Learning from the best

The German dual vocational training system in theory and practice: This was the focus of the visit to the Vocational School for Wood, Textiles and Colour (G6) and the furniture manufacturer likoo / Möbel in Form GmbH. It became a special programme day for the Ukrainian, Belarusian and Kazakh executives who attended the manager training in at the International Academy in Hamburg in autumn of 2017. The dual vocational training system interested all of the participants, and especially those from Eastern Europe. They have all heard the term, but few of them understood the system behind it because it is built in an educational system that is largely unknown in those countries. To prepare the participants optimally, the International Academy explained the basic differences between the systems in the preparatory tutoring session: For example, that only about half of all German school graduates have university entrance qualifications. The other half is therefore the primary target group for the dual vocational training system for specialists in all industries.

Solveig Schmidt from the Hamburg Institute for Vocational Education and Training (HIBB) expanded on this introduction and conveyed a comprehensive idea of the system as a whole. The participants learned that the German companies are primarily interested in school leavers who have a degree but not university entrance qualifications. Together with the German state, they try to integrate almost all of these pupils into the dual system to maintain the high n mover of qualified specialists. Another idiosyncrasy that was new especially to the participants from Eastern Europe: The pupils apply to the businesses, and not to the vocation schools - that assignment is made automatically based on the selected qualification.

The school director Volker Steicker and his deputy Christine Kaltenschnee then introduced the managers to the special features of the work done at G6: They presented the most in-demand occupations, especially carpentry in the furniture industry. The market trends are moving towards increasingly individual formats: furniture is becoming more individualized and custom designs based on customer specifications are more common. For this, furniture makers cooperate with architects. They also talked about the advantages of jobs in the wood technology, colour technology and textile clothing fields for trainees. At the moment, the prospects in wood technology are the brightest. The demand for trainees in the textiles field has declined in recent years. Independent of the job, the vocational school does have good contacts to the companies through former students who have become self-employed. The school helps the trainees to start off at these companies once their training has been completed. But there are also even greater challenges: Vocational training jobs are losing popularity. Most pupils strive to get a university degree after completing school, so it’s become more difficult to motivate young people to start a traineeship. In small groups, the MP participants toured the school and had discussions with teachers and students. This helped to give them a complete picture of what training at the school is like depending on the qualification of the student.

The second half of the day was dedicated to a visit to Likoo – Möbel in Form. This is one of many businesses whose trainees regularly attend classes at G6 in parallel to working at the company. Gordon Koops, the proprietor and managing director, also attended the G6 in the vocational subject of carpentry. Using his company as an example, Koops described a very typical problem that German SMEs have: “After the vocational training ends, graduates for some occupations, e.g. carpentry, are so in demand in the market that the students don’t necessarily want to stay with the company where they completed their traineeship,” explains the entrepreneur. “And they don’t have to, actually.” Once the traineeship contract has expired and the state examination at the Chamber of Trade - the third partner in the German dual vocational training system - has been passed, it is up to the employer to decide whether to keep the trainee at their company. The newly graduated trainees may also decide for themselves whether they want to accept other offers on the market. In this case the employer must exercise good powers of persuasion, especially if they intend in keeping good employees at their company for the long term.

Summing up the day: “We knew that the dual vocational training system is the key to the economic success of Germany’s small and medium-sized enterprises,” said the MP participants. “Now we’ve also understood why.” In the future, they plan on implementing some elements of the system in their own businesses.

Oxana Gusárova
International Academy, Hamburg