Impact of social origin on access to vocational training

A study by the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training found a significant gap in the experiences of school leavers from migrant and non-migrant backgrounds in accessing Germany’s ‘dual system’ of initial vocational training. Although differences in socioeconomic background have an impact, migrants’ prospects of gaining an in-company training post are lower than those of non-migrants with the same qualifications and socioeconomic background.

According to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) prepared by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), socioeconomic background and immigrant status impact more strongly on student and school performance in Germany than in the majority of OECD countries. A study by the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) investigated the impact of social origin on the transition of school leavers to initial vocational training (IVT).


According to BIBB’s 2011 data report on vocational education and training (in German, 7Mb PDF), 44% of all applicants of national background had attained a position by December 2010 in the ‘dual system’ of apprenticeship training compared with 33% of all applicants of migrant background (defined as being foreign born, bi-national and/or speaking another or additional mother tongue).

The ‘dual system’ of IVT in Germany consists of two or three years of alternate in-company and school-based training. Apprentices are employed by a company and receive remuneration. Recognised training occupations based solely on school-based IVT are comparatively rare.

The difference between training applicants of migrant and of non-migrant background varied according to school qualification and was smallest between school leavers holding a certificate from lower secondary school (Hauptschule), who were the least successful in obtaining an in-company training post. On average, those of migrant background were older and had achieved a lower school-leaving qualification than non-migrants. There was no significant difference in school grades. In contrast, there was no gap between the two groups in accessing the apprenticeship training in school-based IVT (8%).

Survey methodology and findings

The BIBB study on the transition of school leavers to IVT made use of survey data on the schooling and training biographies of the age cohorts born from 1982 to 1988. The database was set up in 2006 by a representative telephone survey covering some 7,700 people.

The findings indicate that training applicants from a migrant background differ from non-migrants in having lower school qualifications and slightly poorer school grades. In both groups, however, school qualification and school grades typically relate to the lower occupational status, and the lower school and vocational qualifications of the parents. These aspects are disproportionally pronounced among immigrant parents.

In both groups, students holding a low school qualification show the strongest interest in dual IVT because of a lack of alternative training and career pathways. In the case of migrant students, interest is also spurred by their parents’ low occupational status but this status has no effect in the case of non-migrants. However, the intermediate educational and vocational qualifications of parents impacts negatively on non-migrants’ plans to access dual IVT while these factors have no effect in the case of migrant students.

Female secondary school leavers of migrant background express more interest in any type of IVT than non-migrant women; the interest of migrant males in IVT is only slightly lower than that of non-migrant males.

Training search strategies, such as using the Federal Employment Agency (BA), the internet, newspapers or personal contacts, differ more according to school qualification and gender (women are slightly more active than men) than by migrant/non-migrant status. Both groups attended about the same number of job interviews with potential employers.

The prospects of actually obtaining an in-company training post depend strongly on school qualification and school grades. People holding an intermediary certificate (Mittlere Reife) and good school grades, and who have skilled parents, are the most successful in finding a training position. Secondary school leavers have the lowest chances.

German men are more successful in obtaining training than German women, and women with a migrant background face the most difficulties.

As a result, the study stresses the impact of socioeconomic background on the conditions of access to dual IVT. Yet even where school qualification and socioeconomic background are the same, migrants have more difficulty finding an in-company apprenticeship than non-migrants. The researchers concluded that attempts to justify this difference by claiming that migrant school leavers differ in their level of interest or in the intensity of job-search are not valid. Instead external factors such as recruitment practices need more attention.


In public debate, problems in accessing the vocational training system are most often attributed to educational attainment and motivational deficits, whereas OECD reports highlight deficits in the German educational system as hampering the school performance of immigrants’ children. The BIBB results also point to the recruitment practices of training providers which require further investigation.

In 2010, a new Apprenticeship Pact was concluded by the federal government and the confederations of employer organisations. Following up on suggestions by the trade unions, the Pact partners explicitly agreed to improve the access to in-company training posts for training applicants of migrant background. The results remain to be seen and will be tracked by BIBB’s annual reports.


Beicht, U. and Granato, M., Ausbildungsplatzsuche: Geringere Chancen für junge Frauen und Männer mit Migrationshintergrund (385Kb PDF) [The hunt for a training place: Prospects not as good for young men and women with an migrant background], BIBB Report 15/10, Bonn, Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training, 2010.

Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training, Berufsbildungsbericht 2011 (2.45Mb PDF) [Report on vocational education and training for 2011], Bonn, Federal Ministry of Education and Research, 2011.

Birgit Kraemer, Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI)

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