Vocational Training in Germany - The Dual System
Vocational training in the Federal Republic of Germany is provided on the job and in vocational training schools. Based on what is referred to as the dual system, practical vocational training is given at work, backed up by theoretical training and general education provided in vocational training schools which are generally attended on one or two days a week.
The characteristic feature of this system is that the provision of knowledge and skills is linked to acquiring the necessary job experience. This ensures that training will proceed under the same conditions that the trainee will encounter when practising his chosen occupation. Only on the job will a trainee be able to learn to cope with the constantly-changing demands of the job and to appreciate the variety of social relationships that exist in the work environment. In addition, learning by doing gives a sense of achievement and provides a special source of motivation for the trainee. It promotes independence and a sense of responsibility, which are indispensable qualities in a developed industrial country, because by tackling concrete tasks under real working conditions the trainee can show evidence of the knowledge and skills he has acquired and can himself experience the success of his efforts. This shows that training on the job is more than just a process of institutionalised and organised learning.
The Vocational Training Act
The importance of workplace training is reflected in the fact that the standards and rules for this kind of training were set up by the self‑governing economic bodies, i.e. mainly by the Chambers. It was not until 1969 that a Vocational Training Act was passed by the German parliament, bringing together the few relevant regulations contained in other legislation and gaving the force of law to much that had until then been regulated by the statutes of the Chambers. The Act made no alteration in the training system itself. The Vocational Training Act regulates more than just the training of young persons after their period of compulsory school attendance. As determined in the Act, the concept of vocational training in Germany comprises initial training, further training and vocational retraining. In conformity with the powers of jurisdiction laid down in the German constitution, the Vocational Training Act does not apply to vocational training schools, for which the member states of the Federal Republic (the ”Laender") are responsible. The form of German vocational training, with its emphasis on learning by doing and with the employers providing the training as its central element, meant that the regulations governing it could not be taken from education law alone. There is also a very extensive labour law component. For instance, the relationship between employer and trainee is based on a civil law training contract which is subject to the legal principles and provisions governing contracts of employment, provided there are no other provisions to the contrary.
The consequence of this is a general freedom to contract. The employer can decide whether he wishes to take on trainees, and has a say over the persons with whom he concludes a training contract. The same applies to the young persons. Neither for employers nor for young persons is there an obligation to train. Nor are young persons directed into specific occupations: the labour offices merely give vocational advice and help to find training places for prospective trainees. The Chambers, too, advertise current vacancies in the training companies.
Training and the labour market
With this system there is a direct link between training capacity and the demand for skilled labour. There is no call for state planning, nor even for regional or nationwide planning. The decisions taken by individual companies as to their trainee requirements make up both the aggregate demand and the aggregate supply of trainee vacancies. Thus the aggravating consequences of misdirected planning are avoided. There is, in addition, a constant exchange between training and non‑training companies, so that any necessary adjustment of individual company decisions is effected via the labour market. One can hardly think of a more effective means of coordinating the systems of training and employment. Such close integration of training in the companies concerned will obviously have implications for the funding of training, which is effected by the companies themselves. In other words, expenditure on training is operating expenditure, and is thus reflected in costings.
The process of training
While any company is free to decide whether or not to take on trainees, the process of training itself is of course governed by certain rules. This is especially true with regard to the scope of individual training. Section 1 of the Vocational Training Act states as follows: ”The object of initial training shall be to provide, through a systematic training programme, a broadly conceived basic preparation for an occupation and the necessary technical abilities and knowledge to engage in a skilled form of occupational activity. Initial training shall also enable a trainee to acquire the necessary occupational experience." The Act says in another section that as a basis for this system of training and for ”the adaptation of that system to technical, economic and social requirements and changes in the same", the responsible federal minister is charged with issuing training regulations specifying the name of the trainee occupation, the period of training (generally between two and three years), and the abilities and knowledge to be imparted in the course of training. Every training employer is obliged to provide training systematically in accordance with a syllabus and timetable and in a form appropriate to the aim in view. The nature, syllabus, timetable and purpose of the training must be set down in writing in the training contract. To assist employers in setting up the training plan relating to each course of training, the training regulations are issued together with an annex giving guidelines on the systematic presentation of the syllabus and timetable for training. There has been a tendency in recent years to present training content in the form of learning objectives. It is of decisive importance for any such presentation to establish quite clearly that the essential feature of in‑plant training is learning by doing. Thus there is no need to adopt categories of learning objectives such as have been formulated in educational theory. Instead, concepts should be employed that will be readily intelligible to the training employer as well.
350 recognised training occupations
In Germany there are currently some 350 officially‑recognised training occupations, constituting the basis for more than 20,000 adult occupations. In other words, specialisation does not come until training is completed, but the young persons are then able to choose between several occupations, on the strength of their training. They achieve good labour mobility, as the on-the-job training also imparts qualifications that may be put to general use and are not tied to occupational skills. The training regulations are a central element of the German vocational training system. Although they are incorporated in state law, trade and industry also play a decisive part in their formulation. In preparing these regulations, the responsible Federal minister is assisted by the Federal Institute of Vocational Training, which in turn is advised by committees of experts representing the different occupational groups and appointed at the suggestion of the leading trade, industry and union organisations. In their discussions, which are often difficult and protracted, the representatives must aim to make due allowance for the widely differing conditions throughout the working environment.
