BIBB REPORT Edition 20/13
An investigation of external examination candidates
How do younger adults obtain a vocational education and training qualification via the second-chance route?
Daniel Schreiber, Katrin Gutschow
The completion of a second-chance vocational education and training qualification provides unskilled and semi-skilled members of the working population with a renewed opportunity to achieve a sustained increase in their employability on the labour market. One way of achieving a VET qualification at a later stage is via the so-called external examination. This makes it possible for unskilled and semi-skilled persons to take part in the regular final examination. External candidates normally use preparatory measures as a retrospective means of acquiring any knowledge and competences that they may be lacking for the final examination. Participation represents a major challenge from the point of view of external candidates, since the theoretical contents of training are examined alongside practical skills. The present issue of the BIBB REPORT explains how external candidates prepare for the final examination and identifies areas where specific action is required.(01)
Acquiring a vocational education and training qualification via the external examination
The external examination provided for in the Vocational Training Act (BBiG) or the Crafts and Trades Regulation Code (HwO) offers a second chance to acquire a vocational education and training qualification. Examination candidates who are not admitted to the final examination via the route of a regulated company-based course of training accompanied by attendance at a vocational school are referred to as external candidates. External candidates acquire their vocational competences in practice without having completed relevant training for their occupational activities.
The external examination is an admission procedure aimed at facilitating participation in the regular final examination, not a separate examination for a particular target group. The admission procedure is conducted by the competent bodies, usually the chambers. Requirements for participation in the final examination are identified within the scope of this procedure. The external examination is regulated pursuant to § 45 Paragraph 2 of the Vocational Training Act (BBiG) and § 37 Paragraph 2 of the Crafts and Trades Regulation Code (HwO).
In order to acquire a vocational education and training qualification via the second-chance route of the external examination, external candidates face the particular challenge of passing an examination that his been designed for persons who have completed a regulated course of training.
A comparison between the routes taken to the final examination by external candidates and apprentices reveals structural differences. Apprentices complete their training at companies and vocational schools within a content and time structure of two, three or three and a half years as stipulated by the relevant regulations. The aims of the company-based element of training are the acquisition of practically related competences and the gathering of occupational experience. The vocational school-based part of the training reflects on company practice and imparts theoretical content. The purpose of examinations is to ascertain whether a candidate has acquired the necessary competences at the company and vocational school for the qualified exercising of the occupation. The relevant training regulations constitute the basis of the examination (§ 38 BBiG).
By way of contrast, external candidates generally acquire their occupational competences in company practice, i.e. in a non-formal and informal manner rather than in a didactically structured environment. Such a process does not include a reflection on company-based learning and the imparting of theoretical content by trainers or vocational school teachers. For this reason, the acquisition of a vocational training qualification by external candidates resembles, in structural terms, the obtaining of an advanced training qualification. Advanced training regulations govern only admission to an examination and do not require participation in training provision.
Courses are offered to prepare external candidates for the final
examination. These courses aim to impart training contents that extend
beyond the gathering of occupational experience and are relevant to the
examination. These are mainly theoretical contents imparted at
vocational schools within the scope of regular training, such as the
examination area of "Business and social studies", but also include
parts of company-based training directed at the development of cognitive
knowledge and skills. In addition to this, participants are
familiarised with typical task formats and assignments used in the final
examination. These preparatory courses are attended following the
granting of admission to the final examination by the competent bodies.
Training providers offer a relevant range of preparatory measures to
support external candidates as they seek to achieve a vocational
education and training qualification.
The external examination in figures
In 2010, 25,962 persons were admitted to the final examination on the basis of evidence of occupational experience (§ 45, Paragraph 2 BBiG). The number of external candidates with occupational experience as a proportion of all examination candidates in 2010 was 4.5%. Breaking the figures down into training sectors shows that the sector with the highest proportion of external candidates was home economics, wher the figure was 16%. The sectors of agriculture (8.9%) and industry and commerce (6.0%) also display a high proportion of examination candidates admitted via the external examination. In the craft sector, only 1% of candidates for the final examination were external. External examination candidates play only a minor role in the public sector (2%). Virtually no external candidates are admitted to the final examination in the liberal professions (< 1%).
