Most young people in Germany begin their initial vocational education and training after leaving school with an apprenticeship, that is, a course of training in the dual system.
The system is called “dual” because training takes place at two learning venues; in the enterprise and in the vocational school. Another possible learning venue is extra-company vocational training; it can take place in vocational training institutions outside vocational school and in-company training.
Access to initial vocational education and training is not formally dependent on a particular school-leaving qualification; training is basically open to anyone.
The young people conclude a training contract with a training company for a training relationship in a “recognised training occupation”.
The so-called exclusivity principle states that in-company vocational training for young people under 18 years of age may take place only in government-recognised training occupations. The Vocational Training Act defines the requirements that must be met by such a training occupation. It stipulates that initial vocational education and training has to provide the capabilities, knowledge and skills (vocational capacity) necessary for the exercise of a qualified vocational activity in a changing working environment in a well regulated course of training. It also has to make possible the acquisition of the occupational experience required (article 1, paragraph 3 BBiG). This ensures binding quality standards for the vocational training of young people in the spirit of protection of minors.
Training regulations are issued for recognised training occupations by the relevant ministry, usually the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), in agreement with the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). They contain minimum standards for the in-company part of initial vocational education and training.
There are currently (as of 1 August 2013) 331 officially recognised training occupations to choose from. In addition, there are a number of occupations in Germany that are regulated by other legislation outside the scope of the Vocational Training Act. By way of example, the health professions are regulated not by the Vocational Training Act but by the Nursing Act (KrPflG). Historical roots of the “classification” of in-company training are already to be found in the Middle Ages. Individual craft and trade associations, the guilds, regulated apprenticeships for their enterprises. A systematic form of training in enterprise and school, the so-called master craftsmen training, developed out of those occupational regulations. The foundations for our modern training regulations were laid at the beginning of the 20th century: As the process of industrialization began, the industries adopted the concept of craft training and adapted it to their needs. In order to arrive at uniform standards of training, they regulated vocational training through the establishment of a mandatory catalogue of skills and knowledge and guidelines for the duration of the training. This removed both regional differences and differences resulting from the kind and size of enterprises.
Gradually “national standards” were created for the qualification of skilled workers. This step was not taken in other industrialized countries which also have a history of crafts training. Its establishment in law, however, was delayed for a very long time. A bill introduced in 1919 was thwarted by irreconcilable contradictions between employers and the trade unions, which insisted on having a voice in decision-making. It was not until after the Second World War, in 1953, that vocational training in the crafts was regulated under the Crafts Statutes (Gesetz zur Ordnung des Handwerks – HwO). In 1969 the Grand Coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats finally adopted a law that had no counterpart anywhere in the world, on the cooperation of employers, trade unions, Chambers and public authorities to promote vocational qualification for the majority of the population: the Vocational Training Act (BBiG). The principle of equal participation was also adhered to in the amended Vocational Training Act of 2005.
Vocational schools also look back on a long tradition that can be traced back to the 16th and 17th century. In those days reading, writing and arithmetic were taught in religious and commercial “Sunday schools”. Although compulsory vocational school instruction was not finally introduced until 1938, the public authorities could already oblige enterprises to send their apprentices to vocational school more than a hundred years ago.
The training regulations have a central role in the Vocational Training Act. They form the framework for regulating the occupations.
A training regulation regulates (article 5 paragraph 1 BBiG)
These provisions describe the minimum requirements for a modern course of training. They define the standards, i.e. the currently indispensable skills, knowledge and capabilities of a qualified specialist, as well the scope of his or her practical activity in order to be able to integrate additional qualifications as well as hitherto unforeseeable future developments in education and training.
The openness of training in the dual system to new developments and different training possibilities is an essential precondition for the readiness of the enterprises to provide training for the new generation and at the same time for the occupational flexibility of employees. The Vocational Training Act is open for further developments in the dual system. Since the amended Vocational Training Act (BBiG) came into force on 1 April 2005, trainees have been able to take limited segments of their vocational training abroad. The period spent abroad is treated legally as part of the vocational training as long as it serves the purpose of the course of training and does not exceed a quarter of the duration of the training as stipulated in the training regulation.
Under the terms of the Act, the training regulations can also provide for the acquisition of supplementary qualifications. These complement the trainee’s vocational capacity and expand the skills, knowledge and capabilities referred to in the description of the training occupation. In the final examination, the supplementary qualifications are examined and certified separately.
Parallel to in-company training, part-time vocational school instruction is provided under the authority of the federal states in accordance with the division of responsibilities set forth in the Basic Law. The framework training curricula in the training regulations for the companies are coordinated with the corresponding framework curricula for vocational schools, so that in-company training and vocational school education complement one another.
The framework training curricula in the training regulations for the companies are coordinated with the corresponding framework curricula for vocational schools, so that in-company training and vocational school education complement one another.