Multifarious target groups – one learning venue

Christiane Köhlmann-Eckel

Within the vocational training system, inter-company vocational education and training makes an important contribution in terms of securing the training capability of small and medium-sized companies. It facilitates technology transfer whilst also making training provision available to various target groups. The present article highlights the educational remit and the development of the learning venue of the inter-company vocational training centre and uses the training provision to illustrate the diversity of the target groups reached. Against this background, the article concludes by presenting the challenges and opportunities for inter-company vocational training centres within the context of lifelong learning.

Development and educational remit of the inter-company vocational training centre as a learning venue

The origins of inter-company vocational training centres1 go back to the supplementary workshops which existed in the craft trades in the 19th century. At this time, these workshops provided follow-up provision to shore up training practice, which was inadequately implemented in some cases.

At the start of the 20th century, the same purpose was served by apprentice building centres or apprentice building sites within the main construction trades. The work and production schools, which were driven forwards by the reform and workforce development theories of educationalists such as KERSCHENSTEINER, may serve as an example that provided the idea behind the inter-company vocational training centres set up at a later date (cf. ESSER/TWARDY 2000; KATH 1995; KIELWEIN 2005).

ESSER/TWARDY (2000) point out that the 1950’s left a significant mark on the further course of the development of inter-company vocational training. This period also saw the emergence of the term “inter-company apprentice instruction”, which remains in common use down to the present day.

It was, however, not until the 1970’s that inter-company vocational training became an institutionally fixed component of regulated VET and of subsequent advanced training leading to the qualification of master craftsman. In the wake of the passing of the Vocational Training Act of 1969, the Federal Government of the day initiated the “Vocational Training Action Programme” in the autumn of 1970.
The aims were to help enhance quality improvement in vocational education and training and to strengthen the dual system by establishing capacity in inter-company vocational training (cf. KATH 1995, p. 5). The intention was to facilitate greater equality of opportunity in training by overcoming quality differences in training, such as those caused by general regional and sectoral conditions or by company size.

The priority programme thus developed by the Federal Government has been facilitating funding for the establishment, expansion and equipping of inter-company vocational training since 1973. The objective was to create a national network of training centres offering 50,000 workshop places by the year 1975.
In 1978, the Bund-Länder-Commission adopted a resolution to increase provision to 77,100 training places (cf. KATH 1995; KIELWEIN 2005). These measures laid out the foundations for inter-company vocational training centres as we know them today and for annual Federal Government funding (cf. Box).

The core remit of the inter-company vocational training centre is to impart competences relevant to the occupational profile within the SME sector by executing inter-company apprentice instruction. Inter-company vocational training centres, which are usually funded by craft trade organisations, institutions within the industrial and agricultural sectors or medical associations, “should supplement company-based training (inter-company vocational training centres acting as an extended work bench of the companies providing training), should act in conjunction with the company and the vocational school to increase the didactic quality of training in overall terms and should secure companies’ willingness to offer training by providing a sufficient number of training places” (AUTSCH/KATH 2000, p. 3).

The catalogue of criteria published by the BIBB Board in 1979 (updated via the resolution of the BIBB Board of 28 June 2002) aims to exert an influence on quality assurance and quality development of inter-company vocational educational and training measures by addressing three levels of decision making:

  • the conceptual level;
  • the level of those bodies funding the measures and
  • the implementation level.

On this basis, AHRENS (2010, p. 85) differentiates the main tasks of inter-company vocational training centres as comprising “a supplementary function, a compensatory function and an adaptive function” within the company-based training provision offered by SME’s.

Funding of inter-company vocational training centres

The Federal Government makes funding of more than ten million euros available each year in order to facilitate a nationally uniform quality of training at the inter-company vocational training centres and to be able to react to reforms to training regulations.

The aim of this funding is to assist with the retention and modernisation of the education and training infrastructure at inter-company vocational training centres.

Pursuant to § 90 Paragraph 3 Clause 2 of the Vocational Training Act (BBiG), BIBB has the task of implementing funding for inter-company vocational training centres (since 1978) and of providing support for the planning, establishment and further development of such institutions.

Since 2009, funding has been based on the joint guidelines of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWI) * . Alongside the Federal Government, the respective federal states and the providers of the training centres also take part in the financing of projects.

Since 2001, BIBB has been fostering the further development of inter-company vocational training centres into so-called Centres of Excellence. These Centres of Excellence act as drivers of innovation by implementing modern vocational education concepts for inter-company VET and by developing practice-oriented and company-related training provision for SME’s within a specialist focus.
Further information is available at www.bibb.de/uebs.

* The Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control (BAFA) also acts on behalf of the BMWI in funding inter-company vocational training centres.

Training provision for multifarious target groups

The “core remit” of inter-company vocational training centres described above meant that their main focus was directed at trainees as the primary target group, something which is completely understandable given the development of inter-company training as portrayed. However, in the light of structural changes within the world of work and on the training market, this original educational remit proved to be in need of expansion (cf. AHRENS 2010, p. 87). As the table (cf. Table) makes clear, master craftsman preparation courses, advanced and continuing training provision and other contracted measures make up more than half of the training services at inter-company vocational training centres in terms of numbers of participants and hours taught. This means that further target groups are being addressed.


