Vocational training, the public task - On the adoption of the Vocational Training Act 40 years ago

Prof. Dr. Volkmar Herkner

Forty years ago, on 1 September 1969, the Vocational Training Act went into force, creating the legal foundation for today's Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB). The years prior to this were marked by debates on legislating vocational education and training. The Vocational Training Act is universally accepted today. Back then however virtually no one was satisfied with it. The following report reconstructs the ideas and interests that played a crucial role in the legislation passed in 1969.

A law marks its 40th anniversary

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The Vocational Training Act is so well-known to people involved with vocational education and training today that hardly anyone ever asks about how it came about. However, it is precisely this aspect of the Vocational Training Act that is remarkable - namely this law was initially considered anything but a big success.

Large parts of the Vocational Training Act are still in effect today. More importantly, the law with all its subsequent amendments is more accepted today than it was 40 years ago. What were the ideas and impetus at work that led to this law? A look back at the origins of the Vocational Training Act creates an awareness of what we currently practice as a matter of course. Today, the Vocational Training Act is applied without reservation by nearly all players in the vocational training scene. It also provides the foundation for the work of the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training.

No one would question the value of this piece of legislation today, and erstwhile opponents to the establishment of a legal framework apply it just as much as those persons for whom in 1969 the law did not go far enough. Today, even the research field and academia agree that the passage of the Vocational Training Act and thus the year 1969 represent the start of a major new chapter - and perhaps even the most significant turning point - in the history of vocational education and training in Germany (see for example Greinert 2000, p. 45 f.).

The Vocational Training Act has been in force for 40 years now - a respectable period of time, it would seem. However, this is still considerably shorter than the time spent struggling to bring it about. Trade unions were already calling for legislation on apprenticeship training back in 1919. It took 50 years for these calls to become reality. During this time, attempts were made to draft legislation during the Weimar Republic in the late 1920s and early 1930s, such as when Ministerial Councillor Ernst Schindler from the Ministry of Trade in Berlin submitted a ministry draft to the Reichstag in 1927. Eight years later, in 1935, the National Socialists (Nazis) began championing the passage of such a law. The Academy for German Law was tasked with drafting corresponding legislation and subsequently submitted a bill in 1942. 01

The fact that it was more than 20 years after the end of World War II before a standardised legal framework for vocational education and training was established does not mean that there were no such regulations prior to that time. The Crafts and Trade Code - which was overhauled in 1965 - already contained extensive provisions. Consequently, in the discussions and debates that took place during the 1960s, the fact that each sector of the economy had different features to be taken into consideration constituted an important argument against an all-inclusive solution. It was widely felt that what is good for the crafts and skilled trades is not necessarily applicable to other sectors. Trade and industry were considered to be too heterogeneous for standardised vocational training. After all, the argument went, trade and industry had been recruiting young skilled workers on their own for centuries - as illustrated by the example of the guild system during the Middle Ages. Government had no business getting involved in vocational training, it was said.

Societal trends the 1960s

The post-war era comes to an end and the post-war crisis emerges

The first signs of a crisis emerged during the early 1960s, when the Federal Republic was still young. The 1950s were the years of Germany's Economic Miracle. However economic growth began to slow starting in 1959. The years 1966/67 experienced a recession. On the political stage, the 1960s saw the resignation of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (CDU) in 1963 - marking the end of the immediate post-war era - and then the resignation of his successor Chancellor Ludwig Ehrhardt (CDU) in 1966 who was still celebrated as the "father of the German Economic Miracle". Foreign policy during these years was dominated by the Cold War. The Berlin and Cuba crises gave rise to the spectre of a third world war in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Soviet Union's successes (in late 1957 and in April 1961) in the "race to conquer space" fuelled this feeling in the West, which climaxed with the "Sputnik shock". In 1962, the Der Spiegel news magazine reported that the German armed forces had only "limited defence readiness". The Spiegel Affair, as it became known, also had a negative effect on many Germans' sense of security and contributed to a feeling of nervousness throughout the country.

The construction of the Berlin Wall on 13 August 1961 made Germans even more conscious of the fact that their country was divided. By building the Wall, the GDR's government put a stop to the flow of well-trained skilled workers to Western Germany. This exacerbated the shortage of labour that had already led to the recruitment of a growing number of immigrants from southern Europe starting in the late 1950s.

The country's social cohesion was additionally put to a hard test by leanings toward restoring the old order. More and more people were learning that a number of (converted) former Nazis held positions of leadership in the still young Federal Republic - as judges, university professors, and teachers - with some even holding high political office. Young people in particular were up in arms over this and asked critical questions about their own fathers' role during the Nazi years. Members of the older generations often countered by saying," The past is past" and "not everything was bad during the Third Reich". The Auschwitz trials (1963-1966) and the sentences handed down in these trials - which many sharply criticised as being too mild - dominated the public debate.

The education and vocational training backdrop of the 1960s

In addition to these tendencies, the 1960s were also marked by broad discussion about Germany's education system. The book "The German Education Catastrophe" by Georg Picht which was published in 1964 is generally considered to have triggered this debate. For many, the "Sputnik shock" was already a sign that the education system had failed miserably. Many felt that the Soviet Union's successes cast an unsparing light on the educational deficits in Western countries, particularly in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. Picht's book called the entire education system into question. The main points of criticism were the comparatively small number of highly educated persons and the extreme inequality of opportunity. "Underserved" and "hard-to-reach" parts of society faced enormous difficulties in gaining access to higher education.

