zenith: How would you characterise the opportunities for German training organisations in the MENA region, especially in countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia?
Silvia Niediek: Germany has a long-standing tradition of vocational education and training and a strong reputation for its qualification programmes. With this broad range of training programmes, and a strong emphasis on employability, 'Training – Made in Germany' can potentially support and promote transformation processes of Arab training systems. Expansion, modernisation and the reforming of education and research sectors, are high priority in Arab states. The education sector is already under pressure, due to the increasing numbers of pupils and students and the need for Arab countries and the Gulf states in particular, to diversify their economies, to offer their young people adequate employment. Further developmental strategies include the expansion of manufacturing industries, especially in the high tech sector, and high-quality service industries. Again, all these goals cannot be achieved without appropriate education.
Kristine Schinkmann: From our point of view there are manifold opportunities for German training providers in the MENA region. Several providers have already established affiliates or co-operate with local partners, based on the German dual system. The iMOVE brochures on 'Developing Skills for Employability with German Partners' feature several examples of co-operation projects between Arab and German partners. For examples, in Egypt, education programmes are needed in the renewable energy, construction, and healthcare sectors. With the Vision 2030 plan, the Saudi government has outlined the need for, and promised investment in, vocational education and training. German companies are already working in the country and are implementing programmes that involve local industry to match the required needs. Siemens is working with Saudi Aramco, General Electric and Sabic to set up a National Power Academy in the Kingdom, to train young people. German partners are also involved in vocational training schemes at a technical college in Yanbu as well as at a technical trainers' college in Riyadh.
How can training organisations ensure that their programmes match the requirements of a particular job market and that graduates are employed?
Kristine Schinkmann: In Germany we believe that successful training must always be based on actual demands of the industry and the public sector, which requires a process of constant review. In order to achieve optimal results, industry, vocational schools and government are involved in a collaborative process. Companies need to describe their specific needs and be involved in the development of curricula. Teachers need to be able to understand the processes within a company, including its administrative and legal aspects, and to be able to teach with the help of up-to-date technology, which calls for the modern equipment found at vocational schools.
Silvia Niediek: Strong vocational education and training (VET) reform can open up the labour market for young people and reduce youth unemployment. Governments and enterprises agree that vocational education must be an integral element in their long-term economic strategies. 'Training – Made in Germany' focuses on a close relationship between training and employment. Youth unemployment in Germany is below eight per cent, one of the lowest rates worldwide. The dual system of vocational education and training is considered a fundamental reason for this.
What benefits come through greater dialogue and coordination?
Kristine Schinkmann: Strategic alliances and mutually-beneficial partnerships are vital for success. Coordinating bodies within countries can help to ensure that all players involved pull together. With the Arab-German Education and Vocational Training Forum, an ideal platform has been created to drive German-Arab co-operation. The event, jointly organised by iMOVE and Arab-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Ghorfa) under the auspices of the Federal Minister of Education and Research, brings together policy-makers from many Arab countries and Germany to discuss mutually-beneficial solutions and how best to achieve them. And many new training projects aimed at labour markets have already started, and become success stories thanks to the joint efforts of Arab and German partners.
Germany's industrial economy, with its vocational pathways and links between education and industry has instructive potential for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. What specific lessons can be learned?
Kristine Schinkmann: Under the dual system in Germany, young people are trained according to nationally-standardised curricula. They know exactly what is expected of them at work, because 70 per cent of their training takes place in a company and 30 per cent in school. Therefore, companies who hire graduates from the dual training system can integrate their new employees directly into the working process. The trainees enter into a contract with a company, earning a salary during their training period, which takes up to three and a half years, depending on the profession they chose. Additionally, trainees benefit from soft-skills training: punctuality, taking responsibility, teamwork and so on. Trainees are highly motivated to perform well, because the company can otherwise dismiss them without a graduation certificate. Even during the training process, trainees provide return on investment for their company, because they are already fully integrated into the working process.
Silvia Niediek: Germany's education system is regarded as highly competitive and German industry enjoys an excellent reputation, thanks to this professional education, based on the dual system. Consequently, German enterprises make for reliable partners in developing competitive education institutions. Fostering co-operation between German companies and Arab education institutions will bring mutual benefits. The governments of most Arab countries heavily invest in promoting vocational education and training, understanding it to be essential for professional career development and social participation. Yet it is important that attractive jobs and corresponding salaries are available. This requires appropriately-equipped education centres, modern curricula, cross-company training provision and examination standards as well as qualified teachers and trainers.
Would you say German training programmes have anything special to offer the Arab world?
Silvia Niediek: Germany has been supporting the Arab world for many years now in its efforts to make progress in reforming the education market, especially in times of widespread political unrest and profound employment market problems. Even though every country requires its own education system, which it needs to develop independently it can incorporate proven elements from another system, like the successful German dual system.In addition to vocational training and continuing education programmes, there are train-the-trainer programmes, curriculum development, designing and equipping of training facilities, and practice-oriented teaching and learning resources. German education providers can also offer relatively short courses and programmes, as well as training in Germany, all of which guarantees a certain degree of employability and at the same time, opens up further development prospects.
In the MENA region there can be the so-called 'culture of shame', with many citizens not wanting a vocational career. Is this something to be addressed within a vocational training programme?
Kristine Schinkmann: Although there is an urgent economic and social need for vocational training in many parts of the world, it can be difficult to make it widely accepted in some societies. An academic education followed by a position in public service is considered to be the ideal career in many countries. In some Arab states, the private sector is dependent on foreign labour, up to 90 per cent in certain cases. Many governments want to change this in order to avoid further inflation of employment in the public sector, which is impossible to fund in the medium and long term.
But to make potential trainees aware of the appeal of vocational training with its employment and income opportunities, then these opportunities must exist. So domestic businesses can become a driving force of education reform in their respective country, they can influence and shape not only their own economic success, but also that of their nation. Starting from as early as nursery school, teachers and especially parents should communicate to children that there are alternative education pathways to an academic career that are also profitable and rewarding.
Silvia Niediek: Vocational training can improve its appeal through integration in academic courses at university level. Highly-specialised academic courses of study with significant practical components are a modern learning concept, developed in Germany. These dual study programmes are considered to be an ideal approach to winning over young people to a vocational qualification and offer an excellent opportunity for the private sector, looking for qualified young talent, by providing internships and in-company training programmes.
The German education system integrates measures such as career coaches and mentoring programmes. Other ways this objective might be achieved include entrepreneur training programmes for young skilled workers and privately based micro-financial aid.