Persons admitted to the final examination within the scope of a full-time school-based measure are also recorded as external examination candidates in the official statistics. (Pursuant to § 43 Paragraph 2 BBiG, they are admitted to the final examination if the training course they have completed corresponds to vocational education and training in a recognised training occupation in terms of content, systematic approach and scope and exhibits an appropriate practical component. A total of 9,987 persons completing full-time school-based training courses were admitted to the final examination in 2010. Admission via the provisions of § 43 Paragraph 2 BBiG is most common in the home economics, where about one third of admissions take place via this route.
Younger adults are a particular target group
The following remarks will place a particular emphasis on the target group of younger adults. Younger adults, i.e persons aged up to and including 34 (see BRAUN 2012), are particularly interested in obtaining a vocational education and training qualification via the second-chance route because of the long phase of active working life they have ahead. The significance of a formal qualification is demonstrated by the fact that the unemployment rate of unskilled and semi-skilled persons is three times higher than that of persons who have completed vocational education and training (cf. BRAUN et al. 2012, p. 1). In 2009, the proportion of the 20-34 age group with no training qualification was over 15%, a figure which rose to as much as 32% amongst younger adults with a lower secondary school leaving qualification (cf. BIBB Data Report 2012 pp. 278f.). Poor opportunities on the labour market or failure to complete training may be the reasons for the high proportion of unskilled and semi-skilled workers in this age group. The assumption may be made that a vocational qualification increases employability, particularly on external labour markets.
The "Innovation in Continuing Training Working Group" called for "semi-skilled and unskilled young people, which include a large proportion of young people from a migrant background", to be given a "second chance" to acquire a vocational education and training qualification" (BMBF 2007, p. 22).
Research project "Recognition of vocational competences"
The BIBB Research Project "Recognition of vocational competences taking admission to final examination within the scope of the regulations governing external candidates as an example" investigated the extent to which vocational competences are recognised and credited within the context of the external examination. A survey of so-called external candidates and the competent bodies that decide upon admission to the examination was conducted for this purpose in 2010 and 2011. For more detailed information on the sample, see SCHREIBER et. al. 2012, pp. 13ff.
The main issues investigated within the scope of the research project were who actually uses the external examination, the prior learning that the external candidates bring to the process, what their experiences of the admission procedure are, how external candidates demonstrate their suitability to take part in the final examination and how they prepare for the examination.
Further information on the research project is available at: www.bibb.de/de/wlk52121.htm
This BIBB REPORT presents who takes part in preparatory measures prior
to the external examination and the funding requirements that exist with
regard to preparation for the examination. The Vocational Education and
Training Statistics contain only limited information on persons who
make use of the external examination. For this reason, the results of
the BIBB research project "Recognition of vocational competences taking
admission to final examination within the scope of the regulations
governing external candidates as an example" will serve as a basis for
demonstrating the influence of various factors on participation in
preparatory measures". The present report will take only take account of
external examination candidates surveyed who go through the admission
process and pass the final examination, thus enabling them to provide a
final evaluation of the procedure. In addition, consideration will only
be accorded to external candidates who have provided information as to
their age and the occupation to which they aspire, thus enabling them to
be aligned to the respective training sectors. The results presented
are based on a sample of 516 survey participants.
The article will provide a more precise depiction of three main characteristics of the external candidates:
- gender-specific differences with regard to participation in courses to prepare for the examination,
- differences in respect of the highest school leaving qualification achieved by the external candidates and
- the training sector in which the external candidates wish to sit the examination.
Increasing numbers of men are making use of the external examination. In the reference year of 2010, the proportion of men was approximately 56% as compared to approximately 44% for women. For this reason, the question of whether women and men take equal advantage of preparatory courses will be an object of investigation.
The question of whether external candidates with a low educational level make more use of preparatory measures whilst those with a higher educational level tend to prepare for the examination in a more self-directed manner is a further important issue with regard to preparation for the examination.
