Gabriele Warminski-Leitheußer: Vocational colleges – education for life, vocational training for the job

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.


Foto-Frau-MinThe 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.