Young people offered training opportunities

A total of 482,400 new vocational training contracts had been concluded in Germany by the end of the 2012/2013 vocational guidance year. These latest results have reignited a debate between the social partners about training and the labour market prospects of the young. Unions say that the number of companies offering apprenticeships is in decline, while employers focus on the fact that many companies bound by collective agreements are currently training young workers.


On 30 October 2013, partners in Germany’s Pact on Apprenticeships released the latest figures on newly concluded vocational training contracts. During the vocational guidance year 2012/2013, 482,400 newly concluded contracts were registered.

Newly concluded vocational training contracts, 2012/2013

Number of newly concluded vocational training contracts

Change over previous year (%)

Industry and commerce






Liberal professions



Source: press statement by the pact partners

A further 14,400 entry-level or special entry-level training places were offered by companies and organisations. Such positions are offered to young people who lack the skills needed to qualify for an apprenticeship. Around 33,500 apprenticeship positions remained unfilled, while 21,000 applicants were still looking for a position at the end of September 2013.

The Pact on Apprenticeships was agreed in 2004 (DE0407105F) and its current partners are:

  • the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (BDA);
  • the Confederation of German Industry (BDI);
  • the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK);
  • the German Association of Skilled Crafts (ZDH);
  • the German Federal Association of Liberal Professions (BFB);
  • Federal Government representatives and the Federal Employment Agency (BA).

The latest figures were criticised by the German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB) and reignited debate over employers’ and unions’ efforts to improve the labour market prospects for young people.

Social partners’ debate

As the current vocational guidance year came to a close, the DGB called for improvement in the vocational training system in Germany. In a press release titled, Apprenticeship guarantee more necessary than ever (in German), it strongly criticised employers for not training enough young people, arguing that there were far more applicants than there were apprenticeship positions and that only 21.7% of companies were offering them, the lowest level since 1999.

The largest DGB member union, the German Metalworkers’ Union (IG Metall) said it regretted that companies were failing to integrate young people who have not done well at school. For example, despite low levels of available skilled labour, companies in eastern Germany still prefer to employ high-school graduates rather than train less well qualified school leavers. IG Metall even suggested that the Pact on Apprenticeships should be replaced with a new initiative negotiated with unions. In 2010, when the pact was last renewed, the DGB refused to take part in negotiations. It said that employers’ demands for less employment protection for young workers and shortened training periods had made it impossible for the union federation to be party to the new agreement (DE1011029I).

The Employers’ Associations for the Metal and Electrical Industry (Gesamtmetall) described IG Metall’s claims as ‘misleading’. It highlighted the fact that in the metal and electrical industry, four out of the five establishments authorised to train apprentices offer such positions. A survey conducted in autumn 2013 by the employer association in the metal and electrical industry in North Rhine-Westphalia (Metall NRW) shows that 85% of the companies bound by a collective agreement in the sector offered apprenticeship positions in 2013. It did however reveal that around 26% were planning to offer fewer positions in the future. Nearly 37% of employers said that they would only continue to train more apprentices than were needed in their own company if their works council agreed to waive the rule that obliges employers to offer a job to fully trained apprentices. This obligation was introduced during the collective bargaining round in 2012 (DE1206019I). Metall NRW said that the new rule was too ‘bureaucratic’ for its member companies to implement.

Both the DGB and IG Metall have proposed the establishment of a legal right to, or legal guarantee of, an apprenticeship position. Employers have rejected this.

Oliver Zander, General Manager of Gesamtmetall, commented that it would not solve the problems of young people who have poor school records or lack the necessary skills to begin an apprenticeship.


Not every company or establishment is allowed to use apprentices in Germany. In 2011, only 56% of all establishments were allowed to do so.

Of the authorised establishments, 78% employed at least one apprentice between 2001 and 2007. In Germany, the training of apprentices is regulated by the Ordinance on Trainer Aptitude (in German, 51.6 KB PDF).

Sandra Vogel, Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW Köln)

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