50 years of the Vocational Training Act

Successful model of dual training 

The Vocational Training Act entered into force 50 years ago. For the first time, vocational education and training was regulated nationally and across sectors. Today the act is a guarantor of the high quality of vocational education and training in Germany – and serves as a model example to many nations around the world.

1 September 1969 is a defining date for dual vocational training in Germany. This was the first time that standardised regulations for company-based training had been established nationally. The phrase vocational education and training was defined and apprentices were described as trainees. The Vocational Training Act also regulates the rights and obligations of trainees – and does this independently of the respective sector.

Blueprint for other countries

The act which was passed 50 years ago forms a key cornerstone of the successful dual vocational education and training model. For many countries, both within and outside Europe, it serves as a "blueprint" of functioning vocational education and training and of the partnership between government and business.

The importance of the Vocational Training Act

Fifty years ago, policy-makers, business and other stakeholders sought to enshrine the high value of vocational education and training in law. The act institutionalised the social partnership principle of consensus. The common goals were to:

  • consolidate training legislation for different occupations which until then had been fragmented
  • eliminate ambiguities in training legislation
  • secure the government's influence over the quality of training

At the time, for example, the Federal Ministry for Education and Science (known today as the Federal Ministry of Education and Research) assumed the lead role for the area of vocational education and training. Despite the national and sector-wide regulations which were established for the first time, it was crucial that the act left scope for flexibility. This flexibility is a contributing factor to the potential for the ongoing development of the vocational education and training system. This ensures the competitiveness of Germany as a location for business. Today the act is still considered to be the "constitution of vocational training".

Amending the Vocational Training Act

In 2005, the Vocational Training Act was comprehensively amended. This allowed, for example, elements of training completed abroad over fixed periods of time to be treated as part of recognised vocational education and training in the dual system. In addition, the fixed boundaries both between company-based and school-based vocational education and training as well as between initial and advanced training were removed.

In May of this year, the Federal Government passed a further amendment to the Vocational Training Act. Through the amendment, the Federal Government's intention is that vocational education and training adapts to new developments and makes it fit for the future. For the first time there will be minimum remuneration for trainees. From 2020, it will be €515 in the first year of training. The aim is that by 2023, the minimum remuneration in the first year of training will increase to €620.

The amendment also includes advanced training descriptions enabling progression internationally. This increases career opportunities and potential for mobility in the global labour market. The aim is also for it to be simpler to complete training on a part-time basis.

Seventy percent are taken on

For Germany as a location for business, dual vocational education and training is one of the success factors. The combination of company-based practice and vocational school provides young people with what they need to start working life and for a successful future. 

Over half of a given cohort opts for an apprenticeship in one of more than 300 training occupations. And more than 70 percent of young people are taken on by their training company.

The system of dual training ensures companies have the skilled workers they need for tomorrow. In 2018, companies concluded more than 531,000 new training contracts. This was an increase of around 8,100 compared to the previous year. In fact, the number of training places offered was over 574,000.

One key piece of evidence demonstrating the success of this model is the low youth unemployment in Germany compared to the rest of Europe.

The dual training system is also in demand globally

Increasing numbers of countries from Europe and around the world are showing an interest in German vocational education and training (VET) expertise. An exchange programme with German training centres has been running in France for decades, and with countries such as Italy, Portugal, Latvia and Slovakia for a number of years. German dual training is also in demand beyond Europe. For example, in Mexico a "round table" involving experts from business education has been set up with German support.

In terms of minimising youth unemployment in particular, Germany is regarded as a success model. The Federal Government engages in intensive dialogue with many governments regarding vocational training. The aim is to support partner countries in effectively incorporating elements of practice-oriented or dual vocational education and training in their respective systems.

Dual vocational training combined with company-based practice and vocational school was not the result of any deliberate planning. To begin with, company apprenticeships and vocational schools developed independently of one another for a long period. The principle of vocational training was first codified in the "Trade regulation amendment" of 1897. The term "vocational school" was introduced in 1923 in Prussia.

The term "dual system" of vocational education and training was first coined in 1964 by the German Committee for the Education and Training System. It produced a "Report for the vocational training and school system". In 1969, the Vocational Training Act provided decisive impetus to vocational training.

Source: bundesregierung.de (website of the German Federal Government), revised by iMOVE, Februar 2020