"We need more individual and more flexible models"

Many young people do not make the transition directly from school into vocational education and training. They should therefore be given specific support in the transition sector.

However, for programmes to be successful, Susan Seeber, Professor of Business Education at the University of Göttingen, is calling for stronger integration of pre-vocational training both by companies and by vocational schools. She has also written the chapter on vocational training in the new National Report on Education.

German School Portal: According to the 2022 National Education Report, nearly 6 percent of young people leave school without a school-leaving certificate. Who does this apply to?

Susan Seeber: Around 45,000 young people leave school without a school-leaving certificate. That’s still too many young people – but the trend is positive. The figure for 2019 was still almost 7 percent. This primarily concerns pupils not achieving the minimum standards in the basic competencies. A large proportion of young people without school-leaving certificates also come from special needs schools. Pupils in some federal states are only able to acquire a special needs school-leaving certificate and no recognised school-leaving certificate.

However, the National Report on Education also shows that many young people complete their school-leaving certificate at a later stage. At the age of about 20, only 1.5 percent of school leavers still have no school-leaving certificate. How can that be?

The figures cannot be directly compared. The figure of just under 6 percent is taken from school statistics and relates to all pupils. The figure of 1.5 percent comes from the National Education Panel survey in which young people are observed in their development over an extended period of time. Special needs pupils were not included in this.

However, it is still correct that lots of young people complete their school-leaving certificates at a later point. They have the opportunity to do this mainly through vocational training. Each year we have 900,000 graduates of vocational education and training. Around 100,000 come from vocational higher-level secondary schools or vocational colleges. 800,000 are accounted for by the three training sectors: the dual system, the school-based occupational system and the transition sector. Of these 800,000, around 20 percent also achieve an additional school-leaving certificate with their vocational education and training. The majority are intermediate school-leaving certificates and secondary general school leaving certificates.

Completing school leaving certificates in pre-vocational training

Which offers are available to young people for completing their school-leaving certificate during vocational education training?

A proportion of young people leaving school without a qualification enter into the dual training system in the normal way. In this case, in contrast to school-based training, a school-leaving certificate is not a formal requirement for being accepted on to training. However, pre-vocational training is the route via which these young people achieve the majority of school-leaving certificates. Vocational schools offer a range of pre-vocational training programmes which include the option of completing a school-leaving certificate.

How successful are these programmes?

Since not all federal states keep a record of the programmes via which school-leaving certificates are subsequently completed, systematic data regarding this is very limited and at best only regional. We know from investigations which differentiate by programme that around one fifth of young people gain a school-leaving certificate in the pre-vocational training year and around 50 to 60 percent then transition directly into vocational education and training. However, this also means that for 40 to 50 percent, the route is longer and more difficult. In some cases, they need two, three or even four years before actually making the transition into training. Support available in these cases is obviously not optimal.

More placement phases in the transition sector

How are pre-vocational training courses organised?

Pre-vocational training measures have different priorities. Many measures are very much focused on school-based learning and catching up on school-leaving qualifications. However, more and more dual training preparation concepts are also systematically involving businesses as partners and are increasingly emphasising placement phases.

Pre-vocational training will not actually offer young people a chance to make the transition until it is more closely aligned with vocational education and training.

Are these concepts more effective?

There have always been placements in pre-vocational training. However, placement support has often been minimal, as have links with career choice processes. However, pre-vocational training will not actually offer young people a chance to make the transition and to receive a training position until it is more closely aligned with vocational education and training. Stronger integration should also involve young people being given the opportunity to have parts of their pre-vocational training recognised in the first training year. This would also motivate them to push themselves more. And it would lead to greater commitment in the preparation courses.

Sticking point is recognition of professional training

Has it not yet been possible to recognise pre-vocational training?

A relevant regulation does exist formally in many federal states, however the recognising authorities are ultimately the companies. They are the ones who can credit young people with initial vocational competencies and skills in the training. This means, however, they must also be convinced by this. This is still a sticking point.

Many companies take the view that applicants are not sufficiently qualified for a training position. Is the school not actually providing sufficient preparation for the demands of training?

On the one hand, the latest PISA surveys reveal that performance in general education schools has actually declined again. According to the surveys, around 20 percent of young people in 9th grade do not achieve proficiency level two which is regarded as the basic requirement for continuation of learning in training. Schools are clearly not effectively supporting lower-performing young people in meeting the minimum requirements.

In many training courses requirements have also risen. We have an increase in the level of knowledge, while more problem-solving competencies and a higher level of social skills are also required. Not all young people can keep pace with this.

On the other hand, training is still an education programme. This means companies providing training and vocational schools have remit to provide support. They can’t expect all young people to already have all the skills at the start of their training. We need solutions for assisting businesses, especially smaller ones, to support trainees.

Would you like to see greater support in this case on the part of companies?

Larger companies generally have a good training infrastructure and thus greater scope for providing support. However, the bulk training positions in Germany exist in smaller businesses. And lower-performing young people are generally also trained in smaller businesses. Therefore, we need solutions for assisting businesses, especially smaller ones, to support trainees.

More learning time in training for lower-performing young people

Where do you specifically see the need for improvement?

We need more individual and flexible models in training to be able to make adaptations as needed. Concepts already exist for this. For example, in specific occupations Baden-Württemberg has reached an agreement with the Chambers for young people to spend more time in vocational schools in the first year of training. The purpose of this is to support them over this period in those areas where they do not yet sufficiently meet the requirements. From the second year of training onwards they then spend an increased amount of time in companies. Some companies also offer lower-performing trainees more learning time by then extending the three-year training period to four years. That can also be a good option.

On the other hand, giving young people additional support after work or at the weekend would seem to me to be less effective. This can quickly lead to an overload and to frustration.

And greater collaboration between the various institutions is also important. Support for young people with special needs must be provided by a person who is dependable and committed to providing the support and who coordinates everything in the background. Young people with learning difficulties often bring with them a number of issues – some also have additional problems in the family home or in terms of socialisation. If the young people then have to go from one point of contact to the next, this may present barriers which they are not able to overcome.

Individualising measures in careers guidance

What can schools do to support young people more with careers guidance measures and when they make the transition into training?

Well, for a start it is good that the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs has decided to permanently incorporate careers guidance in the curriculum for general education schools. In this respect many federal states are now doing more than providing information or offering training fairs. Potential analyses are increasingly widespread. These enable young people to determine the skills they have and to compare the extent to which their skills match the requirements of different occupations. However, we do not yet know a great deal about the quality and benefits of such measures.

That said, research does show that careers guidance needs to be much more individual in order to be successful. One tool cannot be right for everyone.

A company-based placement also offers a lot more potential. Greater use of this should be made for careers guidance and it needs to be reflected upon in a systematic way in the school. It is often parents or neighbours who organise placement positions with the result that young people end up in an area which they are not even interested in.

Cooperation between general education schools and vocational schools can also be improved. Examples of tandem models already exist but these are few and far between and should be more widely available. In this instance involving trainees is a good thing to do because they are closer to the pupils in age and therefore in some cases better able to explain the training occupation and to respond to questions.

About the person

Susan Seeber has been Professor of Business Education and Human Resource Development at the Georg August University of Göttingen since 2010. She completed an advanced degree on "Inquiries Concerning the Effectiveness of Vocational Education and Training". She has been a member of the Authoring Group on National Educational Reporting since 2010 and is a member of the Scientific Commission (SWK) of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany. Susan Seeber’s research areas include monitoring in vocational education and training and in particular research on social disparities in transitions into Vocational education and training.

Source: deutsches-schulportal.de (news portal of German schools), revised by iMOVE, October 2022