EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Deutsche Steinkohle, Germany: Integration into the labour market of people at risk of exclusion – people with disabilities


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EnergyExtractive industries
integrating people at risk of exclusion into the labour market

Deutsche Steinkohle offers apprenticeships to deaf or hearing-impaired young people in a normal company setting. Instructors within the company have a good command of sign language, as the ability to communicate with the apprentices who have a hearing impairment is key to their successful integration into the workplace. Over the last years, more than 100 hearing-impaired or deaf young people mastered their skilled worker (craftsperson) qualification in technical professions which can be applied beyond mining occupations.

Organisational background

Deutsche Steinkohle AG (DSK), a coal-mining enterprise, is a subsidiary in the international industrial RAG AG Group which pursues business activities in four areas: energy, chemicals, mining and real estate. The RAG Group employs 100,000 workers while DSK employs 34,000 workers in 12 locations in Germany. This case study refers to the Walsum mine which is located nearby Duisburg in North-Rhine Westphalia. The mine employs about 3,000 employees, most of whom are men.

In 2006, the Walsum mine hired about 200 apprentices to be trained in 24 different occupations. Most of the training qualifications as craftsperson can be used beyond mining occupations, and only 10% of apprentices are exclusively trained for mining activities. In 2005, the initiative was nominated for an award in the federal contest ‘Creating employment – Companies demonstrate responsibility’. Out of 159 applications, DSK was one out of three nominees for the award ‘Employment offers for particular target groups’.

Company management and works councils cooperate to support the initiative, which is not covered by a works agreement (Betriebsvereinbarung). DSK is a member of the employer organisation in the coal mining industry. Trade union density is 98%.

Description of the initiative

DSK has been offering apprenticeships for deaf or hearing-impaired young people for about 20 years. The Rheinisch-Westfälisches Berufskolleg Essen (rwb-essen), a vocational school specialised in the education of deaf and hearing-impaired young people, launched the initiative. The school is relatively close to the Walsum mine in Duisburg and the largest vocational training institution for deaf and hearing-impaired people in Germany. Apprentices come from all over the country. Representatives of rwb-essen visited DSK and discussed the outline of an apprenticeship programme and the opportunity to integrate hearing-disabled people into the labour market by means of a skilled worker’s qualification.

The degree of the participants’ disability ranges from 60% to 100%. Apprentices with a hearing disability are employed in addition to the usual number of apprentices. In September 2005, 14 of the 551 apprentices in DSK showed a high degree of hearing disability; of these disabled apprentices, nine followed a two-year training course to become a certified ‘part fitter’, three learned the craft of an ‘industrial mechanic’, one trained in ‘electronics’ and one studied ‘mechatronics’.

The programme started in 1986 with three apprentices. On average, five deaf or hearing-impaired persons participated each year in the apprenticeship programme over the past 20 years; the number of apprentices varied between two participants in 1993 and eight in 1997. Over the past years, more than 100 hearing-impaired or deaf young people mastered their skilled worker (craftsperson) qualification through this programme.

The so-called integration offices support DSK in relation to the training of instructors in sign language, the provision of professional interpreters, and special machinery and software to visually display particular issues to the participants. The integration offices also subsidise some wage costs.

The deaf or hearing-impaired apprentices are fully integrated in the apprentices’ groups of each of the particular vocational training programmes. Only the module on underground mining is excluded in the training of the deaf and hearing-impaired apprentices since they cannot be employed in a mine for safety reasons. The practical instruction on mining is therefore substituted by theoretical training in the classroom. Overall, emphasis is placed on fully integrating the hearing-disabled persons into the apprenticeship programmes and thus in the work environment.

When it comes to the obligatory formal education in a vocational school, which is part of the dual apprenticeship system in Germany, the hearing-disabled apprentices go to rwb-essen.

DSK gives this group of young people the opportunity of an apprenticeship in a normal company setting in their apprenticeship training centre in Walsum. The exclusively male participants are of the same age as the other apprentices, namely between 17 and 25 years of age. The qualification as a craftsperson depends on the profession the apprentices are trained for; for example, these include: industrial mechanics, mechatronics, energy and electronics. The qualification as a ‘parts fitter’ requires a two-year apprenticeship programme while all of the other qualifications require three and a half years of training.

When applying for an apprenticeship, candidates have to pass the normal entry tests. For the selection interviews, professional interpreters are present to assist the hearing-disabled applicants. For the training situation, special software programmes are used for visual display, in particular for control technology. The training and the ability of the instructors to communicate with the hearing-disabled apprentices are essential factors for their integration in the workplace. In DSK, 12 instructors have a good command of sign language. If needed, the staff and the deaf and hearing-impaired young people are assisted by professional interpreters.

For the final examination, optimised tests are used. No differences emerge when analysing the examination results of non-disabled and the hearing-disabled apprentices. The only difference to materialise was the increased ability of deaf and hearing-impaired apprentices to visualise in three dimensions and to interpret technical drawings.

Adaptations of the apprenticeship programmes pertain to technical developments in the field. In terms of training and integrating the deaf and hearing-impaired young people into the workplace, the apprenticeship programme has not changed.


At the end of June 2008, DSK will close down its mining activities in Walsum. The company plans to continue the apprenticeship programme at another location. At Walsum, the last apprenticeship examinations will take place in January 2009.

The programme also involves learning experiences and social skills for young non-disabled apprentices in working alongside disabled colleagues. This has a positive impact on the working atmosphere in the apprenticeship training workshop.

The deaf and hearing-impaired apprentices cannot be employed by DSK. The vocational training certificates they obtain are generally applicable. The measure offers deaf and hearing-impaired young people the opportunity to attain a professional crafts qualification and increase thus their employability.

The key argument for the initiative relates to the corporate social responsibility of DSK, in particular against the background of important public subsidies in the coal mining sector. This means that the company has the capacity to train these apprentices, with the support of public institutions which provide special training materials and interpreters. The company helps the apprentices to find a job if needed; however, most participants return to the regions they come from in search of a job.

Women are not trained for mining jobs because their employment in underground mining is restricted due to health and safety regulations.

Exemplary and contextual factors

This initiative aimed at disabled and hearing-impaired young people is exceptional: DSK as a company takes on the responsibility for hearing-disabled young persons and provides the opportunity for them to obtain a professional technical qualification in the existing education and training infrastructure.

Anni Weiler, AWWW GmbH, Göttingen

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