In the wake of these developments, student unrest spread during the second half of the 1960s. Major events in this connection were the death of Benno Ohnesorg on 2 June 1967 and the attempt to kill student leader Rudi Dutschke on 11 April 1968. In Germany, the student movement of 1967/68 originated primarily at the Free University of Berlin and the University of Frankfurt and had many causes and manifestations. Protests were aimed not only at inadequate conditions for students at universities and against the inequality in access to education but also against conservatism in numerous other areas of society. The slogan "Under the robes, the musty smell of a thousand years" (in reference to the Third Reich which Nazi propagandists also called the "1,000-year Reich") stands for the efforts aimed at reform and against any restoration of the old order. May 1968 saw the rise of a major protest movement against the state of emergency imposed by the German Bundestag and, in the foreign policy field, against the USA's war in Vietnam. The "extra-parliamentary opposition" emerged in the wake of the student protest movement. However, the movement began to radicalise dangerously with arson attacks on department stores in Frankfurt am Main and the occupation of the Springer publishing house in West Berlin in April 1968; a small number of these protestors later slid into terrorism (Red Army Fraction).

The student movement did not however succeed in gaining the support of workers or broader strata in the German population, or, in the jargon of the time: It did not succeed in standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them. It remained largely isolated. There was some unrest among apprentices but it fell far short of achieving the force of the student movement and did not extend beyond timid attempts.02

The political changes in the country's parliaments - particularly in the German Bundestag - were of crucial importance for education and vocational training policy. The unchallenged majority that the CDU/CSU and FDP held into the 1960s - the CDU/CSU even won an absolute majority in the German Bundestag in 1957 - began to totter. The Federal Republic had its first "grand coalition" with the CDU/CSU and SPD in 1966. The SPD then won the Bundestag election in September 1969 and formed the new government with the help of the FDP as junior partner.

Willy Brandt (SPD) was elected chancellor. However, the CDU/CSU remained the largest fraction in the Bundestag with 46 per cent of the vote. Although the student movement and the SPD's gains at the polls signalised a shift to the left, a large segment of the population opposed a fundamental political re-alignment, and socialist ideas even more so.

In light of these societal and political developments03 one can understand why legislation on vocational education and training that trade unions called for back in 1919 was put back on the political agenda in the early 1960s at the initiative of the SPD and subsequently passed at the end of the decade. The CDU/CSU lost considerable political clout at federal level during the second half of the 1960s; given that it was still a partner in the grand coalition it preferred to help pass a "moderate" law on vocational education and training while still a member of the government rather than perhaps having to later watch from the opposition bench as the SPD and FDP pass a bill that would probably be unpleasantly "tougher" for trade and industry.

The Vocational Training Act can however also be viewed in the context of other legislative activities to support employment, education and regulated occupations such as the Employment Promotion Act from 13 May 1969 and the Training Assistance Act from 26 June 1969, which went into force on 1 July 1970 and can be considered the predecessor to the Federal Training Assistance Act from 26 August 1971. Unlike with the Vocational Training Act, Germany's constitution - the Basic Law - was actually amended in May 1969 in connection with the Federal Training Assistance Act so that corresponding powers for financing vocational training could be transferred to the federal government (see Stahl 2009).

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Positions of the individual stakeholders

The debates over a vocational education (and training) law were marked by very diverse positions right from the beginning. [Translator's note: The official English designation of the "Berufsbildungsgesetz" is "Vocational Training Act" although "Vocational Education and Training Act" would be closer to the German title.] The purpose of such a law was generally called into question in economic circles, and particularly by representatives of industry and the skilled trades. Fear of change and the invoking of traditions played a major role in this connection. According to the conventional line of thinking, government should not meddle in matters that are trade and industry's business. Further, there is nothing to regulate because the vocational training system works and trade and industry themselves have over the centuries regulated the recruitment of young workers. Consequently, any intervention in the market would be unacceptable. Particularly heavy artillery was rolled out early on the propaganda front with warnings, first about a "nationalisation of vocational training" and then an alleged "Gleichschaltung" (enforced conformity) of trade and industry. This was especially effective because the notion of nationalisation was associated with the spectre of shifting closer to the GDR and "Gleichschaltung" was a political term used during the Nazi dictatorship and stood for the elimination of all opposition. The German Federation of Skilled Crafts argued that the necessary provisions had already been established with the amendment of the Crafts and Trades Code on 9 November 1965 (see Laube 1966, p. 551). Thus, the positions held by industry and the skilled trades also exhibited differences. Looking at the mood back then, a summary written two years before the Vocational Training Act was passed noted that, "Whereas industry, after having considered the pros and cons, was quite open to a new vocational training law under certain conditions, the skilled trades isolated themselves, pointing to the well-functioning Crafts and Trade Code and arguing to be exempted from the new rules" (Zekorn 1967, p. 648; see also n.a. 1963a, p. 543 f.).

