Employers view apprenticeship pact positively despite crisis

In October 2009, commenting on the pact on apprenticeships, the Federal Employment Agency issued data showing that at the end of September 2009 unfilled vocational training positions outnumbered unplaced applicants. While employers welcomed these results, the German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB) criticised the pact’s shortcomings. DGB highlighted that too many young adults aged 20–29 years had still not successfully completed a vocational training programme.

The pact on apprenticeships (Ausbildungspakt) – that is, the vocational training agreement between the federal government and several umbrella organisations of employer and business associations – was established in 2004. Extended in 2007, the pact will run until 2010 (DE0802029I). Apart from the federal government and the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit, BA), the following employer and business associations are parties to the pact: the German Confederation of Employers’ Associations (Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände, BDA), the Federation of German Industries (Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie, BDI), the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (Deutscher Industrie- und Handelskammertag, DIHK), the German Confederation of Skilled Crafts (Zentralverband des Deutschen Handwerks, ZDH) and the German Association of Liberal Professions (Bundesverband der Freien Berufe, BFB). The signatories to the pact agreed to create more apprenticeship positions and improve the career prospects of young people.

Declining number of applicants results in positive balance

In a press statement on 13 October 2009, the partners in the pact presented the latest data on the number of apprenticeship contracts concluded in 2009. As shown in the table below, some 311,825 new apprenticeship contracts were concluded in industry, and trade and wholesale, another 143,121 in skilled crafts and a further 42,501 in liberal professions. However, compared with 2008, fewer apprenticeship contracts have been concluded in all three economic sectors.

Number of new apprenticeship contracts, 2009
  New apprenticeship contracts Change on previous year (%)
Industry and trade and wholesale 311,825 -9.2
Skilled crafts 143,121 -6.1
Liberal professions 42,501 -2.0

Source: BA, 2009

Furthermore, it should be noted that the total number of in-house training positions and external vocational training positions registered with BA in 2009 have fallen by 5.6% and 15.1%, respectively, compared with the previous year. In this context, the pact’s partners pointed out that some establishments adversely affected by the economic crisis and suffering from a steep slump in sales were not able to continue to train as many apprentices as in the past.

However, this trend has been countered by a falling number of applicants. In 2008, for the 14,500 applicants who had not been placed by the end of September, about 19,600 unfilled vocational training positions were still available. At the same time in 2009, some 9,600 applicants who had not yet been placed in September were competing for around 17,300 unfilled vocational training positions. Moreover, a large number of the 40,000 work experience opportunities (Einstiegsqualifizierung) were still available. Therefore, the prospects for applicants entering the so-called clearing phase after the main round of applications for apprenticeships (Nachvermittlungsphase) in the last quarter of 2009 are considered to be good.

Position of social partners

On 13 October 2009, the Vice-President of the Confederation of German Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB), Ingrid Sehrbrock, commented on the latest developments. In the press statement (in German), Ms Sehrbrock strongly criticised the pact’s partners for speaking of a relaxed labour market situation for apprentices when 1.5 million people aged between 20 and 29 years had not successfully completed vocational training. She was also critical of the figures and balance sheet presented, emphasising that the latter did not include some 73,456 young people currently participating in other measures but still looking for a vocational training position. Furthermore, not every person searching for a vocational training position was listed with BA. Ms Sehrbrock finally called for statistics on apprenticeship positions and applicants, including every person searching for such a position.

On 6 November 2009, ZDH stated in a press release (in German) that the pact on apprenticeships had achieved its goals this year. Applicants still looking for an apprenticeship could be offered such positions during the clearing phase. However, due to the declining numbers of school graduates, the Chair of ZDH, Otto Kentzler, did not expect a steep rise in the number of apprenticeship contracts concluded in the skilled crafts sector by the end of the year. He also highlighted that a new pact was needed to ensure the training of skilled workers from 2011 onwards. Mr Kentzler emphasised that establishments in skilled crafts acknowledged their responsibility for training apprentices in order to safeguard the future supply of skilled workers required for the expected economic recovery.

Commentary

It is noteworthy that the newly formed German coalition government of the conservative Christian Democratic Party (Christlich Demokratische Union, CDU), its Bavarian associate, the Christian Social Union (Christlich-Soziale Union, CSU), and the Liberal Democratic Party (Freie Demokratische Partei, FDP) underlines its commitment to the pact on apprenticeships in the coalition agreement (in German, 628Kb PDF) (DE0911039I, DE0910029I). While an apprenticeship position is to be offered to every young person who possesses the required skills and seeks such a position, particular attention shall be paid to young persons with a migrant background and unsuccessful applicants. The government has also invited the trade unions and the federal states (Länder) to join the pact.

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

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