50 years of the Vocational Training Act – a guarantor of high quality
The Vocational Training Act entered into force 50 years ago in September 1969. In the interview, BIBB President Esser acknowledges the Act as both a guarantor of the high quality of vocational education and training in Germany and that leaves stakeholders with plenty of scope to find practice-oriented solutions.
With the benefit of hindsight, what contribution has the Vocational Training Act made to the quality and success of globally-recognised, German vocational education and training?
Professor Esser: The Vocational Training Act has been recognised as the guarantor of Germany’s high-quality vocational education and training in Germany for 50 years now. Setting the standards today as it did back then, it is above all unique in its level of flexibility which enables stakeholders in policy making and practice to identify tailor-made solutions.
Training regulations, for example, are developed with the involvement of the federal government, the federal states and social partners, and they then receive state recognition. The Act also sets out the quality standards in terms of the content and organisation of training relationships, in terms of training personnel, training venues and the examination system.
A source of ideas and inspiration for other countries
While the Act was certainly a contentious issue to start with, over the years it has proved to be a mark of quality behind the success of vocational education and training in Germany. It helps to ensure Germany's competitiveness as an economic location. It has played a critical part in ensuring that youth unemployment in Germany is so low, and in Europe and further afield it serves as a source of ideas and inspiration to other countries seeking to modernize their vocational education and training systems and give them a more practical focus.
I would like to emphasize two particular elements in this respect:
Firstly, there are the inter-company vocational training centres which play a key role in ensuring the quality of vocational education and training. In practice, the statutory quality standards referred to above often need to be supplemented to ensure the high quality of vocational education and training in all sectors and regions in Germany. Underlying regional circumstances, in different sectors and within companies may, in individual cases, lead to a shortfall in provision. This is where the inter-company vocational training centres come in. They compensate for the shortfalls and in this way enable greater equality of opportunity and training. Their mandate is secured through the Vocational Training Act and similarly, for many years, has also been a factor in the success of vocational education and training. In securing this success, the Vocational Training Act has drawn on ideas from earlier times such as the so-called supplementary workshops of the crafts trades and the supplementary provision of Kerschensteiner, the great educational reformer.
Secondly, I would like to mention the didactic principle of complete action (vollständige Handlung) which underpins our training regulations. The Vocational Training Act specifies this as a central objective and thus makes it a regulatory requirement that vocational education and training must lead to occupational competence. German vocational education and training is therefore focused on the cycle of planning, decision making, implementing, monitoring, assessing and informing. It is not content with objectives of simply supporting or teaching trainees. Instead, the intention is that trainees work independently, self critically and in a self-reliant manner within the company. This didactic principle also encourages the linking of theory and practice as well as the acquisition of key qualifications such as problem-solving and communication competencies.
Developing practical solutions
This approach enables those involved in updating training occupations to consistently succeed in finding practical solutions for the complex requirements of the occupations while considering the changing underlying circumstances. I refer, by way of example, to the revision of the training regulations in the metalworking and electrical occupations in the 1980s. Even today, this is still regarded as a milestone in regulatory work and as “best practice” in terms of successful and focused communication between research, policy-making and practice. At that time, this revision of training regulations formed the foundation, still in place today, for the development of competency-based initial and advanced education and training regulations. The Vocational Training Act enables this development while taking aspects of occupational pedagogy into account.
How important is the Vocational Training Act in overcoming the future challenges within vocational education and training?
Professor Esser: In cooperation with stakeholders from policy-making, research and practice, the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training has identified the following current challenges.
- The organisation of the digital change
- Ensuring and consolidating the quality and attractiveness of vocational education and training.
- Improving the transparency and permeability of vocational education and training pathways.
- Developing skilled worker potential.
- Integrating refugees by means of vocational education and training
- Guaranteeing international progression opportunities for education and training
I would like to use the aspect of attractiveness to illustrate the developments which we believe are required. Today more than ever, the vocational education and training system is in competition with other education systems—in particular with the academic system, which is attracting increasing numbers of people. Sufficient numbers of skilled workers can only be trained to satisfy the continued high demand from the economy if vocational education and training succeeds in convincing young people and those within their social environment of the attractiveness of the system. One such approach for increasing attractiveness is, for example, the occupational career path concept via which career options in vocational education and training can be explained. The German qualifications framework also enables us to highlight the equivalence between advanced vocational education and training qualifications and university qualifications. This means that vocational education and training is an alternative to university and not a second-class education pathway.
And this is precisely the point which the federal government is addressing with the current amendment proposals for the Vocational Training Act. It is seeking to strengthen the advanced training sector and is introducing uniform advanced vocational education and training qualifications with the aim of clarifying the equivalence with academic qualifications. The German qualification framework is heading in the same direction. It is creating transparency in terms of competency acquisition and is identifying the equivalence of qualifications. In future, this may mean that we will no longer refer to vocational education and training qualifications and qualifications from universities, but instead will be focused on the competencies acquired from the qualifications with specific competency levels.
The aim is that, in future, the Vocational Training Act should also support specific developments such as, for example, part-time vocational education and training which the current government draft seeks to strengthen. Right from the start, however, flexibility has always been a feature of the Vocational Training Act. This means it has always given stakeholders the necessary scope, in practice, to adopt a solution-oriented approach. Beyond its list of statutory responsibilities, the Board of the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training is able to support developments by means of recommendations and other resolutions and in this way for example appeal directly to companies and training personnel. Over the years, the Board has made active use of this opportunity.