By contrast, trade union views in those days assumed that vocational education and training needed at long last to be comprehensively regulated independently of trade and industry, in other words, by the state. The demands made by workers' organisations shook the foundations of established vocational training practice. These demands can be summarised in three points: Vocational training

  • must be removed from the chambers' jurisdction,
  • should be financed by all of trade and industry and
  • must be open to all German citizens. This in turn would make it necessary to set up public vocational training facilities (see, for example, Leiss 1968, p. 639).

Union newspapers in those years typically ran reports that lamented the situation of apprentices. For example, the union newspaper "Metall" noted under the headline "Rebellion of the Apprentices" in the spring of 1969:

"There is growing unrest in our vocational schools. It is no longer possible to overhear the general dissatisfaction among vocational school students. Demonstrations were held in Hamburg and Berlin to protest against totally inadequate vocational training .... On 14 March 1969, they [author's note: the apprentices] had witnesses give testimony about their day-to-day training in the presence of a 'young workers' court' comprised of young people from Hamburg. It became evident here too that apprentices are frequently subject not only to very poor training but also to chicanery and harassment that can even extend to corporal punishment.... In Essen, a working group of industrial apprentices was set up that uncovered training abuses on a virtually unimagined scale. According to the study's findings, apprentices must perform tasks that are not part of the occupation they are learning and on top of it all are slapped, beaten and kicked." (n.a. 1969a)

Numerous other interests had to be taken into account in addition to the isolated extreme positions. Looking at the individual political parties, it was clear that the CDU and CSU stood for a position that was close to trade and industry. There was a consensus, at least during the second half of the 1960s, regarding the need for a law on vocational education and training. However, these two parties felt that only the bare minimum should be regulated. Being labour-oriented, the SPD took a stance that was closer to the trade unions. It did not however go so far as to want to withdraw control over vocational training activities from the chambers and relevant bodies. Its credo was: Vocational training is a public task.

Apart from these partisan disputes, the debate focused on the highly contentious issue of how responsibility for vocational training was to be divided between the federal and state governments and concomitantly on the decision on which areas in the vocational education and training field such a law should actually regulate. The discussion revolved around who was responsible for the learning venues "company" and "school", with the states invoking, right from the start, their autonomy in matters of education and culture which would naturally also apply to vocational schools. According to the states, the federal government was not permitted to regulate in this area. Initially, the individual positions on the issue of jurisdiction were by no means clear. Many assumed that a vocational education (and training) law would have to regulate all areas, in other words, include school-based training. Correspondingly, it was frequently urged that vocational schools and school administrations should be much more involved in the discussion (see, for instance, n.a. 1964, p. 701). For example, Horst Laube demanded in mid-1966 that "The time has come for the vocational school system to clearly state which rights it expects from the new law" (1966, p. 551). "The obvious discrimination against the partner 'school' should not be re-anchored in the new law. There is however the danger that this will happen when vocational schools' participation in the discussion about the law continues to be virtually non-existent." (ibid.).

A rocky road until the new law went into force

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The efforts that ultimately, following tough battles between the political parties and stakeholders, led to the Vocational Training Act of 1969 began some ten years earlier in 1959, at the latest however in 1962: It was in January 1959 that the Confederation of German Trade Unions submitted a draft bill that initially attracted little attention. In April 1962 - more than seven years before the Vocational Training Act was finally passed - the SPD used the German Bundestag as a platform to call upon the German government submit a bill for a vocational training act. According to the SPD, this bill should bundle all the individual regulations on vocational training and cover all vocational training relationships and employment relationships of youths in all branches of employment. The new law should also "ensure that young people in cities and in rural areas have equal opportunities to undergo vocational training and earn a livelihood." (n.a. 1962). In June 1962 the SPD stepped up its demand. The German Bundestag requested the German government to submit a bill to it in six months' time. The government did not however comply with the parliament's request. In response to pressure from the SPD, Federal Minister of Economics Kurt Schmücker (CDU) declared on behalf of the federal government in early 1964 - more than a year after the "ultimatum" had run out - that the German government could not submit a bill during that legislative period because the material was too complex and there were many unresolved questions. The Confederation of German Trade Unions found this incomprehensible and pointed out that Germany's parliaments had been discussing the need for such a law for the last 45 years, that the first bill had been submitted to the German Reichstag 35 years ago, that the state of Berlin had adopted a vocational training law 14 years ago and that Germany's federal ministries had been examining the issue for the last ten years. According to the Confederation, this made it all the more difficult to understand the federal government's sudden declaration that it needed more time (n.a. 1964, p. 700).

It wasn't until two years later, in 1966, that things began to move forward. The SPD and five other members of the German Bundestag submitted a labour market adjustment bill in August 1966. Just two months later the government coalition comprised of CDU/CSU and FDP followed suit with a vocational training bill, shortly before the fall of that government. From that point on, the vocational training act was a standing issue in the Bundestag. The matter was sent to the relevant committees following its first reading in the Bundestag on 26 October 1966. Representative Hermann Diebäcker (CDU) rightly commented that with this step, the 40-year-old discussion over a law had entered the decisive stage (Hesse 1967, p. 580). However neither of the two bills covered training that is provided in, for example, full-time vocational schools. The bills dealt only with vocational training provided by trade and industry (SPD bill) or by industry (draft submitted by CDU/CSU and FDP) (see ibid., p. 581 f.).

