Training occupations system to be modernised

On 16 April 1997, the German federal minister for education presented a programme entitled Reform project vocational training - flexible structures and modern occupations. One of the core elements of the project is the modernisation of the system of officially recognised "training occupations". Central to the German dual system of vocational training, these occupations are in a constant process of adjustment to the changing requirements of the labour market. Here we outline the basic features and recent trends in the training occupations system.

The dual system of vocational training

Based on the so-called Dual System (of Vocational Training) (Duales System), practical vocational training in Germany is given at work in the participating employer's establishment, backed up by statutory theoretical training and general education provided in vocational training school s. The characteristic feature of the system is that the provision of knowledge and skills is linked to the acquisition of the required job experience.

The 1969 Vocational Training Act (Berufsbildungsgesetz, BBiG) provides a consensus-based institutional framework for regulating vocational training. It has given federal government in coordination with the states (Länder), the employers' associations and the trade unions a tool with which the quality of initial training, further training and retraining can be regulated and updated to meet changing requirements. The vocational training measures include: reform of the "training occupations" and the contents of on-the job and school-based training; the organisation of cooperation between training sites; training methods and training resources; the training of company trainers and vocational school teachers; and the examination and certification system.

The regulatory framework of training occupations

According to §25 of the BBiG, the responsible federal minister is charged with issuing the training regulations (Ausbildungsordnungen) for each recognised training occupation. These regulations specify the designation of the occupation requiring training, the duration of traineeship, the field of activity, the occupational skills to be imparted in the course of training and certain special requirements. In the preparation of these regulations, the responsible federal minister is assisted by the Federal Institute for Vocational Training (Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung, BIBB), which in turn is advised by committees of experts representing the different occupational groups and appointed at the suggestion of the peak organisations of the enterprises and the trade unions. Since only minimum standards are stipulated in the training regulation, enterprises carrying out training are free to provide further training if they consider it necessary.

The ability of the vocational training system to respond to structural change in an economically and socially adequate way, as well as to adapt to changes in the skills required in the economy and the related changes in the training needs of future employees, requires a continuing adaptation of the system of training occupations. According to §25 of the BBiG, the system has to be adjusted to meet the requirements of technological, economic and social change. Measures include the abolition, restructuring or redefinition of existing training occupations as well as the introduction of new ones. However, the BBiG provides only a few guidelines concerning the reform of the system of training occupations.

The role of government and the social partners

The institution involved in planning vocational training policy at national level is the Board of the Federal Institute for Vocational Training. The federal and Ländergovernments and the employers' and trade unions' umbrella organisations are represented on it, with each group having the same number of votes. Within the framework of the procedure to restructure occupations, the Board recommends to the responsible federal minister - following the votes of the employers' and employees' representatives - that the training regulations be approved.

The business organisations play a major role in the modernisation process of the system of training occupations. It is mainly the sectoral and federal employers' and trade associations, as well as the representatives of the chambers of commerce and crafts, that are responsible for planning and updating quality standards for in-company vocational training. The local chambers advise and check individual enterprises with regard to how they conduct their training. The employers' associations are strongly committed to vocational training, as they run a risk of increased government regulation and higher training costs for their members if the quality of the vocational training system proves to be lacking. The trade unions can make use of their participation rights. Furthermore, especially when quality standards for on-the-job training are being elaborated, their close links with works councillors and local union representatives in enterprises ensure that they are well informed at an early stage about any deficiencies in the quality of on-the-job-training and about measures necessary to adapt this training to changes.

The modernisation of training occupations

Since the early 1970s, the number of training occupations has dropped. This was basically the result of the BBiG, which foresaw a qualitative reorientation of vocational training, that is, a move away from narrow specialisation towards broader vocational qualifications. The number of officially recognised training occupations has been reduced from about 600 in the early 1970s to 363 in 1997, which currently represent the basis for roughly 30,000 adult occupations. In the same period, 275 training occupations have been modernised or newly introduced.

From 1990 to 1995, 41 training occupations were enacted, 10 of which had been entirely newly developed. In 1996, 21 training occupations were restructured or newly introduced, among them film and video editor, insurance salesperson and forwarding agent. In 1997, another 47 modernised training occupations will be enacted, 13 of which will be entirely new. This increasing number of restructured or entirely new training occupations shows that the dual system is able to adjust to changing needs. All in all, there are currently some 80 training occupations - covering 440,000 vocational trainees - under review. Furthermore, the federal government and the social partners are discussing the creation of about 20 new training occupations.

There has been some criticism that the procedures for restructuring training occupations, from research to application, often take far too long. This is partly because the representatives of the participating employers' organisations and the trade unions have difficulty reaching a consensus on the main points of the intended reform. However, once the new training regulation is passed, the groundwork has already been completed for its acceptance and implementation in enterprises. In 1995, the federal government, the employers and the trade unions agreed on several measures that should speed up the process of enacting training occupations to two years. According to the ministry of education, the process now takes 15-20 months, on average.

On 16 April 1997, the German federal minister for education, Jürgen Rüttgers, presented the Reform project vocational training - flexible structures and modern occupation programme. This programme demands:

  • a more dynamic and flexible legal framework for the training occupations, which allows for a better adjustment of vocational training to the requirements of the workplace;
  • the development of new, and the modernisation of existing, training occupations; and
  • more scope for individual firms and more flexibility regarding the contents of training occupations.


In recent years, the responsiveness of the German vocational training to changing requirements at the workplace and to structural change in the economy has been questioned by many observers. However, the increasing number of restructured or newly introduced training occupations shows the elasticity and the reasonable flexibility of its internal structures, which helps ensure that the dual system can meet the challenges of the labour market. Nevertheless, the parties involved must not slow down their efforts constantly to modernise the system of training occupations. (Stefan Zagelmeyer, IW)


"Entwicklung neuer Ausbildungsberufe, Ergebnisse, Veröffentlichungen und Materialien aus dem BIBB", Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung, Berlin, January 1997.

"Vocational Training in Germany: Modernisation and Responsiveness", OECD, Paris, 1994.

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