The 2012/04/05 at 06:10
Marie Luginsland, in Spires
In autumn 2011, over 12,000 young Germans failed to find apprenticeship positions. This figure from the BA (Bundesagentur für Arbeit), the federal agency for employment, is six times higher in reality, according to unions. At the same time, the BA announced 30,000 vacant apprenticeship positions, and according to the DIHK (German confederation of CCIs), there are apparently 75,000 spots available. The situation seems paradoxical at a time when the German economy displays strong dynamism and businesses are appealing to authorities in relation to the serious shortage in qualified labour. The same businesses are accused by a ministerial report denouncing reduced commitment to professional training: only 22.5% of businesses trained apprentices in 2010, compared to 23.5% one year earlier, but their representatives fob off accusations by highlighting the unsuitability of the apprenticeship market for their needs.
Has the German dual model of in-company training via apprenticeships reached its limits? These announcements and contradictory figures show, in any case, the shortcomings of a professional training system presented as a European reference until now. Re-launched in 2004 by an apprenticeship pact between businesses and the State (employee unions abstained), the dual system is today faced with a new obstacle. “In 2004, the situation was the opposite: we lacked apprentices,” observes Thilo Pahl, a specialist in professional training at the DIHK. “Our businesses have kept the pact’s commitments and created 71,000 spots. In addition, 43,000 new companies have volunteered to train young people. But today, these companies are asking us: do you have apprenticeship candidates for us?” A fall in birth rates since Germany’s reunification is the prime cause for the gap between supply and demand. The demographic decline is striking in the East, where since 2005, the number of young school-leavers has been halved. The West is expecting to the same decline in the next years. The number of 17-25 year-olds will be cut by 20% by 2030. Moreover, young Germans have a tendency to opt for long secondary level studies (1) and university studies. Only 35% of young people from the relevant age group earned their Abitur (final year school certificate) in 2005, 46 % obtain it today.
The German school system no longer contributes to supplying companies with young people to train. The two short secondary-level cycles (2), originally designed to be breeding grounds for apprentices, no longer fulfil their role as the school leaver no longer meets the requirements of the economic world. However, not all sectors nor all Länder (states) have met with the same fate. Apprenticeship candidates are flocking to the noble pathways of electronics, mechanical construction and mechatronics (the synergic and systemic combination of mechanics, electronics and IT). “Other branches, such as logistics and catering, are struggling to find apprentices,” observes Thilo Pahl.
Employee unions offer a different take on the situation. “Metallurgy only has an apprenticeship rate of 5.5%,” deplores Klaus Heimann, a specialist on professional training at IG Metall (metallurgy union). “But in order for the profession to regenerate, a minimum of 7.7% of apprentices is required.” According to employee representatives, there is no global surplus of spots, simply a poor match between supply and demand. For as pointed out by Klaus Heimann, “just as certain professions have a bad brand image, certain regions are also suffering from lower popularity.” While companies in Rhineland-North Westphalia have no difficulties hiring, those in regions such as Meckleburg-West Pomerania need to rally around. For them, it is a question of survival. For the Länder, the endurance of economic fabric is at stake.
In an attempt to counter the exodus of young people from former East Germany, Werner Kruse, Head of Personnel for the Neptun shipyards at Rostock, took part at the start of March in an apprenticeship expo organised by the IHK (CCI). He left with fifteen promising job applications. The shipyards which provide training in fifteen metallurgical professions employ an average of fifty or so apprentices. “Our branch does not have as good a reputation as large industrial groups. We get our hands dirty! But we are one of the largest employers in the region and our order books are full,” adds Werner Kruse.
Helga Rusin, in charge of professional training at the IHK of Rostock, confirms that marketing offensives carried out by companies yield fruit. The fact remains however, that on that day, hotel and restaurant representatives from this touristic region left empty-handed. “1,500 jobs remain vacant and companies are not managing to recruit. This is not for a lack of effort. They pay better than the rates set by the collective convention, and have even grouped together in order to offer accommodation to their apprentices, but nothing helps. On the Rügen peninsula, company heads have even considered employing young unemployed Spaniards,” she recounts.
Apart from these one-off initiatives, the only alternative left to companies seeking to keep numbers up is to turn to school dropouts. This is what some industrial groups are already doing, such as BASF, which has set up “pre-apprenticeship” internship models. This year of complete immersion in the world of enterprise – paid 216 euros per month by the State – leads, in 60% of cases, to apprenticeships within the company. Other private structures are investing in tutoring programmes. Over 25% of them offer catch-up classes to 20% of candidates who do not meet the required level. “The German company is cultivating the tradition of apprenticeship. It feels responsible for the young person that it receives four times per week,” says Thilo Pahl. And Helga Rusin sees an upside to the situation: “The apprenticeship shortage allows young people whose school results are not as good to exercise the profession of their dreams!”
Criticised by the State that prefers a preventative approach, this extension of opportunities to young people having difficulties at school is nevertheless supported by employee unions who go even further by carrying our initiatives in favour of trainers. “It is urgent to give training to these instructors who have all the professional knowledge and instruments to reach out to young people with behavioural difficulties,” states Klaus Heimann. Since 2011, an IG Metall programme has envisaged having 15,000 trainers sitting for this complementary qualification every year. While reserves have not been exhausted, the ears of syndicates are closed to any talk about an apprenticeship shortage. Aside from these young school dropouts, IG Metall is targeting a second group of the population that may be (re)integrated into the world of business: 1.5 million unemployed young adults without qualifications, representing 15% of Germans between 20 and 30 years.
(1) Gymnasium, the equivalent of the junior and senior high schools, leading to the Abitur end-of-school certificate.
(2) Hauptschule and Realschule, respectively nine and ten years of school.