Numerous stakeholders subsequently joined the discussion. In the end, the decisive work was done by the Vocational Training Act Sub-Committee of the German Bundestag which was chaired by Harry Liehr (SPD). This sub-committee drafted the bill in the course of 13 sessions held between October 1968 and March 1969. The committee spoke of a vocational training act and defined vocational education and training. Shortly before the bill was passed, the school sector protested that the discussion was "regrettably being held behind closed doors during the final phase" (Laube 1969, p. 537) and insisted that steps be taken to ensure that "vocational schools - being the partner responsible for the theoretical part of final examinations be involved in line with their importance" (ibid.). With the Bundestag election scheduled for September 1969 and the end of the Grand Coalition just around the corner, the bill was finally passed during a hectic final stage just before the summer break so that it could enter into force on 1 September 1969.

The following timetable outlines the most important stages along the long and difficult path leading to the passage of the Vocational Training Act (Chart 1).04





Confederation of German Trade Unions

Confederation of German Trade Unions drafts a vocational training bill.

07. bis 12.05.1959

Confederation of German Trade Unions

Confederation of German Trade Unions calls for passage of a vocational training law based on its draft.



SPD tables a motion in the Bundestag obligating the German government to submit a vocational training bill by 1 October 1962.05


Chambers and employers' associations

Chambers and employers' associations issue a joint statement warning against adopting bureaucratic/centralistic regulations to the detriment of youths who are to be trained and to the detriment of trade and industry's needs for young skilled labour and warning against "attempts at Gleichschaltung" which would negate the particularities of the training conditions in industry, trade, the crafts and skilled trades, agriculture, etc.



The Bundestag requests the federal government to submit a bill to it by 1 February 1963.

22. bis 27.10.1962

Confederation of German Trade Unions

The Confederation of German Trade Unions once again calls for the passage of a vocational training law based on its draft.



SPD directs a minor interpellation to the federal government which includes the question whether the government did not intend to carry out the resolution that the plenary session adopted by unanimous vote insofar that it wanted to draft a bill concerning only vocational training in industry.


Federal government

The federal government informs the Bundestag that it is currently unable to submit a bill.


German Federal Youth Council

The German Federal Youth Council issues a statement regarding the request to adopt a vocational training law.



The SPD fraction in the Bundestag directs a major interpellation to the federal government regarding the state of the work being done on a vocational training bill.


Federal government

In reply to the SPD's major interpellation, the federal government states "that 'given the tremendous difficulties involved in the matter' a comprehensive draft is not yet possible" (Lipsmeier 1978, p. 108 ).06



The SPD adds the creed "Vocational training - A public task" to its guiding principles for education policy matters.


German Education Commission

The first assessment on vocational education and training is issued by the German Education Commission (established in 1953) which makes it clear that vocational training is also education. The assessment itself (which includes the first-ever mention of the "dual" vocational training system - in other words, training that combines part-time vocational school with practical work experience) appears relatively unrealistic. It speaks, for example, of training companies and vocational schools' joint responsibility and of the equal partnership between these two learning venues and that the two should conduct final examinations jointly to conclude the trainee's vocational training at the end of the instruction provided at vocational school.



The Bundestag adopts a resolution to ensure that the recently amended Crafts and Trade Code does not forestall comprehensive legislation on vocational education and training.


SPD and other MPs in the Bundestag

The SPD fraction and five other MPs in the Bundestag submit a bill "on adjusting the labour market to the development of industry and technology (labour market adjustment act)".07



The government coalition of CDU/CSU and FDP introduces a bill "on regulating vocational training (vocational training act)"08  in the Bundestag.



First reading of both bills in the Bundestag. They are referred to the Committee for Labour Affairs (co-ordinating committee) and the Committee for Industry and SME Affairs. The Committee for Family and Youth Affairs and the Committee for Science, Cultural and Educational Policy, and Journalism are subsequently given an opportunity to comment on the bills in expert opinions.


Crafts Council

The Crafts Council adopts a resolution on the bills. It calls for allowing for the unique features of the crafts and skilled trades and leaving tried-and-tested competences in place.

21. bis 23.06.1967

Bundestag committees

Public hearing of the Committee for Labour Affairs and the Committee for Family and Youth Affairs in West Berlin. Incorporating schools into the law emerges as the primary difficulty. A constitutional amendment is up for discussion.

23.10.1968 bis 26.03.1969

Vocational Training Act Sub-Committee in the Bundestag

The Vocational Training Act Sub-Committee of the German Bundestag drafts a bill under the chairmanship of Harry Liehr (SPD) over the course of 13 sessions. The sub-committee speaks of a "vocational education and training law"* to indicate that - in contrast to a vocational training law - the bill covers the entire 40-to-50-year educational careers of working people. [* Translator's note: The official English designation of the "Berufsbildungsgesetz" is "Vocational Training Act" although "Vocational Education and Training Act" would be closer to the German title.]

30. und 31.01.1969

German Education Council

The German Education Council issues recommendations for improving apprenticeship training (which subsequently have no [appreciable] effect).

