05/07/13 - The transition from school to work in Germany is remarkably smooth. An excellent vocational education and training (VET) system ensures that young people are well-prepared when they enter the labour market and can find jobs that match their qualifications. VET in secondary level II, which in Germany is mainly characterised by the dual system, provides a solid foundation for later up-skilling, especially through post-secondary VET.
The most recent country report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), called "Post-Secondary Vocational Education and Training in Germany", looks at one section of advanced VET, namely VET schools and advanced training courses such as those for the master craftsman qualification. The study is being presented by OECD Deputy Secretary-General Yves Leterme in Leipzig today in the context of WorldSkills, the global skills education competition. It finds that unemployment rates for VET school leavers, master craftsmen and technicians in Germany are among the lowest in the OECD zone. People with these international tertiary-B level skills are particularly sought-after in Germany.
One reason for that achievement could well be that employers and employer organisations, key players on the labour market, are closely involved in the post-secondary VET system. This co-operation between policymakers and social partners ensures that the content of VET is suited to needs and that educational institutions take prompt account of developments on the labour market. It also directly benefits those who complete advanced VET courses. For example, two-thirds of all successful participants in advanced further training, such as master craftsmen or foremen, increased their earnings. Three-quarters of participants in this type of training achieved greater success in the form of greater responsibility or a more senior position.
Only university-level graduates in Germany have better earning capability and better labour market prospects. For that reason, the authors of the report welcome the fact that reforms since 2009 have made the transition from vocational to academic pathways easier. However, they note that few students have actually taken advantage of the new opportunities to date. They therefore recommend making the system more permeable by making it compulsory to recognise existing academic achievements. In theory students in Germany can already obtain credits for up to half their course from achievements elsewhere, but the decision is made individually by each institution.
Alongside greater transparency in the transfer of credits, the study identifies other areas where the efficiency of post-secondary VET in Germany can be improved. For example, information about the quality and cost of preparatory courses for master, technician and other advanced VET qualifications is often available only locally. In addition, external quality control of the courses on offer is very limited. Both of these factors make it difficult for advanced VET candidates to find a suitable course. The report's authors therefore advocate creating a better database and making it publicly available in a standardised and accessible form. This type of information, which should be available online in the same way as school league tables or university rankings, would enable candidates to avoid inferior courses. It would also increase the motivation for providers to improve the quality of their courses.
Within Germany, the level of examinations varies considerably according to the course. In particular, there are no clear standards for Chamber-defined further training regulations. As differences between the difficulty of exams could distort competition, the authors call for the creation of framework regulations for examinations. Transparent standards would make it easier to prepare for exams and make certificates more valuable to employers.
Another suggestion concerns the practical experience and skills of teachers in VET schools. As a rule they have civil servant status and are employed as full-time teachers after completing their studies and acquiring appropriate experience. However, the pace of technological progress and the corresponding changes to the labour market mean that trainers need to regularly update their skills, which is best achieved through regular periods of practical experience in industry to complement their teaching activity. However, this model is unusual. Consequently, VET schools should be given the possibility of appointing more part-time staff, who work in companies as well as teaching. That would not only guarantee VET schools a better transfer of knowledge derived from industry practice but also enable them through their students to flexibly match their supply to labour market demand.
Practical experience is just as important for VET school students as for teachers. Fewer and fewer VET students now have any preliminary work experience, as many of them start their courses immediately after leaving secondary school. Given this clear decline in the amount of work experience among their first-year students, it is regrettable that VET schools place relatively little importance on practical experience. Hitherto, the only compulsory element has been practical project work in the last semester, and even this is often not performed directly in the workplace. In order to better fulfil their central task of transmitting a comprehensive range of vocational skills, including so-called soft skills, VET schools should include practical and workplace experience as a compulsory part of their curricula.
Journalists seeking further information should contact Antonie Kerwien, in OECD's Berlin Centre on firstname.lastname@example.org, +49 30 2888 3541