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The dual training system: Integration of young people into the labour market

The Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs in Germany hosted a Peer Review in Berlin that brought together ministry officials, social partners and independent experts from twelve countries (Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Spain), as well as representatives from the host country, and from DG Employment, Social Affairs and Social Inclusion and DG Education and Culture at the European Commission.

The Host Country presented its dual training system as well as two measures specifically designed to support the integration of disadvantaged young people into dual training and the labour market. The dual training system in Germany has a long tradition, providing recognised a highly valued qualifications in around 340 recognised occupations, through a system of training which combines workplace experience and practice with vocational college based education. Training curricula are reviewed regularly and are, in their main lines, agreed by the social partner organisations. The dual training system is widely considered to be one of the backbones of Germany’s economic success and its ability to maintain low levels of youth unemployment, even during the economic crisis. However, it was recognised that not all young people are equipped to enter and successfully complete dual training without support, because of poor performance in school, which is often coupled with other factors such as social disadvantage or migrant status among others.

In order to support these young people, two measures developed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs were presented at the Peer Review: Berufseinstiegsbegleiting (intensified vocational guidance and support) and Einstiegsqualifizierung (pre-apprenticeship training). The former entered its pilot phase in 2009 and was mainstreamed in April 2012. It allows Public Employment Services to support poorly performing students from the penultimate year of schooling at lower secondary level until two years after general schooling or up to six months after entering apprenticeship training. The core aims of the instrument are to support these students to obtain at least a basic school leaving qualification, to obtain vocational orientation to develop an appropriate vocational choice, to develop a successful apprenticeship search strategy and to stabilise them for the first six months into their apprenticeship. This support is provided through “mentors”,  which work directly with young people at a ratio of a maximum of 20 mentees per counsellor.

Pre-apprenticeship training was piloted between 2004 and 2007 and subsequently mainstreamed to provide six to twelve months in company pre-apprenticeship training to qualify young people for entry into apprenticeship into the dual system. The measure is aimed at young people which were unable to obtain an apprenticeship contract in the dual systems (even with the help of the PES); young people who do not fulfil the requirements for apprenticeship training and socially disadvantaged applicants. Einstiegsqualifizierung (EQ) was originally introduced as part of the “National Training Pact” in 2004. This Pact (and its successors) is another important part of the German approach to ensuring the availability of apprenticeship placements in the dual system for all young people seeking such opportunities. It brings together representatives of employers’ organisations, various government ministries and other education sector stakeholders and sets thematic and quantitative targets for the creation of additional EQ and dual apprenticeship placements.

The main conclusions of the discussions are summarised under the following headings:

Smooth school to work transitions require a positive educational outcomes and strong workplace based experience: It is widely acknowledged in available data, research and by EU level policy makers that successful school to work transitions can be significantly supported in two ways: by ensuring young people successfully complete at least a basic level of secondary schooling and by providing workplace based practical experience, as lack of experience and poor core skills are among the main factors why employers are reluctant to offer opportunities to young labour market entrants. In addition to this, it is undeniable that the wider economic and labour market situation of the country affects the range of opportunities available to young people.

EU level policy guidance highlights the value of dual training approaches and calls upon Member States to increase the availability of training opportunities which successfully combine theoretical vocational education with practical work experience. The high level of interest in the German dual system, which was evident at the Peer Review, but also through other peer exchange and mutual learning activities can partly be attributed to the apparent success of such systems in smoothing transition from school to work, even during economically difficult periods. Similarly, ongoing activities at the European level relating to the comparability of qualifications between Member States are also designed to support mobility in the European Union.

It was noted that one of the key success factors of the German dual apprenticeship system is its high reputation and long tradition. This is further supported by the fact that social partners are strongly engaged in the system and that it is considered by both employers, young people (and indeed their parents) as a high value pathway into the labour market, pursued by around 66% of each youth cohort leaving general education[1]. The situation is similar in Austria, where dual apprenticeship training is also offered, but in a number of the countries present at the Peer Review with apprenticeship systems, this was considered to be a more residual pathway. On the whole, in regard to their approach to apprenticeships, four different “models” could be distinguished among the Peer Review countries:

  • Countries with highly regarded dual apprenticeship systems, providing a significant pathway from school to employment (e.g. Germany, Austria, the Netherlands);
  • Countries with highly regarded apprenticeship systems in a number of (often crafts) sectors (e.g. Croatia, Estonia, Ireland);
  • Countries with apprenticeship systems which are often regarded as a pathway of “last resort” for young people with poor qualifications (e.g. Belgium, Lithuania);
  • Countries without recognised apprenticeship systems (e.g. Latvia, Spain (in development).