Februar und März 1969


First reading of the vocational training bill drafted by the sub-committee

23. und 24.04.1969


The Committee for Family and Youth Affairs and the Committee for Science, Cultural and Educational Policy, and Journalism fundamentally approve the bill.


Committee for Industry and SME Affairs in the Bundestag

The Committee for Industry and SME Affairs issues an opinion containing its fundamental approval for the bill.

06. bis 08.05.1969


Second reading of the bill


Committee for Labour Affairs in the Bundestag

The Committee for Labour Affairs releases its written report which, inter alia, explains the aim - the elimination of regulatory fragmentation in the area of vocational education and training law - and the content of the vocational training bill. It explains that the bill cannot cover vocational schools on constitutional grounds but that in-company and school-based vocational training must be linked with one another to the greatest possible extent. The report recommends that the law enter into force "as soon as possible", namely on 1 September 1969.



The Bundestag passes the Vocational Training Act during its 237th session.



The Bundesrat receives the version adopted by the Bundestag.



The Bundesrat approves the law.



The Vocational Training Act is promulgated in the Federal Law Gazette (published on 16 August 1969). 09



The Vocational Training Act enters into force.

Chart: Chronology - Steps leading to enactment of the law

"For decades," as Hans Albrecht Hesse recapitulated (1969, p. 801), "it looked as if it would not be possible to achieve a framework vocational training law in our country: The individual interests were too divergent; the differences were too great even within the government and between the departments involved." Given the continuing differences, "it is quite surprising that this piece of legislation has now come to a positive conclusion shortly before the end of the German Bundstag's Fifth Legislative Period" (ibid.). Joachim Munch (1969, p. 809) even noted that considering the time "that had passed between the first proposals and demands and the passage of the Vocational Training Act," one might be apt to "speak of a landmark event".

The discussion over the Vocational Training Act by no means ended with its almost hectic passage. Nonetheless the date 1 September 1969 marks a crucial turning point in the history of vocational education and training in Germany

The strengths and weaknesses of the Vocational Training Act of 1969

Changes brought by the law

The Vocational Training Act charted a fundamental course for the future. This included establishing uniform national regulations governing vocational training in all branches of the economy that provide in-company vocational training (industry, [some segments of] the crafts and skilled trades, trade, ...) and governing state-recognised occupations that require completion of formal vocational training ("training occupations"). Other aspects with far-reaching consequences included:
The Vocational Training Act:

  • anchored the concept of multi-stage training (basic vocational training, general skill training and special skill training);
  • enabled the recognition of periods of learning that take place outside of enterprises that provide in-company training;
  • prescribed the functional and chronological structure of vocational training and, in the process, countered the growing tendency to assign trainees tasks that were not related to their training;
  • defined the suitability of training premises;
  • established a Federal Institute for Vocational Training Research (BBF) and acknowledged vocational training research and statistics as being important areas.

The fact that the term "vocational training" was defined in the law and, for example, was clearly differentiated from the term "initial training" was of considerable importance. This might sound banal today. But other designations as well are only now gradually disappearing. For example, ten years before the Vocational Training Act was passed, a book was published with the antiquated title "On the Keeping of Apprentices in the Crafts" (Wernet 1958).

The significance and a critical appraisal of the Vocational Training Act

The Vocational Training Act of 1969 was the first federal law on vocational education and training that applied nationwide.10 It resulted in the abrogation or amendment of nine other laws and regulations.

It laid out "public responsibility" for vocational training clearly for the first time, in particular by stipulating the establishment of a vocational training research institute under public law. Societal recognition of vocational training as a public good that should not be left exclusively to the free forces in the marketplace is also reflected in the Vocational Training Act: Since the Federal Institute's Board has parity representation, employee representatives have a genuine "say" on vocational training issues. Prior to this time, institutions of this type - the German Commission for the Technical School System (DATSCH) and the Centre for In-Company Vocational Training (ABB) - were sponsored solely by employer associations. This aspect of the Vocational Training Act is what had made the willingness to seek a consensus / compromise in regulatory matters regarding vocational training a matter of course today - barring a few exceptions.11

Although hardly anyone today would say in retrospect that the decision to establish a federal institute was a mistake, there were definitely doubters regarding this question in the 1960s and early 1970s. The Frankfurt-based researcher Karl Abraham, who served as an expert at the hearing held in Berlin on 21 June 1967, pointed to the obligation universities have to conduct research. As Hans-Joachim Secom (1967, p. 648) summarised Abraham's statements: "Setting up even more special research institutes in addition to this one would be costly, inexpedient and only lead to a further fragmentation which seems scarcely acceptable already at this point in time." Reservations about a new federal institute were particularly strong at the Heinz Piest Institute for Craft Techniques at the Technical University of Hanover which - as Manfred Heckenauer and Heinz Holz later explained (1989, p. 315) - felt that "its importance would be at least threatened by the BBF".12 In the autumn of 1969, Hans-Joachim Rosenthal (1969, p. 766) - who would be elected the first president of the new federal institute not quite a year later on 21 July 1970 - responded that there would be a number of "potential tasks for this type of federal institute for vocational training research" that were not "covered by any existing institution".

