January 1, 1995

The match between education and work: what can we learn from the German apprenticeship system?

The most outstanding feature of education in Germany is its extensive apprenticeship system: approximately two thirds of young people combine learning in schools with in-company training.

This system of dual education is considered a main determinant of Germany’s high quality labour force and low youth unemployment. In The Netherlands, dual education also exists, but full-time education in schools is more popular. This paper analyses the strong and weak points of human capital formation in both countries in relation to labour market performance and focuses on the contents, organization and finance of dual vocational education at the upper secondary level. It forms part of a study by the Central Planning Bureau which comparatively analyses the performance of the German and Dutch economies. The information presented here is based on an overview of recent literature. Moreover, the Federal Institute for Vocational Training (BiBB) in Berlin has provided much inside information about the German educational system. As to the Dutch system, the National Centre for the Innovation of Vocational Education and Training (CIBB) in ’s Hertogenbosch has provided useful background information.

The analysis concludes that the German dual system indeed stands out against the Dutch situation regarding the relation between education and the labour market, in spite of some weak elements of the German system (which are often exaggeratedly referred to as an educational crisis). For that reason, the dual system in Germany can be considered as a model for educational reforms in The Netherlands, where a stronger link between education and work is needed. Although it would be very unrealistic to assume that the German system can be transferred to The Netherlands at one go, strong elements can be considered as lessons to be learned for Dutch educational reforms. The main strong elements of the German system constitute incentives for workers and employers to join the system, as well as the clear value of the skilled worker certificate on the labour market: elements which are not represented to the same extent in the Dutch educational system. Weak elements of the German system can also be considered as lessons, because these elements should be avoided when changing the Dutch educational system. Dead end jobs for skilled workers, differences between firms regarding the quality of enterprise-based training and difficulties in absorbing the fluctuating numbers of young people in the dual system are the main problems the German system is facing.

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