Germany needs a more coherent continuing education and training system that better addresses the needs of the low-skilled


Germany should pay more attention to the needs of the low-skilled in continuing education and training (CET), and make the CET system more coherent overall, according to a new OECD report, Continuing Education and Training in Germany. The report also finds that entitlements to education and training leave should be regulated uniformly; financial incentives bundled; and opportunities for recognising non-formally and informally-acquired skills improved.

The report examines how well the German CET system supports people and companies in keeping pace with rapid changes in the world of work. Compared to other OECD countries, Germany has a relatively large share of jobs at a high risk of automation, at 18 percent. Another 36 percent of jobs in Germany are likely to change significantly over the next 15 years. At the same time, many new jobs will be created. Continuing education and training in all forms – from postgraduate courses to training courses and learning from colleagues – is essential to prepare people for these changes.

In Germany's generally high-performing education and training system, many adults who would most benefit from training – including adults in jobs at high risk of change or full automation, adults with low basic skills, low-income earners and employees in small and medium-sized enterprises – are hard to reach by CET programmes. These groups are less likely to take advantage of CET opportunities than people with higher qualifications, thus exacerbating existing education-related gaps. While this trend can be observed in all OECD countries, participation in continuing education and training is particularly unevenly distributed in Germany.

"Germany has recently done a lot to modernise its CET landscape and improve the coordination of its many CET actors – not least through its National Skills Strategy" said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, at the launch of the report. "This path must be continued and expanded, especially through a stronger focus on those groups whose professional future depends most on continuing education and training."

A key recommendation of the report is to simplify the complex structures of the German CET landscape. The current system is characterized by decentralized, federal structures, a high degree of individual responsibility and strong competition between providers. This makes it easier to provide tailored offerings, but makes it difficult for individuals to keep track of changes in the system, offers little comparability in terms of providers' quality standards, and creates unequal access requirements. Establishing a framework via a national continuing education and training law would help regulate responsibilities, organisation, recognition and funding. Minimum quality standards for providers should be introduced.

Lack of time and lack of knowledge about one's own legal entitlements keep many people from participating in CET programs. The report recommends making the entitlement to education and training leave uniform across regions and sectors, and ensuring financial support options for continuing education and training are more user-friendly. In addition, the report recommends that offerings for acquiring partial qualifications be expanded nationwide, standardised and designed to facilitate their recognition in the labor market. Examples from Denmark, Finland and other countries show that modularised partial qualifications can ensure greater inclusivity because they are more flexible in meeting people's needs.

Further, the report recommends developing programmes and outreach activities that specifically address people with low basic skills. This group is less likely to actively seek out continuing education and training opportunities and is often less susceptible to information campaigns. The report recommends that the federal and state governments create free or low-cost access to learning opportunities throughout Germany via a joint initiative. These offerings should be practical and problem-oriented and ideally take place in a work context. The report provides examples from other OECD countries, including the UnionLearn programme in the United Kingdom, which have successfully increased participation in continuing education and training among more hard-to-reach groups in this way.

The full report in English and a summary in German can be found here in our iLibrary.


Working with over 100 countries, the OECD is a global policy forum that promotes policies to improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.


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