Minister of School and Professional Education Britta Ernst: Dual education – Success stories from Schleswig-Holstein

Education is becoming more and more crucial in determining individual opportunities in life, the welfare of generations and the future of modern societies. The highly organised education and training programmes are the prerequisite for opportunities on the job market and other areas of social life. But the balancing of necessary investments and the reduction of existing fiscal deficits presents politics and society with great challenges.

1. Dual education is an excellent path to take for occupational qualification and transitioning from schools to gainful employment. Connecting education in companies and in school guarantees a good preparation and ensures the quality of work in Germany. Not only the low level of youth unemployment, when compared to other European countries, is proof of this. In the last ten years, the number of young unemployed people in Schleswig-Holstein has been halved.

The conditions in Schleswig-Holstein are challenging. They are defined by contrasting developments. On the one hand, the number of trainees and training companies as well as the retention rate are unsatisfying.

But at the same time it has become more difficult for certain sectors and regions to fill trainee and employment positions. In September 2015, the Federal Employment Agency reported 1,227 open trainee positions.

This means that there were some graduates unsuccessfully searching for trainee positions while companies competed for well-educated employees and well-qualified young people.

Schleswig-Holstein has reacted to this “mismatch”. In 2012, the State Government of Schleswig-Holstein launched a professional skills initiative together with business associations, chambers, the Federal Employment Agency, trade unions, universities and leading municipal associations. Since May 1st, 2015, the competency centre for securing qualified worker and further training has been working on improving education and promotion prospects, increasing a skilled workforce and creating better employment opportunities, strengthening the retention of skilled workers and doing targeted location marketing.

The Ministry of Education and Training lives up to its name and extended task of being generally responsible for vocational training and advertises dual education with events such as a themed week at a regional radio station and im­­proves professional orientation at community schools and secondary schools. The Ministry also funds 15 regional training advisors at 13 locations with about 1 million euros per year to counteract students dropping out during training, and thereby reacts to an above-average drop-out rate. This way, many trainees continue their dual education and merely switch companies.

Fortunately, the number of contracts increased by 399 to 20,196 in 2015. The number of school drop-outs is also currently declining.

2. Vocational schools in Schleswig-Holstein are the key location factor of an economy dominated by medium-sized businesses. They ensure training on a larger scale. Our objective is to strengthen the successful social partnership in vocational education. For this, we are looking for a broadly spread or­­ga­n­­­­isation structure in which we can get the chambers, business associations and trade unions involved to a greater extent.

We are working on reducing the number of pupils leaving school without having completed their education. To this end, the action plan plus offers a coaching and potential analysis for 3,000 youths per year. Until 2020, the 40 million euros will be fund­­ed by the Ministry for Education and Training, the Eu­­ropean Social Fund and the Regional Head Office North. There are 114 flexible transition phases (flex courses) with nearly 2,000 students at 60 community schools in Schleswig-Holstein; about 140 pupils a year benefit from a high amount of practical class time in ten practical classes. The seven newly established production schools offer two days of school and three days at a company for 287 participants.

In order to “leave nobody behind” we have initiated Jugend­­berufungsagenturen (JBA, youth vocation agencies) in Schles­­wig-Holstein. In binding cooperation, the participants coordinate their work in transitioning from school to profession. For young people, youth services, schools, job centres and the Fed­­eral Employment Agency are clearly the starting points to obtain assistance from a single source. Schleswig-Flens­burg, Nordfriesland, Dithmarschen, Pinneberg district as well as Neumünster and Kiel have set out on this journey with the assistance of the Ministry of Education. The first JBA has already been opened in Neumünster. The transition system at vocational schools themselves is also being changed. We are combining the training preparation year and the Berufs­­eingangs­­klasse (mandatory education for graduates not in training and under 18 years of age) to create the AV.SH, the Ausbil­dungs­­vorbe­reitung Schleswig-Holstein (training preparation). Our objective – and our desire – is achieving a “dualisation”, which means connecting school with practical experience at a company.

These measures alone would be insufficient if we did not strength­­en the appeal of dual education. Now, more than ever before, the companies are competing for young talent and professionals. They have to face the wish of finding a job and company where one likes to come to work and has the option of balancing work and family well. This includes earning sufficiently after completing training to support a family. We are also working on placing vocational and academic education on an equal footing. The Deutscher Qualifikations­rahmen (Ger­­man Qualifications Framework) is a milestone along this road. All of its eight levels can be reached via vocational training as well as through an university entrance qualification. In addition, the barriers between the individual edu­­cation components need to be removed in order to keep edu­­cation options from feeling like a dead-end street. Even if only few will use this opportunity, the possibility alone of being able to study at a university after achieving one’s Master Craftsmen degree (possibly without an university entrance qualification), should increase the appeal of a dual education. The options of completing one’s subject-related entrance qualification during vocational training, dual study program­mes and accreditation of merits from (uncompleted) studies are also in need of improvement.

The number of school drop-outs is currently declining. We want that young people are not faced with restrictions, but are supported by parents and schools in the best possible manner in order to achieve a fulfilled professional life; and we have witnessed initial successes.

Ernst_2016_hoch_mittel Britta Ernst
The author has been an active member of the Social Democratic Party since 1991 and was a member of the District Assembly of Altona from 1991 to 1993. In 1993, she became the personal assistant to Senator Traute Müller. From 1994 to 1997 she was the personal assistant to Senator Thomas Mirow. Britta Ernst was a member of the Hamburgische Bürgerschaft (Hamburg’s parliament) from 1997 to 2011; since September 16th, 2014, she has been the Minister of School and Professional Education in Schleswig-Holstein.