Vocational guidance year comes to a close

On 30 September 2012, Germany’s latest annual apprentice recruitment period came to a close. A review of the Pact on Apprenticeships looked at the number of young people in vocational training and the number of companies taking on apprentices. It also identified how the transition into vocational training could be improved. Germany was less affected by youth unemployment than some European countries thanks to a comparatively stable economy and its vocational training system.


The Pact on Apprenticeships was initially set up in 2004 to create more vocational training positions for young people (DE0407105F).

The parties involved in the pact are: the four umbrella organisations of German industry and commerce, the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (BDA), the Confederation of German Industry (BDI), the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) and the Central Association of German Crafts (ZDH); the German Association of Liberal Professions (BFB); the Federal Government; the Federal Integration Commissioner and the Federal Employment Agency (BA).

Their aim is to make the transition from school to the labour market as smooth as possible for young people. In a country such as Germany, with an ageing population and a shrinking workforce, the education and training of skilled labour remains a priority.

Taking stock: Pact on Apprenticeships 2012

At the end of September 2012, the 2011–2012 ‘vocational guidance year’ during which young people looked for an apprenticeship and employers recruited new apprentices, came to an end and the pact partners published the outcome in a joint assessment of the training market (in German, 183Kb PDF).

More than 517,000 available vocational training positions were registered at the local employment agencies during this period, a decrease of 0.5% on the previous year. The number of registered apprenticeship positions in the dual system, combining an apprenticeship with vocational school attendance, rose by 2.1%, while the number of school-based vocational training positions sank.

By the end of September 2012, 35,300 new establishments had decided to offer vocational training. In total, 59,500 new apprenticeship positions and 20,677 entry-level or special entry-level qualification places were secured by the pact partners.

Partly due to the reform of the education system in some federal states where upper secondary schooling was reduced by a year, the number of applicants for apprenticeships rose by 3.1%. However, as of 30 September 2012, this had not been enough to reverse the recent trend which saw more unfilled positions (33,300) still registered at the BA than applicants not placed (15,700).

Challenges for the future

While the pact partners welcomed the positive results achieved during 2011–2012, they also identified new challenges for the future. In particular, they addressed a situation that the German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB) has been criticising for several years (DE1111029I, DE1011029I) and which was summarised in a DGB press release on the vocartional training market (in German) on 5 November 2012.

In it, DGB’s Vice-Chair Ingrid Sehrbrock pointed out that too many juveniles (nearly 300,000 in 2011) failed to move directly from school to an apprenticeship position. Instead, they opted for other training to prepare them for vocational training. Ms Sehrbrock stressed that this situation was not satisfactory, especially against the background of demographic change, a greater need for skilled labour, and the fact that around 2.2 million young people aged 20 to 34 were without a vocational training certificate or any equivalent qualification.

The pact partners acknowledged this was an issue and vowed to be more active in tackling the problem. The aim was to place as many young people as possible directly into an apprenticeship position. Nonetheless, pact partners said those not ready for training still need to be supported more fully.

The partners proposed to give themselves additional goals which included:

  • providing vocational guidance for all school pupils;
  • promoting individual counselling for school-leavers on matching their occupational choices to their talents;
  • improving the placement services for applicants for apprenticeships.

European context

At 8.1% in September 2012, the German youth unemployment rate remains low compared with other European countries. Germany’s better economic situation has contributed to its low youth unemployment rate. However, the country’s vocational training system is also judged to have a significant impact on the employment situation and work prospects of young people.

As a result, in the wake of the 2008 global economic and financial crisis, the German dual vocational training system has begun to attract greater attention from EU countries that have rapidly rising youth unemployment figures, such as Spain and Portugal. In a Memorandum of Understanding (in German, 101Kb PDF) with Spain signed in July 2012, and an agreement on training (in German) made with Portugal in November 2102, the German Federal Ministry for Education (BMBF) agreed to cooperate more closely with both countries to support their efforts to develop or improve vocational training for their youth.

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

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