The German Vocational Training System: An Overview


The German vocational training system, with its combination of classroom and business, theory and practice, learning and working, is recognized worldwide as a basic and highly effective model for vocational training. The dual system is firmly established in the German education system, having, as it does, firm roots dating back to the Middle Ages. An essential characteristic of the dual system is the cooperation between largely private companies, on the one hand, and public vocational schools, on the other. This cooperation is regulated by law. The term “dual” also denotes a specific constitutional situation in Germany, where the federal government is responsible for vocational training in the companies, and the federal states (Länder) for the vocational schools. Thus, the German dual system of vocational training combines theory and practice, knowledge and skills, learning and working in a particularly efficient manner.

In Germany, there are currently some 350 officially recognized occupational standards. These standards are a central element of the German vocational training system. Although they are incorporated in state law, trade and industry also play a decisive part in their formulation.

In Germany, more than 50 percent of all students who were college-bound in high school but decided against university apply for vocational training, and many companies participate in vocational training. Companies provide training voluntarily, and often at their own expense, because they believe that this is the best way to meet their own need for skilled staff. Private companies bear two-thirds of the total costs spent every year on (initial) vocational training in Germany – costs which amount to an average of 15,300 euros per trainee per year. Businesses that take part in the practice consider training their own new employees the best form of personnel recruitment. Training companies save on recruitment costs and the cost of new-employee training. They also avoid the latent risk of hiring the wrong employee for the job. The main benefit for trainees is receiving market-relevant training that improves their chances in the labor market while simultaneously improving social skills and developing personality. Finally, the state, too, benefits from the dual system through easing the burden on public budgets by participation of the enterprises and by keeping the workforce up to date.

The German dual system has proved its success over a long period, and it still shows its ability to react quickly and effectively to the many changes currently affecting the economy and society.

Demographic development, the globalization of markets, new technologies and new work organization models require new educational policy structures in order to respond to the demand for a qualified workforce.

As countries with strong internationally competitive economic, scientific and technological capacities, the USA and Germany have a strong strategic interest in the best concepts for qualification. Both countries design education and training based on the economic and societal demands of lifelong-learning, which focus on competencies and employability, as well as the promotion of transparent and transferable qualifications and the broadening of career paths.

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the US Department of Education (ED) agreed to an intensified cooperation on the topics of “qualifications standards in automotive production” and “green occupations”. The Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) in Bonn maintains a long-lasting cooperation with the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) based on a cooperation agreement signed in 2003. On this basis, joint conferences, expert seminars and study visits in Germany and the USA took place.

Challenged by the current global economic crisis and climate change, Germany and the USA are interested in viable competitive models for education and training, which adequately address the demands of sustainable economic development. At a first bi-national expert workshop called “Globally Competitive and Sustainable Qualifications in Vocational Education and Training,” held in Bonn in May 2010, eight bilateral cooperation initiatives in the fields “automotive production” and “green occupations” have been set up. Involved in these initiatives are Siemens Technik Akademie with their US-partner Macomb Community College and DEKRA Akademie together with the Kentucky Center for Excellence in Automotive Manufacturing & Workforce Education (AMTEC). The goal of the Siemens-Macomb-project, “SmartGrid and electric mobility,” is to raise awareness of sustainability with regard to new technologies, such as energy efficiency and energy storage. The DEKRA-AMTEC initiative, called “Global Automotive Education Network (GATEN),” aims to establish a lasting exchange on German and European standards while transferring the ideas behind AMTEC to German small and medium-sized businesses.

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