German youngsters are not as much affected by the current financial crises as their counterparts in other European countries. Nevertheless patterns of labour market entry have undergone some changes. In Germany rates of youth unemployment are still low compared to European standards. This indicates the tight link between the labour market and educational systems resulting from the still well established vocational training system. However, in Figure 1 we can see that since 1994 youth unemployment rates have been higher than those of older age groups. This shows that many young people experience stages of unemployment at the beginning of their careers and transitions into the labour market have been become more unstable since the mid 1990s.
Fig. 1: Unemployment rates by selected age groups
Source: OECD 2011
Stabilizing factors of school-to-work transitions in Germany
For long time the corporate German apprenticeship system has been seen as an exemplary model to show how to skill up the labour force at high qualitative and quantitative standards and organise smooth transitions from school to work. In general, vocational training in Germany is organised as apprenticeship training and in full-time vocational schools (Leschinsky and Cortina 2003, 525-537). The apprenticeship is organised within the so-called ‘dual system’, which is determined by the combination of school-based and firm-based training. The firm-based training is responsible for the more practical part of the training, while the schools are responsible for the subject’s theoretical and general education. Usually trainees spend one or two days in school. Part-time vocational schools and firms are by law defined as equal partners in training.
The firm-based training provides clear advantages: The occupation-specific orientation of the vocational training generates a highly standardised system, which generates tight linkages between the vocational system and the labour market, because fully-qualified apprentices are not only highly qualified in an occupation, they are also already socialised into working life and into the organisational culture of the company (Brauns et al. 1999, 4). However those who are not able to attain a professional qualification within the vocational training system are threatened by permanent exclusion from the job market – they suffer from educational poverty (Allmendinger et al. 2011). Against the background of these findings the analysis of exclusion from the vocational training system is very instructive in order to understand patterns of exclusion of young people in Germany.
Destabilising factors of school-to-work transitions in Germany
In Germany the relation of supply and demand of apprenticeship places is decreasing. As shown in Figure 2 for more than a decade the demand of apprenticeships has been over its supply (Autorengruppe Bildungsberichterstattung 2010a). As a result of the decreasing numbers of apprenticeship places governmental intervention has become important in order to maintain the vocational training system. On the structural level, the growing state intervention creates a publicly organised apprenticeship market, which parallels the regular labour market. The intervention in the existing system of apprenticeship and employment compensates for weak points of the vocational system or job market, for example by providing – particularly in the Eastern part of the country – state financed apprenticeship places. Apprenticeships are increasingly organised as ‘firm external apprenticeships’ (außerbetriebliche Ausbildungsplätze).
Fig. 2: Demand and Supply of Apprenticeships
Source: (Autorengruppe Bildungsberichterstattung 2010a), figure E2-1a, own translation and own presentation
The transition system
Above and also resulting from the enduring crises on the apprenticeship market governmental engagement has established an increasing sector of schemes which are meant to prepare for regular vocational training – the so-called transition system (Baethge et al. 2007). This term encompasses all kinds of training, education and labor market schemes which are meant to facilitate the transition from school to training but do not provide approved vocational qualification. The term ‘transition system’ is somewhat misleading as there is no systematic organisational structure behind this kind of training. It encompasses all kinds of training, education and labour market schemes which are meant to facilitate the transition from school to training for those young people who failed to enter the regular training system. The schemes have in common that they provide no approved vocational qualification and are organised and financed solely by governmental bodies. The major part of the schemes is organised by job centres, public providers (which are publicly assigned) or vocational schools. As Fig. 3 shows in 2008 nearly 40 per cent of young people entering the vocational training system started in the transition system. Further, the graph shows that already in 1995 thirty percent of inflows into vocational training were in fact inflows into the transition system. Thus, the high numbers of entries into schemes of the transition system in recent years reflect a stable development: the transition system has become a third pillar of the system of vocational training in Germany.
Fig 3 – New Entrances in the three sectors of the Vocational Training System
Source: (Autorengruppe Bildungsberichterstattung 2010a, 96)
The schemes are meant to improve the participants’ change to fully qualifying vocational training (and not to replace it) and can be categorised according to four main objectives:
- Second chance qualification: young people with missing or only below-average secondary schooling are given the possibility to make up for these shortfalls in their former biography. They can attain low or mediate secondary school degrees often combined with more occupational oriented skills. However, the occupation specific skills are provided in schools and do not focus on a particular occupation but rather on a certain labour market sector (Autorengruppe Bildungsberichterstattung 2010b).
- Vocational orientation: these schemes seek to improve the participants’ trainability by focussing on individual deficits such as low numeracy or literacy as well on social problems such as drug addiction. Further young people are getting application training or do internships in order to get a better idea of their occupational interests and competences (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung 2005).
- Vocational preparation: here low level occupational qualifications are provided. The qualifications can sometimes by approved as a part of regular training. Here again the provided skills are (even though occupational oriented) more general or very basic which means specific.
- Prevention: an increasing number of schemes is already implemented in general schools in order to facilitate transitions from school to (fully qualifying) training (Solga et al. 2010)
Growing numbers of young people participate for at least one year in schemes of the transition system before starting a fully qualifying training in the dual system or vocational schools – if they start regular training at all. Approximately 6 per cent of young people holding lower secondary degrees who left the general school system in 2002 stayed in the transition system for longer than 30 months; one quarter of them are unemployed. Even though the risk of long stay in the system is exacerbated for lower qualified youths recent research on transition patterns concluded that half of all young people entering the system never start fully qualifying training (Autorengruppe Bildungsberichterstattung 2008, 165-168; Baethge 2008; Seibert and Kleinert 2010). At least for a share of people the transition system has a rather ‘storing’ than qualifying character (Solga 2003, 728). Solga (2005), for example, shows in her studies that these schemes sometimes have stigmatising effects since potential employers perceive these young people as being less capable than those from regular schools (see also: Solga, Kohlrausch et al. 2010; Kohlrausch 2011).
Chances of leaving the system for fully qualifying training do not only depend on the individual competences and school performance but are pre-structured by socio economic characteristics, such as migrant background (Beicht and Ulrich 2008). In this regard, the establishment of the transition system stratifies young people according to their educational and ethnic background. 83 per cent of young people with no school leaving certificates enter schemes of the transition system. But also for young people with a lower secondary degree in 2006 the chance of getting an apprenticeship has only been 51 per cent. In addition young people with a migrant background are more likely to enter the transition system than their German counterparts (Autorengruppe Bildungsberichterstattung 2008, 157 – 159).
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