Germany’s vocational system has been highly regarded for many years. Its Dual System of Vocational Training, which combines theoretical learning in a vocational school setting and practical learning in a workplace setting under the supervision of a skilled mentor, is the centerpiece of its system and is a model for many other countries. Germany has, however, struggled to modernize the system to adapt to fast changing economic needs and to provide a high-quality training route for a broad range of students.
The Federal Ministry of Education and Research has overall responsibility for the country’s VET strategy. The Länder have responsibility for the school portion of the Dual System as well as full-time VET schools. They design the school curricula and train and pay the teachers. Industry groups of employers prepare the curriculum, supervise the workplace training, and assess student progress. Apprenticeships are centrally organized by the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB). The BIBB publishes a list of available training programs and apprenticeship salaries. Companies bear the cost of the workplace training component.
Realschule and hauptschule graduates (and a small number of gymnasium graduates) typically enroll in a vocational upper secondary program at age 15 or 16. Vocational programs are the choice for about half of all upper secondary students. There are two main options: 1) The Dual System, which is the most popular vocational option and is focused on the trades; and 2) Full-time vocational schools that last for two to three years for students interested in industries that are not craft or industrial-based. They lead to VET qualifications (and some offer the option to obtain school leaving certificates as well).
Dual apprenticeship programs are offered in more than 300 trades. Each year, there is some effort to streamline and integrate related training occupations. The classroom portion is funded by the government. A curriculum framework set by KMK organizes students’ in-school learning (with some content specifics left to Länder), while apprenticeships are structured around national training regulations agreed to by each industry.
Students are paid an “allowance” (approximately one-third of the typical starting salary) by the host company that increases over time. At the end of training (which usually lasts three years, but can extend to five), students in the Dual System take a final exam administered by industry partners such as chambers of commerce and earn level 4 qualifications on the eight-level German Qualifications Framework (GQF). While VET programs do not automatically lead to university entrance qualifications, it is usually possible to qualify for university if a student is interested in pursuing further education. About one-third of young Germans graduate from Dual VET apprenticeships.
Students who enroll in full-time vocational schools within the upper secondary level work towards vocational qualifications for skilled work. These qualifications are at level 3 on the GQF. Teaching methods are generally task-based and practice-oriented, providing both technical vocational training and a broader general education. Students can choose to specialize in a variety of industry areas, from business occupations to trade and technical occupations.
VET graduates can then go on to higher vocational education and training and earn nationally regulated further training qualifications (usually at level 6 on the GQF). Most further training qualifications and certificates of trade and technical schools enable access to university.
German universities and universities of applied sciences offer bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. Some of these programs combine learning in the classroom and apprenticeship-style on-the-job training. The completion of higher education leads to a bachelor’s degree (GQF level 6) or master’s degree (GQF level 7).
VET in Germany faces challenges in improving the transition into VET as well as the transition from VET to higher education for some students.
Since the 1990s, Germany has had transitional (usually one-year) prevocational programs for students who did not have a lower secondary degree or needed to strengthen their basic skills, often mathematics, before enrolling in a Dual System program or full-time vocational school. By 2008, over one-third of all students entering VET enrolled in this prevocational program. However, completion of this program have not always helped students secure either apprenticeships or spots in full-time vocational schools upon completion of the program. In response, educators have made efforts to reduce the number of students needing to enroll in the program and to better coordinate services so that students successfully transfer into VET programs. These efforts have been coupled with initiatives focused on reducing the dropout rate from VET programs and increasing enrollment in the system, including supports like workplace coaches and additional counseling for students in VET programs.
There has also been an effort to widen access to higher education for VET students. This has been done by allowing students with a master level qualification from the Dual System to enter higher education, as well as the creation of new bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in VET. These programs have a work-based learning component similar to the Dual System. However, despite the availability of this option, few students have taken advantage of it.
*18-24 year-olds not in education, employment or training
Source: OECD Education at a Glance 2019