External candidates in the various training sectors achieve varying degrees of success in the examinations. In the training sector of industry and commerce, which exhibits the largest proportion of external participants, the examination success achieved by external candidates is lower than that of regular trainees, whereas the examination success of external candidates in the craft and in agriculture is actually higher than the trainee pass rate. Against this background, the issue of the correlation between training sector and participation in a preparatory course will be addressed.
A consideration of participation in courses to prepare for the examination closes an important gap in knowledge within the debate surrounding the obtaining of vocational qualifications via the second-chance route within the scope of the external examination. No data was previously available on the participation or non-participation of external candidates. Such an analysis enables recommendations to be formulated that may be able to resolve structural problems in preparation for the final examination.
Our first objective is to describe the structure of the external candidates surveyed in more detail.
Younger adults have a high educational level
The response rate of young adults aged up to 34 (48%) was approximately the same as that of older adults aged 35 and upwards (52%), meaning that two age groups of around the same size were available. The proportion of men and women in the group of young adults is balanced at 50% each. In the case of the older adults, the proportion of women is greater than the proportion of men, the figures being 58% and 42% respectively.
The educational level of the external candidates surveyed, identified as the highest school leaving qualification obtained, can be considered as high. 43% of respondents are in possession of a higher education entrance qualification. About one third have the intermediate secondary school leaving certificate, whereas the highest qualification for 23% is the lower secondary school leaving certificate.(02) The educational level of the younger adults is a step higher compared to the older adults. The proportion of younger adults with a higher education entrance qualification is 49%, higher than the corresponding figure of 38% for the older adults. The proportion of younger adults with a lower secondary school leaving certificate is also lower than the proportion of lower secondary school leavers in the group of older adults, the figures being 17% and 28% respectively (cf. Figure 1).
Most external candidates surveyed as part of the investigation, 70 percent, are from the industry and commerce sector. 13% of young adults aspire to occupations in agriculture and 11% to a craft trade. The public sector and the sector of home economics play a lesser role in the survey. Only 3 and 4 percent respectively of the younger adults wished to enter occupations in these two sectors. The liberal professions were the sector exhibiting the lowest level of external candidates participating in the survey. In overall terms, the distribution of external candidates equates to the distribution of all examination candidates.
Targeted preparation for the final examination is usually organised in the form of a course conducted by training providers. Besides preparatory courses, second chance training measures can also assist with participation in a final examination. Such measures are offered to the unemployed in particular and are designed as full-time measures which extend over a number of months and include a company-based element.
Two thirds of respondents to the survey had taken part in a preparatory measure. One third of external candidates did not use preparatory measures leading up to the final examination.
Of all external candidates surveyed, 53% took part in preparatory courses. 8% of respondents attended extensive measures with company-based elements, so-called second chance training courses. Alternative forms of preparation such as distance learning and attendance of vocational school were of minor importance, only 4% of external candidates participating.
The rate of participation for younger adults was 59%, significantly below the proportion of 70% recorded for older adults. A glance at the residuals shows that the differences are statistically relevant.(03) The results thus indicate that a fundamental difference exists between the two age groups (see Figure 2). It is not the intention at this point to look at the causes of the differences in greater detail. The aim is to focus on whether certain characteristics of the younger adults exert an influence on participation in preparatory measures. We will examine below if gender-specific differences, school leaving qualifications or the training sector in which the examination is taken play a role in terms of participation in preparatory measures.
Younger men and women are approximately equally likely to take part in preparatory measures
As already mentioned, more men than women take part in the external examination. Although this is an initial indicator of structural differences, it does not immediately answer the question of whether women and men exhibit differences with regard to participation in preparatory courses within the scope of the external examination.
The results of the Adult Education Survey (AES) (BILGER/ROSENBLADT 2011, p. 33) showed that men and women participated in continuing training to approximately the same degree in 2010, the figures being 43% and 42% respectively. A consideration of the younger continuing training participants shows that women aged between 18 and 24 (participation rate 38%) and women in the 25 to 34 age group (39%) are slightly less likely to take part in continuing training compared to their male counterparts in the same age categories (42% and 43% respectively) (BMBF 2012, p. 70).
