roxana andrusca

With Germany having the lowest unemployment rate within Europe, we should focus on their strengths and examine some of the reasons behind it.

In a world of high youth unemployment, where the supply of skilled labour often fails to match employer demand, Germany believes help can be found in its Dual Vocational Training System —a time-tested economic model now incorporated into the Federal Republic’s law.

This program, many believe is the reason why Germany has the lowest jobless rate among young people of any industrialized nation in the world. Apprenticeships are an integral part of the education system in Germany, where some 60% of school leavers undertake an apprenticeship through the Dual System, that is, part time at a workplace and part time at a vocational school.

In UK, with increased university tuition fees to £9000 per year, as Skills Minister Matthew Hancock highlighted apprenticeships are indeed fast becoming the norm for young people who want to achieve their career goals through an alternative route to university too.

Whilst in Germany, there are roughly 350 recognized trades where an apprenticeship can be completed from doctor’s assistant, banker, dispensing optician, plumber or oven builder, in UK choice is limited with heavy concentration of apprenticeships in the construction, and heavy manual labour sector.

As a nation, we need to focus on the expansion of apprenticeships in demanding sectors – NAS says competition is as high as 17 per place in the arts, media and IT. The most popular area for apprenticeships was business and administration, with 101,510 applications made and only 7,702 vacancies posted online.

Vacancies have not kept pace with rising demand, going up only 15% over the same period in the previous year, and  today’s figures show that demand massively outstrips supply – as a country we have failed to deliver the apprenticeships this country needs. Almost 370,000 applications were submitted between February and April, while 32,600 vacancies were advertised in the same period.

Through the Labour Party we must work on incorporating and boosting the image of apprentices, and increase their numbers, with apprenticeships being as valued as a university degree in the long term and make employers realise the distinct advantages. We must strengthen and build partnerships with businesses across UK, and extend the duration of apprenticeships.

In Germany, the dual system means that apprentices spend about 50-70% of their time in companies and the rest in formal education. Depending on the profession, they may work for three to four days a week in the company and then spend one or two days at a vocational school. For professions which usually which require more theoretical learning, the working and school times take place block wise e.g. in a 12–18 weeks interval.

The duration of an apprenticeship in Germany in comparison to UK reflects in increased confidence for students to follow this path.In Germany, according to figures from the Federal Statistical Office, about 8% of individual apprenticeship contracts signed in 2005 included a two-year training period, 71% set a three-year training period and about 21% spanned over 42 months of training.

In comparison to UK, competition for apprenticeships in Germany is strong. A survey in 2008 by the City and Guilds Centre for Skills Development found that vocational education has a higher public esteem in Germany than in any of the other countries covered. In Germany, it was rated 8 out of 10. In the UK, it scored just 6. The consistent quality of Germany’s vocational training means a large proportion of the country’s school graduates do not give university much thought. In 2011,570,000 signed up for new vocational apprenticeships, compared with only 520,000 university enrolments.

Whilst in UK the government offers small and medium-sized companies grants of £1,500 to take on a 16 to 24-year-old as an apprentice. We must provide further incentives for businesses to deliver apprenticeships and work with smaller firms that have the capacity to take on apprentices and not just the “big boys”, if we are to reach Vince Cable’s target of having four million people to have completed an apprenticeship scheme by 2022.

In Germany, one in three companies offered apprenticeships in 2003, and in 2004 the government signed a pledge with industrial unions that all companies except very small ones must take on apprentices. We must expand our apprenticeships in sectors which have not traditionally trained workers through an apprenticeship route.

As Liz Field, chief executive of Financial Skills Partnership said, the figures show there has been a positive reaction to apprenticeship training for the finance sector, and in order to move forward new developments are necessary to boost our national economy and increase our international competitiveness.

Roxana Andrusca is Vice Chair for Hampshire and Isle of Wight Young Labour and UK Global Poverty Ambassador

Boosting Apprenticeships, Raising Vocational Ambitions: Lessons from Germany
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