Formation Emploi (in English), n° 146, July 2020, 215 p.

Apprenticeship in Germany and facing its challenges

Published on
5 July 2020

Special edition: English full-text articles

Germany is well-known internationally for its apprenticeship system, but do we really know it? The first objective of this thematic issue will be to go beyond the superficial (re) presentations of the German dual Vocational and Training system (VET system).


Germany counts over 1.3 million apprentices, whereas France has only 500,000 and a youth employment rate three times higher. “From a correlation, we hastily make a causality” indicates the introduction of this issue, which invites necessary complementary investigations.

This issue intends to shed light on the processes at work, to draw attention to certain dimensions that are essential to the analysis, without claiming to discover a miracle recipe or the secret of economic performance in a now globalized economy.

Thanks to German and French specialists, in this issue we can better measure how each national situation makes a system, as the Franco-German tandem of introducers, Mona Granato & Gilles Moreau, or the French postface writer, Olivier Giraud, point out; and the Franco-German postface writer, Isabelle Le Mouillour, who concludes that “comparison is not reason”.

Thus, corporate commitment in the two countries is not up to expectations, although at a different level and in different contexts, as the contribution of Harald Pfeifer, Gudrun Schönfeld & Felix Wenzelmann reveals, as the reasons for corporate commitment are manifold.

The quality of the training provided in companies, in particular through the role of tutors, is also a challenge, highlighted here by Anke Bahl.

In this respect, training in terms of competence(s) is also a challenge, even a controversial debate, as analysed by Agnès Dietzen & Tanja Tschöpe, with an interest in learning social skills.

Likewise dual training quality is questioned by the possible next transition (or not) at university. With Nadine Bernhard, we discover that in Germany, “permeability” between secondary school education and university is very far from self-evident.

This issue reserves two others surprises. First of all, in France, in secondary education, it appears that being trained by apprenticeship offers a greater advantage on the labour market than in Germany. According to Clément Brébion, although at the end of dual training, young Germans find it easier to find a job in the company where they have trained, they have more difficulty than in France in finding a job on the external market. Secondly, providing cross-border young French people with dual training in German companies is not proving to be a panacea. So, Sophie Iffrig sheds a special light on the specificity of the French and German systems and shows “in vivo” the limits to their possible rapprochements and exchanges of good benchmarks.

The pathways to competitiveness are illuminated by cooperation in the analysis of training-working-employment relationships, which Isabelle Le Mouillour encourages in her postface.

I hope you enjoy reading this issue.

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Mona Granato, Gilles Moreau

In January 2016, the headline in the national daily Le, by Marie Rabreau, read: ‘Apprenticeships: How Germany Knocks out France’. Eight months previously, in May 2015, the liberal leaning think-tank Institut Montaigne published a report by Bernard Martinot, entitled How Apprenticeships Vaccinate Against Youth Unemployment with the subtitle An Action Plan for France Drawn from German Success. About the same time, in September 2015, a report was published by the Social Affairs Commission of the Senate on The System of Apprenticeships in Germany and Austria. Finally, in November 2016, during the presidential election campaign in France, Le Monde, inspired by a proposal by the candidate François Fillon to ‘attack youth unemployment by the widespread use of apprenticeships in vocational training’, dedicated two pages to a comparison between apprenticeship programmes in France and Germany. 

It would be easy to find many more examples, as comparing vocational training methods in France and Germany, and to a lesser degree France and Switzerland, is a regular topic in the world of politics and the media . The slant is always the same: 1 320 000 apprentices in Germany compared to 500 000, if that, in France, while youth unemployment for 15 to 24-year olds in Germany is a third of French youth unemployment. From the correlation is assumed a relationship of cause and effect: the Germans know how, the French don’t.

But is it really so black and white?

Formation Emploi attempts to shed some light on this question by examining work by researchers on both sides of the Rhine, specialists on the subject whose work is little known in France. To do so, it is first worth repeating how much more complex the question of vocational training is in Germany than most politicians would have us believe. Apprenticeships in Germany are the outcome of a specific historic configuration that cannot be simply transposed by waving a political magic wand. Consequently, rushing into comparisons is pointless, not least because the German system for apprenticeships is, in many regards, a giant with feet of clay.

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Firms’ motivation to train apprentices – A matter of social responsibility?

Harald Pfeifer, Gudrun Schönfeld et Felix Wenzelmann  

The German apprenticeship training system depends on firms’ willingness to train youth. Using German firm-level data, this paper discusses which motives drive firms’ participation in training apprentices. A focus is given to those firms that do not fit the standard economic argumentation of the production or investment motive. These firms accept (net) costs of training, although they are not interested in employing their apprentices as skilled workers afterwards. This paper suggests that firm tradition and the social responsibility of firms are relatively more important in this group of firms. Moreover, the segment of firms not training according to standard motives shrinks over the years between the two reference surveys.

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The fragility of the trainer position – case studies in medium and large enterprises

Anke Bahl 

The paper looks behind the formal requirements in-company trainers in German apprenticeship have to fulfil and explores what keeps them actively involved in the training mandate of the firm. Based on accounts of various practitioners within the company context, a complex social dynamic between the management, the trainers and apprentices reveals. When contrasting the findings with a variety of French case studies both within and beyond apprenticeship schemes, surprising similarities appear. The results call for an understanding of workplace training as a social rather than educational practice and stress the relevance of a work culture based on reciprocity and trust for sustaining it.