The fact that preparatory measures are usually organised and carried out in the same way as continuing training courses raises the question of whether there are gender-specific participation rates in the case of preparatory courses.
With regard to the gender-specific differentiation of younger adults, we see that, although younger women and men are equally represented amongst the external candidates surveyed, the participation rate of younger women (63%) is higher than that of younger men (55%). At first glance, this suggests that, in contrast to participation in continuing training, women are more likely to take advantage of preparatory courses. Nevertheless, no significant differences are displayed in terms of the gender-specific comparison. A consideration of the residuals reveals no over-representation or under-representation (cf. Abbildung 3). This means that, statistically speaking, gender does not exert any influence on participation in preparatory courses. This more frequent participation by women may therefore be viewed as coincidental and does not indicate fundamental structural male participation problems.
Younger adults with lower educational qualifications are more likely to take part
With regard to preparation for the examination, the question arises as to whether persons with higher school leaving qualifications are equally likely to take part in a preparatory measure as persons with a lower school leaving qualification. The assumption would be that external candidates with higher school leaving qualifications are in a position to prepare for the examination in an independent manner and would prefer self-directed learning to a time-consuming preparation measure. External candidates with a lower school leaving qualification, on the other hand, are probably more dependent on third-party support within the scope of preparatory measures.
Almost half of the younger adults stated that they were in possession of a higher education entrance qualification. About one third had achieved the intermediate secondary school leaving certificate, and 17% of those surveyed stated that the lower secondary school leaving certificate was their highest qualification.
External candidates who were lower secondary school leavers (76%) were more likely to take part in preparatory measures than external candidates with a higher education entrance qualification (56%) and candidates in possession of the intermediate secondary school leaving certificate (54%). The differences in participation with regard to educational level are statistically significant. Young adults with the lower secondary school leaving certificate are particularly significantly under-represented in respect of participation. As assumed, external candidates with a higher education entrance qualification and candidates in possession of the intermediate secondary school leaving certificate tend to be less likely to prepare for the final examination by attending preparatory measures (see Figure 4).
The results indicate a greater need for targeted preparation for the
final examination in the case of external candidates with a lower school
leaving qualification. This is once again underlined by the fact that
respondents with the lower secondary school leaving certificate had more
problems in recommencing learning than respondents with the
intermediate secondary school leaving qualification or a higher
education entrance qualification. 63% of the younger adults with a lower
secondary school leaving certificate were unaccustomed to learning.
Recommencing learning was a problem for precisely half of the
intermediate secondary school leavers. Only 26% of external candidates
with a higher education entrance qualification perceived problems in
A correlation with school leaving qualifications can also be observed with regard to expectations of examination success. 60% of younger adults who were lower secondary school leavers were uncertain of passing the final examination. This figure fell to 46% for respondents with the intermediate secondary school leaving certificates, and only 29% of candidates with a higher education entrance qualification feared failure in the examination.
The results with regard to school leaving qualification show a
correlation between individual educational level and participation in
preparatory courses. Respondents with the lower secondary school leaving
certificate in particular were more likely to take part in preparatory
measures than those with higher school leaving qualifications. The
reason for this may be supposed to be a less pronounced ability for
self-directed learning, something which the assessments regarding
recommencement of learning indicate. Confidence in expected success in
the examination was also less marked in lower secondary school leavers.
Examination success and participation structures in the individual training sectors
Examination success is an important indicator within the context of the external examination. This shows whether external candidates successfully admitted to the final examination actually go on to pass. A comparison between the examination success achieved by external candidates and regular trainees reveals clear differences, especially if we consider the respective training sectors in which admission takes place and the examination is sat.
