of the small and medium enterprises have given up apprenticeship training. The metal and electrical industries have reduced the annual intake of new apprentices by 53 %.

One model which could help to solve some of the problems of a system which is highly dependent on human capital investment decisions of the individual employers, is a levy/grant system as proposed by trade unions and researchers for the past 30 years. But employers and government continuously reject these proposals, because the employers fear the increased influence of trade unions and bureaucracy on apprenticeship training. In the German construction industry, however, there is a levy/grant system as agreed by employers and trade unions which is working very well. The employers pay 2.8 percent of the pay roll into a fund, and the costs of in-plant training and VTC-based training are financed by this fund. But the other employers' federations argue (and the federal government as usual follows their argument) that this model might be good for the construction industry but not for the other industries, because it might have the negative effect that more employers prefer paying instead of training.

Regarding the levy/grant system, we could learn to some extent from the South (and also from the U.K.) where this system was installed but did not work very well. Indeed the feared effects of employers paying their way out of training and of high administration occurred frequently. 

2.2. The role of the part-time vocational school

In order to support the employers' readiness to take apprentices, the Federal Minister of Education and Science proposed to drop the second day of vocational schooling per week, so that the apprentices can work one more weekday in the company. But he does not have the power to implement this, because the Länder are legally responsible for schools. Usually the Federal Minister of Education likes to praise the "investment in human capital" as most important for "Standort Deutschland", but when it comes to the costs, he obviously changes his priorities. 

The image of the vocational part-time school is so bad that nobody except the trade unions and the teachers is really excited by the proposal to reduce that school time. Most of the teachers are older than 50, and younger teachers are rarely recruited by the Ministries of Education because of lack of funds. Didactic innovations can be found more in private enterprises than in the schools.

2.3. The lack of flexibility

Every second employer in the production sector, but only every third employer in the service sector, is training apprentices. This relation does not fit the expected future development from a producing to a service economy in Germany. The picture is even worse when we compare the development in the last 10 years: employment in the service sector increased by 23 percent, while the number of apprentices decreased by 17 percent. Nevertheless, the flexibility of the German system which leaves decisions on the training capacities and their distribution by trade or occupation entirely to the individual employers, i.e. to the market, is higher than in a system administered by the state bureaucracy, but it is not flexible enough to cater for future change of the employment structure (occupational distribution of the work force).

2.4. The role of the "Beruf" (vocation)

One result of this lack of flexibility is that between 21% and 68% (according to different vocations) of apprenticeship completers have to change their vocation within three years after apprenticeship. From this point we could come to a key question of the German system: Is the "Beruf" (vocation) as a basis of the VET system still necessary, or are vocations more and more eroded by industrialisation? But this question is rarely asked in Germany; if it is asked at all, except by a few labour market researchers and planners. For the vast majority in Germany, however, there is no doubt that a person should have a "Beruf" and that his/her identity is formed by the "Beruf".

The Japanese example, however, shows, that an education and training system without the concept of "Beruf" is possible and successful.

3. Conclusion: What the Dual System and Venice have in common!

My German colleague, Geißler, who belongs to the small critical minority in Germany against the Dual System, compared this system with the city of Venice, to point to its morbidity and anachronism. But even Geißler should admit that Venice is very much alive and attractive, in spite of its problems. And so is the German VET system. In spite of the problems mentioned above, the market driven system of distributing the school leavers into apprenticeship is better than a system administered by ministries of education. Here we can recall the negative experience in the South (and the Socialist East). In principle, a vocational education system which mobilises hundreds of thousands of employers to accept responsibility for apprenticeship training, is better than training in public schools only. And again this year, the vast majority of apprenticeship seekers will find a place, despite the growing age cohort. However, what we could learn from the South and other countries is: to be less rigid. The system must be made more flexible; vocational training must not always last 3 or 3+ years; a modular system of VET could be re-considered less sceptically than before by German experts. However, we should be aware, that the German principle of at least 3 years "vocational education for all" (at least for all those who want it), was achieved by a long historic engagement of the trade unions which tried to overcome the "light wage" groups by demanding "equal pay for equal qualification". However, socio-economic standards, including some equality in VET as achieved by trade unions, is threatened by the transformation of the German "social market economy" into a less social market economy and we cannot desire to have Third World employment standards in Germany.

We don't know, however, how long the trade unions can stand the pressure which is built up by the "Standort" debate. Another outlook from another of my German colleagues, Greinert, suggests that the Dual System will survive, but perhaps not in Germany, but anywhere between Rio, Cape Town and Vladivostok!!