Particularly in countries where apprenticeships are considered a residual pathway, vocational guidance counsellors, schools and PES can play a role in raising awareness of the value of apprenticeships both among students and parents, but this must go hand in hand with measures to improve the quality and standing of this pathway.

Various steps can be taken to incentivise businesses to offer apprenticeships and to become involved in the development of curricula: The strong involvement of employers in offering apprenticeships and helping to ensure the relevance of training curricula for ever changing workplace environments is an important factor contributing to the success of the German dual system. In contrast to the Austrian “training guarantee” for young people, Germany uses the voluntary instrument of the National Training Pact to ensure employers offer a sufficient number of apprenticeship placements. In Austria, it has been necessary to ensure the fulfilment of the training guarantee by extending the offer of supra-company traineeships (an option also available in Germany). Other countries also offer college based training and in many instances the availability of suitable placements for apprenticeships or to gain workplace based experience is insufficient. Particularly smaller and micro companies often find it difficult to commit to offering placements, especially during difficult economic times. The Austrian PES are therefore offering support for SMEs to establish “training clusters” to allow them to use their joint bargaining power to source suitable training for their trainees. In the Netherlands, the possibility has been created for “rotating traineeships”, which means that one employer is no longer required bear the cost of training and offering experience on their own.

Subsidies are used in a number of countries to encourage employers to offer training placements. These either cover (part of) the cost of apprentices’ remuneration or any associated social security or insurance costs. Increasing emphasis is being placed on the proper targeting of such subsidies to adverse long-term effects or perverse incentives.

Evidence from Germany shows that the benefits of employing an apprentice (in terms of their productivity) begin to outweigh the costs of training from the second year of placement. In addition, many employers see offering apprenticeships as a way of preventing future shortages of skilled staff, which are likely to emerge as a result of demographic change. In addition, former apprentices are valued because they are already familiar with the culture and processes of the organisation. On the whole, around 60% of former apprentices are offered a job after completion of their training.

Early, individualised support can assist disadvantaged young people to prevent long-term scarring effects: The transition between school and apprenticeship and school and work are critical junctures because of the identified long-term scarring effects of long periods of unemployment early in a young person’s life. Many Member States have therefore invested significant resources to seek to prevent or reduce the length of transition periods. For all young people this includes the support of the PES through placement and vocational guidance services (either delivered internally or through external providers). As young people with multiple challenges (e.g. relating to their school performance, social or migrant background, health status etc) are most likely to struggle in obtaining satisfactory school performance, a holistic approach to addressing these challenges is often required. However, such multi-disciplinary, joined up approaches remain rare. The German mentorship scheme (Berufseinstiegsbegleitung) was considered to offer a promising example, although evaluation outcomes are still being awaited. What is clear is that for such measures to be successful, counsellors or mentors have to have access to significant networks among employers, schools, training bodies, the community, as well as parents in order to be able to offer constructive advice and solutions. A degree of continuity in support and personnel is also required to establish trust and prevent disadvantaged young people from feeling abandoned during their integration process.

It was also highlighted that the flexible provision of vocational training and apprenticeship including a modularised form with certification of partial VET can offer a solution for young people whose training process might be interrupted or who may require additional time to complete a curriculum.

An ever-present challenge in the delivery of such measures is to avoid indirect incentives for creaming of young people who might be easier to integrate and to ensure a safety net for those who struggle to benefit even from more intensive forms of support to ensure that no young person is left behind.

[1] Federal Ministry of Education and Research (2011), Dual Training at a Glance

Participating independent experts

  • Sigrid Nindl
    3s consulting
  • Ides Nicaise
    K.U. Leuven
  • Marija Pavkov
    Ekopid d.o.o.
  • Daniela Ulicna
    Czech Republic
    ICF GHK Consulting
  • Laura Kirss
  • Timo Spangar
    Spangar Negotiations Co
  • Anna Manoudi
    Independent Expert
  • Brendan Shiels
    Fitzpatricks Economic Consultants
  • Oksana Žabko
    Latvian Sociological Association
  • Inga Pavlovaite
    ICF GHK Consulting
  • Wim Sprenger
  • Manuel Souto
    University of Bath
  • Hans Dietrich
    Institute for employment research