External candidates do less well in the examination than regular trainees in overall terms. Whereas 89.4% of the latter pass the examination, the figure for the former is only 79.6% (BIBB Data Report 2012, pp. 181 and 183). This indicates that, comparatively speaking, external candidates experience greater difficulties with the examination than trainees. This once again highlights the significance of targeted preparation for the examination. Differentiated consideration needs to be accorded, however, to the training sector in which the external candidates take the examination. There is a considerable variation in the pass rate across the various sectors.
In the industry and commerce sector, the largest sector in quantitative terms, 78.3% of external candidates pass the examination. This is much lower than the success rate of 90.9% achieved by the trainees. Quantitatively speaking, far fewer external candidates seek a vocational qualification via the external examination in the sectors of the crafts, agriculture and home economics than in the sector of industry and commerce. In terms of the examination pass rate, however, external candidates in these sectors perform either as well or better compared to the regular trainees. In the crafts sector, the examination pass rate for external candidates (86.3 %) is even slightly higher than that achieved by the trainees (85%). External candidates in the sector of agriculture perform discernibly better than trainees, the figures here being 89.2% and 83.2% respectively. Although the results of external candidates in home economics are not quite as good, the examination pass rate is very high compared to other training sectors. In quantitative terms, the external examination plays only a minor role in the public sector and in the liberal professions (ibid.).
Against this background, we may suppose that there is a correlation between the examination success rates and participation in preparatory measures. Were this to be the case, more young adults would need to take part in preparatory courses in the training sectors where the examination pass rate for external candidates is higher than that of the regular trainees.
In specific terms, this would mean that external candidates seeking to sit a final examination in the training sector of industry and commerce are less likely to take part in preparatory measures than external candidates in the sectors of home economics and the crafts. In the latter sectors, the difference between the success rate of external candidates and trainees is not as large as in the sector of industry and commerce. The highest level of participation in preparatory courses would therefore need to occur in the sector of agriculture.
These assumptions are confirmed by the results of the survey.(04) The rate of participation in the sector of industry and commerce is 53%, below the average of 59%. By way of contrast, 82% of younger external candidates took part in preparatory measures in the sector of agriculture. Two thirds of external candidates took part in courses in the crafts and in the home economics sector. The results regarding the participation of younger adults in preparatory measures also differ significantly in statistical terms according to training sectors. It is true that younger adults in the sector of industry and commerce are under-represented. By way of contrast, participants in the sector of agriculture are over-represented. No significant over-representation or under-representation is revealed in the home economics sector. The crafts, which display a success rate that is nearly as high for external candidates as for trainees, are the only sector in which no significantly higher rate of participation can be observed (see Figure 6).
Although other factors such as the size of the training sector or the structure of provision in the respective training sector could play a role in preparation for the examination, the finding with regard to training sectors is clear. Success rates that are comparatively lower are recorded in areas where participation in preparatory measures is low.
In order to discover how preparation for the final examination can be improved, a more detailed consideration should be undertaken of external candidates from the sectors of industry and commerce and agriculture, for whom over-representation and under-representation respectively have been demonstrated with regard to participation. Proposals for improvement regarding examination preparation made by external candidates from both sectors can serve as a basis here.
The proposal for improvement most frequently put forward by the external candidates in the sectors of industry and commerce and agriculture is a wish for special courses to deepen professional knowledge. This was suggested by a total of 55% of respondents. The necessity of special course provision is independent of the training sector. The calls for more financial support made by one third of the external candidates also extend across the respective training sectors.
Significant differences can be ascertained with regard to extra company
support in preparation (p = .000) and release from work duties granted
by the company prior to the examination (p = .011). External candidates
in the sector of industry and commerce are over-represented with regard
to the call for company support (3.1) and with regard to the issue of
more release from work duties (2.4). Numerically speaking, a quarter of
external candidates call for more company support and a third for
release from work duties prior to the examination. The wish for greater
release from work duties prior to the final examination suggests that
some of the younger adults wish to prepare more extensively for the
examination and need more time than the company is willing to grant for
Preparation for the final examination is of outstanding significance
within the scope of the external examination. Targeted preparation
enables the external candidates to acquire competences such as
theoretical training contents and knowledge relevant to the examination
that they have not gathered within the scope of their occupational
The research results emerging from the project "Recognition of vocational competences within the context of the external examination" close a gap in knowledge with regard to the obtaining of vocational qualifications via the second-chance route within the scope of the external examination. Two thirds of the external candidates who responded to the survey took part in a preparatory measure. About one third of external candidates managed without attending a preparatory measure and prepared independently for the final examination. Younger adults, who often form the focus of educational policy debate, are significantly less likely to participate in preparatory measures than older adults. There is no fundamental difference between the participation behaviour of younger women and men.