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Social competences in German apprenticeship training within competence-based vocational education

Agnes Dietzen et Tanja Tschöpe

This paper addresses social competences in vocational education and training (VET) and initial training since they form basic components of professional competence in most occupational sectors. From an empirical competence research approach in VET, it argues that there is a need for a clarification of the construct of social competences regarding its occupation-specific features. We present how to develop and validate such a model for the case of medical assistants. Based on empirical results for the measuring of social competences of medical assistants after three years of initial training, we recommend a further development of training for medical assistants with regard to certain dimensions of social competences.

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Apprenticeship training, better professional “efficiency”s in France than in Germany

Clément Brébion

‪This paper compares how well apprenticeship training helps open the door to the labour market in France and Germany between 1998 and 2013. The data used come from the German Socio-Economic Panel and the Enquêtes Génération from Céreq. Estimates using instrumental variables reveal that, in relation to standard academic studies, apprenticeships offer a greater labour market advantage in France than in Germany upon leaving secondary school. Hiring rates in training companies, at the end of an apprenticeship contract, are higher in Germany, but, for those who are unsuccessful, finding a job on the external market is easier in France. A higher education diploma in apprenticeship does not represent an advantage on the labour market in either country.‪

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Supporting the needs of vocationally qualified students – changes towards institutional permeability in Germany?

Nadine Bernhard

Structures that respond to the diverse needs of the increasing number of vocationally qualified students in higher education (HE) can facilitate their study success and hereby promote permeability between vocational education and training (VET) and HE. This article analyses the evolution of this type of support structures in Germany with the help of differentiated institutional analysis. With the increasing recognition of the vocationally qualified as a legitimate group of students in Germany, dealing with their needs is becoming more critical. However, hierarchies between traditional and vocationally qualified students are reproduced.

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Franco-German cross-border apprenticeship: An Alsatian case study of local public policy

Sophie Iffrig

This article approaches apprenticeship in France and Germany through the analyse of local public policies in Alsace (France), and especially the program of “cross-border apprenticeship”. Local French and German stakeholders’ practices and representations will be analysed, in order to examine to what extend the comparison between both national systems shapes public action. Indeed, cross-border vocational training policy is at the intersection of discourses and tools from local, national and European levels of public action. It appears that, despite the mobilization of public stakeholders, cross-border apprenticeship remains an unusual experience.

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As it is with pop stars, so it is with institutional models: Recognising the German vocational training system 50 years on

Olivier Giraud

No moon in Paris, Negative Capability, novembre 2018., Marianne Faithfull, 2018.
As it is with institutional models, so it is with film or pop stars: it’s really not clear whether it’s these individuals or “the times” that are a-changing, or whether it’s the ability of the former to embody the latter.
Looking at photos of Marianne Faithfull today in fashion magazines, between adverts for fine jewellery watches and exorbitantly priced cosmetics, one is struck by the elegance of a doyenne of British pop, always luxuriously attired. Her present-day appearance makes it difficult to imagine the iconic artist of the turbulent 1960s and 70s who paid homage to Ulrike Meinhof.
A far-left militant and terrorist active within the Red Army… and to a Working Class Hero and hit the headlines with stories of her drug problems. In changing her image in this way, is the singer and actress seeking to construct an international cultural code in tune with the times? Or is she putting on view a personal metamorphosis?
The German vocational training system is also, in a way, the product of the years of protest and reform, if not social revolution, that were the three decades between 1950 and 1980. And it is not always easy to recognise today the features that enabled this institutional model to connect with the socio-political context of those years, marked as they were by often extreme social tensions.

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France-Germany: Comparison is not reason

Isabelle Le Mouillour

This issue has been chosen not to examine the German and French vocational training systems by comparing their performance at large, but by putting into perspective some of their essential features: permeability between secondary and higher education, access to the labour market, companies’ motivations to participate in dual training programmes and the skills-based approach.
Statistical models reveal differences in performance (e.g. access to vocational training, access to the labour market). However, this data must be interpreted in the light of the institutional characteristics of both systems.
Therefore, when the subject of permeability is discussed, it is important to bear in mind that the concept of bridges between training paths is more deeply rooted in the French system than in the German training system. For this reason, Baethge introduced the notion of a schism or institutional segmentation of the German training and education system as a whole; each sector following specific rules and agreements that no doubt protect the quality and maintain a consensus but remain relatively closed to other sectors (Baethge & al., 2007). […]

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Béatrice Reggio

Bibliographical selection of works on the topic of “dual education in Germany”. It has been compiled from the “Training and Employment” bibliographic database of Céreq.

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Apprenticeship in Germany and its challenges
The «Documentation française», Formation Emploi, n° 146, July 2019, 215 p.
Price 25,00 €
Only abstracts are in English, texts are in French.

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Apprenticeship in Germany and facing its challenges, Formation Emploi (in English), n° 146, 2020, 215 p.