Germany’s dual vocational training system, often praised as a model to follow, is in crisis, workers’ representatives and employers say, while more and more skilled workers are needed to realise the country’s green transition.

As Germany’s economy is considered advantaged in high-quality products and high value-added services, the country’s dual vocational training system, combining practical training by enterprises with schooling for adolescents from around the age of 15, is often cited as key to its economic success.

However, both employers and employees’ representatives agree that the system is in crisis, though with widely diverging views on why that is the case.

“Based on feedback from our chambers of skilled crafts and trade associations, we assume that there is currently a shortage of around 250,000 qualified skilled craftsmen and women in the skilled crafts sector as a whole”, a spokesperson of the German chamber of skilled crafts (ZDH) told EURACTIV.

“And the trend is rising, because every year about 20,000 apprenticeship places remain unfilled due to a lack of applicants,” the spokesperson warned.

This, the chamber says, is, apart from the ageing workforce, due to a wrong focus in the country’s educational system, which has increasingly centred on academic education.

“There is an urgent need for a turnaround in education policy: Craft professions must be given the recognition and appreciation they deserve in view of their central role for the future of our country,” the ZDH spokesperson said.

Green transition requires 60,000 additional heating installers

With this, the spokesperson referred to an increasing need for skilled employees to realise the country’s green ambitions, particularly in the construction sector and for the installation of clean energy technologies such as heat pumps.

“In the plumbing, heating and cooling sector alone, a demand for an additional 60,000 additional fitters is expected by 2030 due to the plans to expand the use of heat pumps,” the spokesperson explained. 

“So you don’t have to be a prophet to foresee that all the additional projects, especially in climate and environmental protection, will not be possible with the current workforce in the skilled crafts sector”, she added.

However, not all agree that the lack of interest among young people in blue-collar jobs and the focus on academic education are to blame for the shortage.

“Never before have so few companies trained as now,” Kristof Becker, youth secretary at the country’s federation of trade unions (DGB), told RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND) on 11 February. 

“That is the reason why more and more young people are left behind in their search for an apprenticeship,“ he said, warning that “society tells them at a very crucial stage in their lives: you are not needed.”

“And this is despite the fact that they read about the shortage of skilled workers in the media every day,” Becker said.

Train or pay?

A recent campaign video by DGB youth Berlin and other youth groups also highlighted the crisis of the dual training system.

To address the problem and secure funding, they are proposing a levy for those enterprises that do not offer any apprenticeship places.

“The demand for a levy-financed guarantee of apprenticeship places provides for the state to say, legally enforceable, that if you really want to do an apprenticeship, then it will be ensured,” Niklas Schmucker of Apprentices for Future, an initiative aiming to improve the sustainability of vocational training, told EURACTIV.

“If necessary, if no company can be found, then you can start at school with the aim of finding a transition to the dual, preferred model at some point,” he explained. 

The example of Berlin, he said, where “only 11% of companies still provide any training at all but 100% of all companies are dependent on trained skilled workers”, shows that “those who do not participate must at least make a financial contribution”.

Expanding the number of apprenticeship places available could also create better working conditions, and the levy could help finance better pay for apprentices, Schmucker added.

Meanwhile, the federal government also wants to introduce an “apprenticeship guarantee”, but without a levy to finance it, which in the DGB’s view is not enough.

“The government is failing to strengthen vocational training in Germany,” Becker told RND. “What it has currently presented as a ‘training guarantee’ is many things, but one thing it certainly isn’t: a guarantee of a training place, as we fought for in the coalition agreement”.

For the chamber of skilled crafts, however, a levy for non-training enterprises is not the preferred solution. 

“A training levy runs the risk of slowing down the commitment to training in the skilled crafts sector,” its spokesperson said. “Particularly for the many micro-enterprises in the skilled crafts sector, training is associated with a high personal, financial, and time commitment.”

“The fact that the number of companies providing training is decreasing at all, despite the high commitment to training, is mainly due to the fact that competition on the training market is particularly challenging for these companies,” the spokesperson added.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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