Key issues such as the rights and obligations of the firms providing vocational training and of the trainees undergoing vocational training were centrally regulated - without reference to region, industry or occupation - for the first time ever by the Vocational Training Act. This law stipulates that the resultant vocational training system with its standardised training occupations and regulatory tools and their collaborative development under the organisational aegis of a central institute is the only binding system, and in the process involves the trade unions in the development of training regulations.13 Semi-skilled occupations were (finally) done away with as a result. Instead, the length of the training varies from training occupation to training occupation. They are however "training occupations" - which is of importance in connection with social policy and collective wage policy.14

Last but not least, the Vocational Training Act also gave players in the vocational training field new terminology. The term "trainee" which was the subject of many reservations at the time came into use and replaced the designation "apprentice"15 which was traditionally used in industry and is still used synonymously for "trainee" in the skilled trades today. As a result, people now speak of the "duration of training" instead of the "period of apprenticeship", or about the "first year of training" instead of the "first year of apprenticeship".

Politicians from the political parties that formed the government at the time described the Vocational Training Act as trail-blazing. Edgar Winkler, who spoke on the subject on 21 June 1967 in his capacity as an independent expert for the German Bundestag, even pointed to the law's European dimension. Winkler spoke of the enormous benefits that "conflating a complex area of law into a single piece of legislation" would bring: "It fosters a continuous comparison with training systems and practices in other countries of the European Community." (Winkler 1969, p. 709) By contrast, the research community of that time viewed the new law primarily as an codification of the status quo and was consequently less euphoric in its assessment (see, for example, Lipsmeier 1970; cf. for example Zabeck 2009, p. 679). For example, it was commented soberly that "only the practical experience of the coming years will show whether vocational training has been given a new future or if the past has been made its future" (Hesse 1969, p. 809). Joachim Münch (1969, p. 809) was also not at all certain back then "whether this law constituted a decisive turning point in the options for shaping vocational training in the FRG or whether it had simply given recent developments and future trends an appropriate foundation".

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Shortcomings in the law

The Vocational Training Act was initially unable to fulfil the many expectations placed in it. Since the players involved often had contrary conceptions, the Vocational Training Act could be no more than a compromise from the start and could not fully satisfy most of the players. The hectic final phase before the 1969 summer break certainly did not help. The primary criticism from many sides stressed that rather than cover the entire vocational training field, the new law ignored major areas - first and foremost, school-based vocational training. The legislators ultimately baulked at the conflict that would arise from amending the constitution to reassign the responsibilities of the federal and state governments - although this was certainly a point of discussion. Critics felt that not including vocational schools in the new law further reduced their importance. This also applied to final examinations which would continue to be held without the vocational schools' involvement.16

In particular, the law did not meet the trade unions' high expectations. As one critical article titled "Society's Step-Children and Orphans" (n.a. 1969b) noted:

"The apprentice from 1919, the apprentice from 1969 and the apprentice from 1970 onwards will continue to be society's step-children. The vocational training bill hammered out in Bonn provides that nearly everything remains the same. The apprentice from tomorrow will also be dependent on his employer's 'favour'. For him, there will be no public training facility, no government financing system for up-to-date vocational training and no adequate regulations for vocational school instruction."

Manfred Leiss (1969, p. 710) recapitulated in a commentary that a bill had been passed "that has to disappoint any forward-looking politician who is an expert on vocational training policy because it is geared to the past and thus blocks the important step forward into the future." Further, "Seldom has a struggle that was conducted with so much energy led to such minimal results. Bonn has completed a compulsory exercise that deserves no more than an 'unsatisfactory'."

And lastly, there was also criticism because the attempt to have the new law cover all areas of trade and industry was dropped in deference to the training traditions in the crafts and skilled trades (cf. Zabeck 2009, p. 678). As a result, the Vocational Training Act and the Crafts and Trades Code continue to be applicable side-by-side in the area of vocational training in the crafts and skilled trades.

Following the passage of the Vocational Training Act

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In light of the fact that the Vocational Training Act was largely a compromise and given the often harsh criticism that began to be expressed immediately following the passage of the bill, it is scarcely surprising that the first initiatives to amend it were launched shortly after it was passed. Trade unions and the Federal Association of Vocational School Teachers in particular spoke up quite soon.17 Although serious activities were undertaken during Willy Brandt's term as chancellor, the amendments made prior to 2005 tended to be marginal in nature. The furthest-reaching amendments were those that involved the Federal Institute for Vocational Training Research in 1976 and which, together with the Vocational Training Promotion Act which was later revoked, led to the Institute's conversion into the current Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training. Over the years, the players came to terms with the Vocational Training Act which incidentally became applicable for the still-existent GDR without any major problems with acceptance on 19 July 1990 already - before German reunification on 3 October 1990.

