Can the ‘German model’ bridge the skills gap elsewhere?

By Léna Krichewsky, research officer, Education for All Global Monitoring Report

What do all those experts and politicians mean when they point to the “German model” as a kind of magic recipe to solve the problem of youth unemployment by improving the skills of the young? The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, announced a few days ago that he intended to rapidly increase the number of apprentices, showing that in his eyes this is one of the major lessons to be learnt from Germany.

The burning question, however – which we will explore in the forthcoming 2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, on youth, skills and work – is whether a system like Germany’s can work as well in other countries.

How does the German model work? From the learner’s perspective, apprenticeship in Germany is a “dual system” in which a balanced curriculum of structured training within a company is accompanied by part-time classroom tuition in vocational and general subjects. Apprenticeships are open to all students who have completed lower secondary education (age 15) and last from two to three and a half years.

Apprentices are considered as employees and are paid by the training company. They can choose from among about 350 occupations, reaching from hairdressing and car repair to insurance and financial services. Because apprenticeships are such a good route into skilled jobs, many students who have completed upper secondary school also start an apprenticeship, even if they have the credentials to enter university. (The German education and research ministry has put online a brochure explaining the system.)

Regulation and partnership are the two principles that make the system so successful. Representatives of the federal state, the individual states, employers and employees work together by consensus to develop curricula, provide training, and carry out assessment, certification and quality assurance.

Mutual trust and long-term commitment to human resource development are the key ingredients that enable the dual system to deliver the skills that meet employers’ requirements while guaranteeing employees sufficient skills to change jobs and move up the career ladder. They are also the aspects of the dual system that make it so difficult to replicate elsewhere.

Germany’s economy has been described as having a “high skills equilibrium.” A broad industrial base, with a large number of small and medium-sized companies involved in export-oriented activities, requires a highly skilled workforce. Accordingly, companies see apprenticeships as a vital investment to guarantee their long-term competitiveness.

In Germany, economic growth and an ageing population are currently helping keep youth unemployment lower than in most other European countries. Given the economic downturn and demographic growth in other countries, however it remains to be seen to what extent elements of the dual system can help to solve the problem of unemployment on a large scale.

Léna Krichewsky has been seconded to the GMR team from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, (GIZ, German Agency for International Cooperation). 

Photo: Metal industry trainees (Source: Meyer-Werft/BIBB, German Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training).

About Léna Krichewsky

Research Officer EFA Global Monitoring Team
This entry was posted in Developed countries, Economic growth, Employment, Governance, Post-secondary education, Skills, Training. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Can the ‘German model’ bridge the skills gap elsewhere?

  1. One of the more intriguing versions of this model that i have come across recently is the dual apprenticeship model applied to the informal economic sector. I have found this in the work of Richard Walther and others in West Africa (and elsewhere) undertaken with the Agence Français de Développement and with ILO involvement. Certainly the “jury” is still out on the approach, but I think the concept holds great promise, at least in the developing world, in terms both of reaching the greatest number of youth and of having the greatest qualitative (and quantitative) economic impact.


    • One iteration on this model has been a significant part of public education in NYC for about 75 years, however the German version is better. The NYC version built schools and faculties around industries that were left behind by progress (e.g., Printing). Nonetheless, the German approach is another sociological solution that does not address precisely how the “training” and general education requirements should be met. There is very little research identifying, or even on a system for identifying Best Instructional Practices. It is improperly concluded that this is an off-the-shelf “known.”
      This needs immediate attention. Please look in on our efforts to raise awareness and fix this elementary issue. We have formed a Foundation to address this hidden-in-full-view flaw. Please see: and (in progress)
      Addressing this issue could have global implications. It is easily done. In fact it is so easily done that at times it appears to be willful ignorance on the part of the current power structure in professional Education. As an educator for over 40 years hat was hard to say, but the inference is approaching certainty.


  2. owadmission says:

    Great initiative. At least we should give it a try, result will tell more about it.


  3. Pingback: What’s top of the 2012 global education news? « World Education Blog


    doesn,t this type of model restrict the option for opting alternatives afterwards,like if we have done apprenticeship for 2 years in one sector,then our development would be restricted to that sector only.Now,take for instance if someone in completing his BS in mechanical from MIT,then he has many options like going in automation sector or aeronautics,research,oil and gas etc.


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