"Financial Times" celebrates Germany

The British want to develop a "world-class" training system in line with the German model.

British Education Minister, Gavin Williamson, recently announced plans "to build a world-class German-style education system in Britain".

According to the Financial Times, the training of craft trade occupations is where Britain frequently fails.

However, Germany's significant advantage may be that the training system has changed just twice in the last 50 years - in Britain, however, the basis of the system changes far more frequently.

From cars and football managers to discount supermarkets - Germany is well known for its exports. But can this success also be transferred to the area of initial and continuing vocational education and training?

This was the question posed by the "Financial Times" when British Education Minister, Gavin Williamson, recently said he is planning to "build a world-class German-style education system in Britain". He clearly envies Germany with its "dual system" in which trainees learn and gain experience at school and in the company in parallel. He added that in Germany apprentices also received additional continuing education and training to expand on their skills. It is precisely this which Williamson feels is missing in his own country.

The British government is aiming to send less school leavers to university

Up to now, Britain's aim has been to send 50 per cent of school leavers to university. However, Williamson believes that this figure should be lower. He explains that this "all too often" results in graduates not having the skills they need to find meaningful work. He adds that it would be better for Britain to start recognising continuing education and training and apprenticeships as equivalent training pathways.

At the Conservative party conference in 2019, the British minister even announced grandly that he wanted to overtake Germany in the next 10 years in the area of technical training.

Germany is known for skilled workers and recognised qualifications

The Financial Times praised the benefits of the German system: trained skilled workers, recognised qualifications, good employment opportunities, social prestige. The paper writes that in times when many self-employed people or those in precarious employment are anxious about orders or the insecure nature of their jobs, this grounded world of progression from apprentice to journeyman to master craftsperson has appeal.

But it has not always been that way. Experts criticised that the regulations and structures underpinning the German system have in many cases stifled opportunity and innovation. Hubert Ertl from the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) has been researching vocational education training for many years. In the Financial Times he recalls how information technology occupations were not formally recognised as proper training occupations until the 1990s. "Evidently far too late," he says to the Financial Times.

The recognised apprenticeships in Germany range from to alterations tailor to cycle mechatronics technician. New occupations are also added (2019: management assistant for e-commerce), and existing occupations are overhauled in an extended process involving employers, trade unions and skilled trade associations.

Continuing education and training opportunities are not the same for all training companies 

Margaret Heckel, a German journalist and labour market expert, is however sceptical as regards the German training system. She believes that while the benefits of the system do still outweigh all of the negatives, there are still a series of challenges. She explains one key problem: the system certainly delivers qualified skilled workers, yet it does not always do this evenly. 

In advanced, well-known companies in particular, trainees often have the opportunity to complete higher level training. This includes both vocational and academic skills. And, this is attractive to employers. Heckel has some reservations though: "But when you look at the lower end, at the traditional skilled trade occupations and the small-scale craft trade businesses, the situation is very different," she says to the Financial Times. She adds that you see higher dropout rates here.

Germany has only changed its training system twice 

The coronavirus crisis has also influenced training in Germany. Before this pandemic, a large number of apprenticeships remained unfilled due to demographic change. Now, lots of companies are focusing on their own survival instead of on training. BIBB investigations show that more young Germans favour going to university over training.

But how easy is it to export the German training system? Educational researcher Ertl has doubts about this and points to the fact that each country has a different history and approach. He does know, however, that Germany has fundamentally changed its training legislation only twice in the last 50 years. By contrast, in Britain it seems as if the entire basis of vocational education and training is changed every two to three years.

Source: businessinsider.de (news website), revised by iMOVE, October 2020