Vocational Education and Training in Germany, an interview with Patrick Meinhardt

November, 3, 2020

Germany is known as one of the countries with the best vocational and education system in the world. Furthermore, it is among the countries where the education system operates in synergy and collaboration with SMEs, enabling the country to enjoy one of the lowest rates of youth unemployment in Europe. We spoke to Patrick Meinhardt, Secretary General of Education Alliance of German SMEs, Director of European Politics of BVMW and INSME Board Member to share his insightful point of view on this relevant topic.

Could you explain the main characteristics of the vocational training program in Germany?

Youth after completing the secondary school can decide to go through vocational training to learn the profession both theoretically in special schools and practically in facilities. Moreover, teenagers get paid during the whole program. The duration of such a training is between two and three and a half years, depending on the profession one decides to learn.

In school-based training, teenagers spend more time in schools than in facilities and get paid less. However, the most important difference lays in professions that are taught. So that dual training specializes in technical and commercial vocations and school-based training specializes in social and healthcare vocations.

How does this system help the students to develop theoretical knowledge and hands-on expertise at the same time?

The standout characteristic of vocational training in Germany is that students learn their future profession in a harmonically designed program, which includes both fundamental theoretical knowledge as well as practical experience. At the end of the program, after two or three years, these teenagers are ready to start their working life directly and contribute to the national economy. This special characteristic of vocational training differentiates it from education in universities, where the graduates often have problems with finding their first job. It is also very important to mention, that the low youth unemployment rate in Germany is the merit of its vocational training.

From your perspective, what are the opportunities for improvements in this program?

Certainly, as any other system, vocational training also has the potential to be improved and must be improved in many ways. As a representative of German and European SMEs, I would like to emphasize the importance of participation of small and medium-sized enterprises in the educational process of children in school. It is a well-known fact that our children can calculate things irrelevant for the real-life but have absolutely no idea about the working life and variety of professions. That is why it is essential that the schools cooperate in this regard with the local businesses so that entrepreneurs visit the schools and brief the pupils about the opportunities of vocational training and about the advantages of the professions that they may acquire. Unfortunately for many parents but also for the kids, there is only one way to success, and it goes through the university, which is an absolutely false perception. Not each kid is born to be a doctor or a judge. There are plenty of wonderful and interesting professions which they can acquire in vocational training. We, in Germany and in the whole Europe, need technicians, artisans and educators! So, let’s make vocational training and connected professions attractive again as it was in Germany 30 years ago.

In these past years, other countries have begun working to adopt their own versions of the Dual VET system, what do you think are the main challenges and the advantages coming from the implementation of this system in other countries?

Computers, mobile phones, Internet: we live in a thoroughly technical and technological society and are, without us even noticing it, completely surrounded by technology. Unfortunately, many social systems including vocational training facilities are not fit for the technological era and for digitalization. COVID19 showed us again how fragile our educational system is. So, I would strongly recommend the countries which started to build their own vocational training system to build it while considering all novelties that digitalization have brought.

Secondly, it is essential that countries introduce common standards regarding vocational training. For this purpose, it is appropriate if they learn from each other, mainly from experienced one. Common standards would simplify the international exchange of apprentices and professional workers.

What was the process that led to the Education Alliance of German SMEs? What are the challenges and the results achieved until now?

Almost all medium-sized companies in Germany see the shortage of skilled workers as the greatest risk for stable economic development. The Education Alliance of German SMEs (Bildungsallianz des Mittelstandes) advocates a real change in the quality of the educational system so that the SME sector remains competitive in the future. Strong medium-sized enterprises need strong education!

The Bildungsallianz represents around 380,000 teachers in Germany in almost 20 organizations and associations. Our member associations are represented in all relevant educational institutions in order to assert the interests of small and medium-sized businesses. As an educational alliance, we have achieved an increase in the image of vocational training in Germany. With our regional education alliances, we are specifically committed to bring companies, students, teachers and educational institutions together in regions all around Germany in order to create synergies locally.

Source: The International Network for SMEs - INSME

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