The fact that industry was not satisfied with the new law in 1969 can be seen from a recommendation which delayed the practical implementation of the law for a few years: Industry-related chambers recommended that firms providing in-company vocational training postdate the start of their trainees' training to prior to 1 September 1969. Employers who officially concluded their training contracts on 31 August 1969 or earlier could thus get around the new law for the duration of the respective training programme.18

Significant changes went into effect at institutional level on 1 September 1969. The Federal Institute for Vocational Training Research (BBF) was established in the spring of 1970 as the central body in which the social partners are represented. In return, the Centre for In-Company Vocational Training (ABB) which was operated solely by the employer side was dissolved because it lost one of its primary tasks - namely, the drafting of regulatory tools for industrial training occupations. To replace the ABB, the German employers' organisation for vocational training, the Kuratorium der Deutschen Wirtschaft für Berufsbildung, was founded.

The contentious points in the Vocational Training Act of 1969 returned to the spotlight early this century as political debates on an overhaul of this law began. These debates then led to the passage of the Vocational Training Reform Act of 2005 which contains an amended version of the Vocational Training Act.

Vocational Training Act


Auszüge aus dem BBiG von 1969


  • Fabritius, Barthel (1979)
    Der "Auszubildende" - 10 Jahre alt. In: Die berufsbildende Schule, 31 (1979) 9, S. 527-529
  • Greinert, Wolf-Dietrich (2000)
    Organisationsmodelle und Lernkonzepte in der beruflichen Bildung. Analytische Grundlagentexte. Baden-Baden
  • Heckenauer, Manfred; Holz, Heinz (1989)
    Berufsbildungsforschung. In: Gewerkschaftliche Bildungspolitik, 40 (1989) 11, S. 313-317
  • Herkner, Volkmar (1994)
    Reformwilligkeit und Reformfähigkeit des dualen Systems der Berufsausbildung - untersucht an der Diskussion seit den sechziger Jahren. Dresden (unveröffentlicht)
  • Herkner, Volkmar (2003)
    Deutscher Ausschuß für Technisches Schulwesen. Untersuchungen unter besonderer Berücksichtigung metalltechnischer Berufe. Hamburg
  • Hesse, Hans Albrecht (1967)
    Über die rechtliche Ordnung der Berufsausbildung. In: Die Deutsche Berufs- und Fachschule, 63 (1967) 8, S. 580-593
  • Hesse, Hans Albrecht (1969)
    Das Berufsbildungsgesetz: Eine Übersicht. In: Die Deutsche Berufs- und Fachschule, 65 (1969) 11, S. 801-809
  • Hoffmann, Ernst (1964)
    Berufsausbildungsgesetz und EWG. In: Die berufsbildende Schule, 16 (1964) 5, S. 373-375
  • Laube, Horst (1966)
    Berufsausbildungsgesetz wird vorbereitet. In: Die Deutsche Berufs- und Fachschule, 62 (1966) 7, S. 550 f.
  • Laube, Horst (1969)
    10. Deutscher Berufsschultag. In: Die Deutsche Berufs- und Fachschule, 65 (1969) 7, S. 536-538
  • Leiss, Manfred (1968)
    Forderungen zum Berufsausbildungsgesetz. Ein Tagungsbericht. In: Die Deutsche Berufs- und Fachschule, 64 (1968) 8, S. 638 f.
  • Leiss, Manfred (1969)
    Fortschritt im neuen Berufsbildungsgesetz? In: Die Deutsche Berufs- und Fachschule, 65 (1969) 9, S. 709 f.
  • Linke, Werner (1969)
    Das neue Berufsbildungsgesetz. In: Die Deutsche Berufs- und Fachschule, 65 (1969) 11, S. 825-838
  • Lipsmeier, Antonius (1970)
    Die Berufsausbildung in der Kritik. Umstrukturierung des dualen Systems unter besonderer Berücksichtigung gewerblich-technischer Berufe. In: Die Deutsche Berufs- und Fachschule, 66 (1970) 5, S. 345-368
  • Lipsmeier, Antonius (1978)
    Organisation und Lernorte der Berufsausbildung. München
  • Müller-Oldenburg, Rudolf (1971)
    Kritische Stimmen zum Berufsbildungsgesetz. In: Die berufsbildende Schule, 23 (1971) 1, S. 63-72
  • Münch, Joachim (1969)
    Das Berufsbildungsgesetz in historischer und berufspädagogischer Perspektive. In: Die Deutsche Berufs- und Fachschule, 65 (1969) 11, S. 809-825
  • o. V. (1962)
    Berufsausbildungsgesetz. In: Die Deutsche Berufs- und Fachschule, 58 (1962) 6, S. 475
  • o. V. (1963a)
    Die Diskussion um ein Berufsausbildungsgesetz. In: Die Deutsche Berufs- und Fachschule, 59 (1963) 7, S. 541-544
  • o. V. (1963b)
    Abschaffung des Begriffs "Anlernberuf". In: Die Deutsche Berufs- und Fachschule, 59 (1963) 4, S. 306 f.
  • o. V. (1964)
    Bundestag und Berufsausbildungsgesetz. In: Die Deutsche Berufs- und Fachschule, 60 (1964) 9, S. 700 f.
  • o. V. (1969a)
    Rebellion der Stifte. In: Metall, 21 (01.04.1969) 7, S. 2
  • o. V. (1969b)
    Stief- und Waisenkinder der Gesellschaft. In: Metall, 21 (10.06.1969) 12, S. 5
  • Rosenthal, Hans-Joachim (1969)
    Strukturmuster des beruflichen Schul- und Ausbildungswesens morgen und übermorgen. In: Die berufsbildende Schule, 21 (1969) 11, S. 760-766
  • Stahl, Benjamin (2009)
    Vor 40 Jahren .: Unterstützung für Studenten. In: Das Parlament, 59 (22.06.2009) 26, S. 16
  • Wernet, Wilhelm (1958)
    Über Lehrlingshaltung im Handwerk. Beiträge zur Handwerksforschung, Band 2, Münster/Westfalen
  • Winkler, Edgar (1969)
    Das Berufsbildungsgesetz aus europäischer Sicht. In: Die Deutsche Berufs- und Fachschule, 65 (1969) 9, S. 707-709
  • Zabeck, Jürgen (2009)
    Geschichte der Berufserziehung und ihrer Theorie. Paderborn
  • Zekorn, H.-J. (Hans-Joachim) (1967)
    Berufsausbildungsgesetz in der Anhörung. In: Die berufsbildende Schule, 19 (1967) 9, S. 646-649
  • 1

