First step on the career ladder – vocational education and training in the USA and in Germany

"No future unless you go to college?" Experts and trainees in the USA and in Germany exchanged views on alternative VET models and pathways in a high-calibre webinar staged by the Urban Institute in conjunction with the "Skills Initiative" of the German Embassy.

A dual training model has been developing in the USA over many years and under different administrations. At the request of their American partners, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the Federal Foreign Office (AA) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK) have been providing support in establishing dual structures together with the five German chambers of commerce and industry abroad which are located in the USA. GOVET at BIBB is providing technical advice to various stakeholders, with which it also networks on the latest thematic developments to emerge in vocational education and training (VET).

A webinar on the topic of "Advancing US and German Apprenticeship Best Practices" took place. The event was staged by the American think tank "Urban Institute” and the “Skills Initiative" of the German Embassy in conjunction with the non-governmental organisation (NGO) "DIAG USA".

Elke Büdenbender, the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Germany herself is a trained industrial clerk and shared her personal experiences with the trainees. Timo Oßwald, a mechatronics trainee at Festo, was one of those who had the opportunity of speaking to her.

The example of Jordan Pounds, a young woman with an interest in technology, showed just how vital early provision in terms of vocational orientation and preparation could be for later occupational biographies. Jordan is a trainee at Blum Inc., and her talent for solving technical problems first became known during the practically related teaching she received at high school. This enabled her to make a conscious decision to pursue training in the area of mechatronics. She now visits schools in South Carolina as a role model for other young women and talks about her own chosen route in order to encourage others to begin their working lives with an apprenticeship too.

Natalie Palugyai, Secretary of the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency, described her struggle against the "No future unless you go to college" stereotype in the ensuing panel discussion. She explained that this way of thinking is very difficult to combat, despite the highly positive message that apprenticeships allow "training without getting into debt". Total student loan debt in the USA is currently around $1.75 trillion, a sum that will need to be paid off by around 45 million Americans. The average monthly instalment for a student loan is approximately $393. Secretary Palugyai is seeking to establish dual training as a firm option within the system in California.

Dr. Hannelore Kress, an expert in international VET cooperation at GOVET, reported that the fundamental, statutory and systemic embedding of company-based training as one training pathway option was certainly achievable in countries such as Slovakia and Latvia, where pressure was being exerted by trade and industry. However, she went on to say that the German dual system could not simply rest on its laurels.

Economic and global challenges such as the demands created by climate change and most recently by the pandemic needed to be confronted on an ongoing basis. Small companies in particular required constant encouragement to train their own future workers.

Joshua Johnson, Director of the NGO "Jobs for the Future", confirmed that both companies and young people in particular needed to be informed about this training route in a direct and straightforward manner. He referred to his own experiences in Germany when visiting the German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB) and GOVET. It had been brought home to him just how important the relationship between trainers, trainees, schools and companies is for stable, growing and prosperous communities.

At this juncture, Elke Büdenbender stressed once again that beginning working life with vocational education and training is a highly formative experience for any young person, regardless of their social background. The important thing was that training should be of good quality. Early fostering of talent was of benefit both to the individual and to society.

Around 500 interested parties went online to attend the webinar. Everyone engaged very actively by posing a multitude of questions.

Source:, revised by iMOVE, October 2022