A good education system offers all children and young people with their different talents, abilities and interests an ideal education regardless of their socio-economic origins. Germany’s vocational colleges are oriented to the needs of young people and to the demands of working life. They train qualified skilled employees and prepare them for a successful life.
Dual vocational training paves the way for a reliable path to a qualified occupation for just under 60 per cent of young people of any given age and is simultaneously a guarantee of the relatively low youth unemployment in Germany when compared to the rest of Europe. Currently some 210,000 young people are doing apprenticeships or vocational traineeships in Baden-Württemberg. As competent partners to the commercial sector, this state’s vocational colleges are facing the challenge of preparing young people for dynamic changes at the workplace. The learning approach is oriented to a company’s work and business processes. Instruction is thus linked to apprentices’ and trainees’ everyday experience at work and, as well as job skills, also teaches methods-based and social skills. The close cooperation between vocational colleges and the company where young people learn their job ensures the interlinking of theory and practice.
The vocational colleges in Baden-
Württemberg also offer the widest full-time vocational curriculum in Germany. Under the motto “no qualification without a job”, the young people are given a large number of options for acquiring advanced school leaving certificates up to the German university matriculation examination.
The preparatory job year, which was further refined to become a job pre-qualification year (VAB) for less able young people, is a classic example of the continued development of vocational courses. A skills analysis was introduced as the basis for individual assistance to these students. The more able students with the mid-level school leaving certificate (comparable to the British “O Levels”) are able to go on to acquire the German university matriculation certificate at vocational grammar schools. The vocational grammar schools have been expanded over the last few years to include subjects such as “Environmental Technology” and “International Business”.
Today almost every third university matriculation certificate acquired in Baden-Württemberg is acquired at a vocational grammar school. These schools are succeeding in helping young people from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds to acquire the German university matriculation certificate and thereby break the determinant link between socio-economic background and educational success.
The vocational colleges in Baden-Württemberg currently face long-term challenges resulting from demographic development and structural change. These challenges include integrating young people with special needs and ensuring that the economy is supplied with a sufficient number of skilled employees. This issue was dealt with by the multi-party commission of enquiry “Fit for Life in the Knowledge Society – Vocational Schools and Colleges, Education and Preliminary and Advanced Vocational Training” established by the Baden-Württemberg state legislature in October 2009. Its final report, presented in December 2010, contains a list of over 50 recommended courses of action and 160 individual proposals for the future of vocational schools and colleges, dual and advanced vocational training.
For the Baden-Württemberg state government, the recommendations of the commission of enquiry form the guideline for the future development of vocational education and training. Initial measures for ensuring a continual supply of skilled employees and for reinforcing the integration work of vocational schools and colleges have already started. For example, initial steps have been taken to introduce English to vocational colleges in Baden-Württemberg. The aim is to prepare young people for the globalised world, to make sure our employees are competitive and to strengthen the attractiveness of the German dual vocational training for able young people. At the same time, weaker apprentices and trainees are to receive better and more targeted support in their vocational training in future. To this end, individual support systems are being established in order to reduce the number of drop-outs and to increase opportunities for obtaining a vocational qualification.
In the preparatory vocational courses from the 2011/12 school year onwards, all-day courses will be gradually introduced. The curriculum will be extended and the school timetable will be adapted to resemble a company timetable. In particular, individual support and improvements in interdisciplinary skills will also play a greater role than before. In the planned “dualisation” of preparatory vocational training, the period of integrated internships will be extended and assisted by teaching staff. This will require the assistance of the commercial sector. The aim is to improve opportunities for school pupils and reduce social injustices.
All these measures are designed to guarantee occupational prospects for young people and, at the same time, ensure the supply of skilled employees for the commercial sector. Besides creative engineers, it is qualified skilled employees and capable commercial businesspeople who turn inventions and innovations into products and market them throughout the world. Vocational training is therefore a success factor in maintaining business locations in Baden-Württemberg and for promoting social integration for the people in our state.
The author was born in 1963. She studied law at the Ruhr University of Bochum and is State Minister of Education, Youth and Sports in Baden-Württemberg and has been a member of the Baden-Württemberg state executive of the SPD since 2010. She was deputy mayor in charge of education, youth affairs, health, sport and leisure for the city of Mannheim from 2008 to 2011.