    A history written in 1969 of the efforts leading to the passage of a vocational education (and training) law can be found in, for example, Münch (1969) and Linke (1969). For a summary, see for example Herkner (2003, pp. 260-269); regarding the situation prior to 1963: n.a. (1963a).

  • 2

    Neither the student unrest (known as the student movement of 1968) nor the apprentice protests led to anything near in size to today's mass demonstrations. The number of demonstrators was seldom more than several thousand. It must however also be remembered that there were only some 300,000 students nationwide in the Federal Republic in the late 1960s. This was approximately the same number that Berlin and Munich alone reported in the 1990s. At the height of the student protests, some 30,000 people (figures range from 20,000 to 70,000) came to march on Bonn on 11 May 1968. There were 1.26 million training contracts in the non-academic area in 1967.

  • 3

    There has also been little attention paid to date to the influence that discussions taking place in connection with the harmonisation efforts of the European Economic Community (EEC) - which had already extended to the vocational training field as well in the 1960s - might have had on the passage of the Vocational Training Act. See in this connection, for example, Hoffmann (1964). The bill submitted by the SPD fraction in the Bundestag on 11 April 1962 contained these elements (see n.a. 1962)

  • 4

    It was not possible to include all the initiatives and activities in this table.

  • 5

    Bundestagsdrucksache (bulletin of the German Bundestag) IV/354; see also: n.a. (1962).

  • 6

    Difficulties were seen in four points in particular: (1) scope of the law (all sectors of the economy?); (2) scope of the training contracts (do they include trainees in semi-apprenticeships and interns?); (3) the states' legislative authority with regard to school-based education; (4) the extent of restrictions on economic freedom, together with social and economic policy considerations for the overall concept (see LIPSMEIER 1978, p. 109).

  • 7

    Bundestagsdrucksache (bulletin of the German Bundestag) V/887

  • 8

    Bundestagsdrucksache (bulletin of the German Bundestag) V/1009

  • 9

    Federal Law Gazette, Vol. 1969, Part 1, No. 75, published on 16 August 1969, pp. 1112-1137

  • 10

    Prior to this time, there had been a Law on Regulating Vocational Training and the Employment of Youths since 1951 which applied only to the state of Berlin (West Berlin).

  • 11

    For example, a number of two-year training programmes for training occupations were recently adopted without the approval of employer representatives.

  • 12

    Chambers and representatives of trade and industry were initially also very cautious and reserved - and therefore sceptical - about the Federal Institute for Vocational Training Research because the co-determination of the unions that had been incorporated into the Vocational Training Act did not fit into their picture of institutions which according to the notions of the time, trade and industry were supposed to organise by themselves (Heckenauer/Holz 1989, p. 315).

  • 13

    It is worth noting that the Law on Regulating Vocational Training and the Employment of Youths for the state of Berlin from 4 January 1951 already contained wording to the effect that self-governing organisations of trade and industry were to draft occupation-specific regulations in collaboration with representatives of trade unions and vocational schools. This was however new ground at federal level even though unions had already been involved in the work of the Centre for In-Company Vocational Training (ABB) (cf. HESSE 1967, p. 590).

  • 14

    The Federal Ministry of Economics had launched an initiative to do away with semi-skilled occupations (Anlernberufe). This initiative however failed in the face of opposition from trade, industry and the unions (see n.a. 1963b).

  • 15

    Years later, the term "apprentice" was still in use in day-to-day vocational training practice. An ironic commentary on the shift in terminology can be found at, for example, Fabritius (1979). The term "trainee" is however firmly established today.

  • 16

    Back in 1970 already Lipsmeier (1970, p. 350), for example, had suggested considering the establishment of a federal ministry of education and cultural affairs. Such a ministry would render a differentiation between federal and state law for both learning venues - training firms and vocational schools - obsolete, whereby "the vocational school teachers' associations' call to include vocational schools in the Vocational Training Act" might facilitate this.

  • 17

    Müller-Oldenburg (1971) offers an extensive collection of critical voices from different areas.

  • 18

    Under the new law, training contracts must include information regarding the type of training, the syllabus and timetable, daily working hours, amount of remuneration, the number of days of leave.