We have further been able to show that younger adults with a low educational level have a higher need for targeted preparation in the form of measures than external candidates with a higher educational level. The group of lower secondary school leavers in particular reveal a comparatively greater problem with the recommencement of structured learning. This group also exhibits the highest fear of not passing the examination.
n overall terms, younger adults complain about the provision of preparatory courses and the low level of financial support. Strong differences with regard to participation can be observed in the training sectors of industry and commerce and agriculture. A consideration of the training sector of industry and commerce also reveals, however, that participation in a preparatory course is not the only factor that plays an important role in preparation for the examination. Some of the younger external candidates in this sector call for more support from the companies in preparing for the external examination.
Against the background of these results, the following recommendations can be submitted to the fields of vocational education and training policy and practice with regard to examination preparation within the scope of the external examination.
- Younger adults with a low school leaving qualification require particular attention as they prepare for the examination. Providers of preparatory courses should adjust to meet the requirements of less able learners or participants who are unaccustomed to learning.
- Within this context, providers should take account of lower ability and high-ability participants in the way they design their courses and structure such courses in an appropriate manner didactically.
- More preparation courses should be offered in order to ensure successful participation in the final examination by younger adults. This especially applies to the sector of industry and commerce.
- Attention should be drawn to the significance of company support in the sector of industry and commerce in particular. Targeted support in agreement with the companies represents an important way of supplementing the preparatory courses.
The present findings provide starting points for future research and
development projects and further studies. The main issue to be
identified is the nature of the structure of provision of preparatory
courses and other preparatory measures such as second chance training
measures in the regions. Is nationwide provision in place that enables
all external candidates to prepare for the final examination in a
targeted manner or is provision restricted to the major metropolitan
population areas and a small number of occupations only?
Investigations also need to take place as to which alternative forms of examination preparation can be created, such as within a company context. The present respondents believe that a high degree of commitment and stronger involvement in preparation by the companies would be useful. The task here would be to raise the awareness of companies and employees of the opportunity to obtain a vocational qualification via the second-chance route and support the process of certification-oriented learning.
- 1 We would like to thank our colleague Julia Gei for her assistance in preparing the BIBB REPORT.
- 2 Respondents without a school leaving certificate were also included in this category. They make up only a very small proportion of those surveyed at under one percent. In the interests of simplicity, the following remarks will use the terms "lower secondary school certificate" and "lower secondary school leavers".
- 3 The analysis uses standardised and corrected residuals. The rule is that significant under-representation exists if a value of -1.96 is reached and that a value of 1.96 indicates over-representation.
- 4 The following remarks will only consider the training sectors which are of quantitative significance for the external examination. Due to the low number of liberal profession and public sector respondents in the group of younger adults, no further account of these sectors will be taken in the analysis.
Translations of the titles, authorship details and publication references of German language literature are intended merely as an indication of the contents of these works and of the nature of the source and do not necessarily suggest that these works are available in English.
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BIBB-REPORT, Heft 17 (Last updated 01.02.2012)
- Hecker, Ursula:
Ein nachgeholter Berufsabschluss lohnt sich allemal - Externenprüfung in der Praxis [Obtaining a vocational training qualification via the second-chance route is always worthwhile - external examination in practice].
In: Berufsbildung in Wissenschaft und Praxis [Vocational Training in Research and Practice] 23 (1994) 6, S. 27-33
- Schreiber, Daniel u.a.:
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Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung [Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training], Bonn 2012 (Last updated 15.07.2012)
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