Harmonisation between companies and vocational schools
An important issue in Germany's dual training system is the allocation of training content to the training employers or to the vocational training schools. Based on the qualifications required, which in turn are derived from the demands made by the work process, this allocation will depend solely upon which of the two sources of training provide the optimum conditions for imparting the specific training content. The simple pattern of practical training at work and theoretical training at school is no longer adequate for present‑day demands. Coordination is made more difficult in practice because the powers of jurisdiction over vocational training as laid down in the constitution assign the training employers to the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and the vocational training school to the ministries of education of the Federal Laender. In Hamburg the Chamber of Commerce is pressing for reform of the vocational schools. It is our aim to increase the influence of the wider economy on the vocational schools.
The companies' qualification for training
The need to make due allowance for differing conditions throughout the working environment in formulating training regulations, as mentioned earlier, does not mean that every employer will have to be able to undertake training in accordance with these regulations. There will always be firms that are unable to provide training, whether because of their structure, their facilities, their degree of specialisation, their production programme, the services they offer, their personnel structure and the like.
Technical developments have meant that the training content, particularly in the area of industrial training, has become increasingly complex; so much so, in fact, that in training for a large number of occupations certain specific training content, especially what are termed the basic skills, has to be imparted independent of production, in separate training courses. For this purpose, medium- and large‑scale enterprises have installed special training workshops. For those firms that are too small to operate their own facilities, the Chambers and professional associations have established a number of training workshops which are used by a range of firms. However, such facilities are no substitute for, but only a supplement to, on-the-job training, as they cannot provide the advantages of in‑plant training set out earlier: they can, at best, provide only a simulation of practical work.
Attendance at the vocational training schools, which accompanies on‑the‑job training, is compulsory for every trainee for twelve hours of instruction a week. The schools are state‑run. The emphasis in instruction is on the occupation in question, and instruction is generally given in classes specialising in one occupation.
Tasks of the Chambers
The principal tasks undertaken by the Chambers in vocational training are the following:
- Looking after and supervising training
One of the most important tasks of the Chambers is advising training employers on all problems connected with training, e. g. the training occupations to be considered, how training should be structured, the use of training aids, and educational, psychological and legal questions. The Chambers also give advice to trainees. Any employer wishing to engage trainees must fulfil certain conditions as regards his suitability for this task. The firm must be able to offer facilities, production programmes or services on the basis of which the prescribed knowledge and skills may be imparted. In addition, the training employer and any training officers must have specific personal, professional and teaching qualifications. The Chambers will ascertain before the start of training and also during the course of training whether these qualifications are held. This is done on the basis of a vocational training register kept by the Chambers, in which all vocational training contracts must be entered. The task of looking after and supervising training matters is assigned to the training counsellors on the staff of each Chamber.
- Interim and final examinations
Every trainee must sit an interim examination in the course of his period of training. The examination serves to ascertain the level the trainee has reached. The competent Chamber establishes boards of examiners to hold these examinations. Every trainee may sit a final examination at the end of his period of training in order to show that he has acquired the necessary professional qualifications. To hold these examinations, the responsible Chamber will establish boards of examiners consisting of at least three members, being employers' and employees' representatives in equal numbers and at least one vocational school teacher. Rules to be observed in connection with final examinations are issued by the Vocational Training Committee of the Chamber, consisting of employers' and employees' representatives in equal numbers and vocational school teachers as consultant members. These rules set out the entry criteria, the form of the examination, the criteria for marking, the arrangements for issue of examination certificates, the consequences of breaches of the rules and the possibilities for repeating the examination. The skills to be examined are laid down in the training regulations. According to the occupation, they may provide for a test of practical and/or theoretical skills. The practical examination will call for samples of work and/or test work-pieces. The theoretical test is conducted as a written and/or oral examination.
After having passed the examination, the trainee will receive an examination certificate issued by the responsible Chamber. This certificate is not an authorisation. Its principal purpose is to show that the person concerned has acquired the qualifications necessary for a specific occupation. But it is also the basis for professional progress and career advancement. Passing the final examination is one of the conditions for admission to the Masters' examination and many other further training examinations, for demonstrating aptitude for training in a number of branches of trade, industry and commerce, and in many cases forms the basis for claiming collectively‑agreed benefits in the workplace.
- Further training
The Chambers may hold examinations to test the knowledge, abilities and experience acquired as a result of further training. The Vocational Training Committees issue special regulations governing the subject matter, purpose, standards, procedure and conditions of entry for such examinations. The Chamber establishes boards of examiners to hold the examinations, subject to the same conditions as for the final examinations. To achieve an orderly and uniform system of further training, the Federal Minister for Education and Science may issue ordinances regulating the examinations. The Chambers collaborate in formulating such regulations through experts whom they appoint.
However, the activities of the Chambers in the field of further training are not confined to holding examinations. They also provide further training measures. In this context a distinction can be made between training for advancement, the object of which is to enable the trainee to gain advancement in his job, i.e. to take on a better‑qualified position in his firm, and training for adaptation, the object of which is to retain and extend occupational knowledge and skills and to adapt these to technical developments. These are generally short-term measures, while training for advancement will normally require the trainee to attend courses totalling 500 to 700 hours of instruction. As a rule only these courses are completed by sitting an examination held by the Chamber.
- Vocational retraining
The Chambers hold examinations for persons who have been retrained for a different occupation, setting up the required boards of examiners. Where these examinations are not held for recognised training occupations, the Vocational Training Committees must issue the necessary regulations concerning subject matter, purpose, standards, procedure and conditions of entry.
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