Total average training services at inter-company vocational training centres in 2011

 Training provision Participants  Participants-hours    Course-hours  
   Absolute  %  Absolute  %  Absolute % 
 Inter-company apprentice instruction  370,590  60.4%  18,639.796  35.8%  1,780.666  42.5%
 Master-craftsman preparation  56,303  9.2%  16,696.225  32.1%  903,275  21.6%
 Other advanced and continuing training  119,409  19.5%  7,613.866  14.6%  660,228  15.8%
 Contracted measure  67,300  11.0%  9,093.565  17.5%  846,505  20.2%
 Total  613,602 100.0%   52,043.452  100.0%  4,190.674  100.0%

 Source: FRANKE (2013a, p. 185) based on EISERMANN/KÖNIG (2012); supplemented by the author


Inter-company apprentice instruction

Inter-company apprentice instruction is an established component of vocational training. Its purpose is the systematic acquisition of occupationally relevant competences with a high degree of practical company application. The time proportions of inter-company phases of training are stipulated by the respective chambers via provisions contained within the training regulations or on the basis of contractual agreements concluded with the companies providing training (cf. KIELWEIN 2005). Their average intensity at the specialised level of training is approximately 4.3 weeks of instruction per training year. However, the staged training in the construction sector constitutes an exception in this regard. In this case, the scheduled proportion of inter-company instruction at the specialised level of training is 14 to 17 weeks, significantly above the average.

In respect of the number of participants, FRANKE (2013b) ascertains that this has not fallen to the same degree as the number of trainees in the craft trade sector over recent years. Participation in inter-company apprentice instruction has actually even tended to undergo a positive development. She interprets this as a good signal of the quality of training at the inter-company vocational training centres.

Master Craftsman preparation

Preparation for the master craftsman examination usually takes place on a voluntary basis. Those aspiring to a master craftsman qualification may use the courses offered at inter-company vocational training centres to acquire competences relevant to the examination in the fields of professional practice and theory, business administration and law and vocational teaching and workplace training.

Other advanced and continuing training

Advanced and continuing training provision at inter-company vocational training centres address various target groups which also have varying levels of importance in the individual training centres. This provision includes “retraining courses and updating training courses which aim to retain employability skills and to facilitate the adaption of qualifications to the altered requirements of the world of work” (FRANKE 2013a, p. 182). Upgrading training in the craft trades is also addressed via this vehicle.

Contracted measures

Vocational orientation measures have gained in significance for inter-company vocational training centres over recent years. These offer school pupils practical insights into various occupations, particularly via so-called “workshop days”. Contracted measures also include schemes offered by the Federal Employment Agency for the training of the long-term unemployed and for the advanced training of unemployed skilled workers (pursuant to German Social Security Code II and III, SGB II and III) (cf. FRANKE 2013a).

Further target groups

Alongside the four major areas stated here, inter-company vocational training centres also offer further specific provision in accordance with regional requirements. This includes training for higher education dropouts, for young people from a migrant background, for workers aged over 50, for trainees from non-craft trade companies, for women returning to the workplace, for managing directors of SME’s (HR development) and for skilled workers involved in international cooperation projects.

General conditions and current challenges facing inter-company vocational training centres

The diversity of target group oriented provision that supplements the original core task of the inter-company vocational training centres makes it possible to react flexibly to changes in requirements and demands.

The greatest challenge is posed by demographic development, the effects of which are clearly discernible, especially in rural areas of the federal states of East Germany. The infrastructure of inter-company vocational training centres created in the 1990’s cannot be retained in its existing dimension.
Firstly, the demographic development expected at this time was, retrospectively, evaluated too positively. Secondly, these regions have for years had to combat an ongoing exodus of companies, trainees and skilled workers, the nature of which was not foreseeable at the time. This has led to occupancy problems in the training centres. It is difficult to make a uniform statement for the entire Federal Republic of Germany.

The level of utilisation of inter-company vocational training centres in major conurbations and in economically strong regions is significantly different to that in rural regions or in areas where the economy is weak.

A further general condition that will determine the work of inter-company vocational training centres in future is the change in education (and training) behaviour by young people and young adults as a result of trends towards academization and the progression of young people with lower levels of prior learning at entry to training. Specific employment and career opportunities in the craft trade sector are a further influencing factor (cf. AHRENS 2010). Because of a structure in which companies have fewer than ten workers in many cases, career chances of employees are restricted, especially for those who work for the smallest category of craft trade companies (cf. ibid., pp. 87 f.).

Surveys of managers at inter-company vocational training centres make it clear that further challenges with regard to the following areas will arise in future (cf. BUSCHFELD/HEINSBERG 2014, p. 35).

  • increasing requirements within the (training) occupational profiles,
  • an increase in the degree of technisation,
  • shorter innovation cycles,
  • an increasing significance of systemic understanding by skilled workers including an understanding of the basic skills in adjacent trades.

Chances of inter-company vocational training within the context of lifelong learning

In order to overcome the challenges outlined above, areas of potential need to be identified that take account of the respective factors determining location in the regions. Although this is also a field in which vocational education and training research can provide support, such research has accorded little attention to inter-company training, particularly in recent years2. Vocational pedagogy, research into teaching and learning and competence research are, for example, all fields in which there is an absence of findings.

And yet inter-company vocational training centres offer a particular area of potential in terms of their role in transferring new technologies and technological innovations into company practice. Technologies from various trades are, for example, successfully interlocked to form future-oriented fields of activity. This could deliver impetuses for the further development of the regulatory instruments for company-based training and for new cross-cutting qualifications.

Even if inter-company vocational training centres are frequently perceived as being restricted to a supplementary function within the scope of the training they provide, they are a training venue that acts autonomously. The range of training provision addresses all target groups relevant to vocational training. This does not happen in equal proportions at each training centre. Differing levels of intensity and various degrees of specialisation occur. Nevertheless, the existing infrastructure provides the potential to establish a learning venue which supports the concept of lifelong learning by offering a broad range of education and training provision. “For the individual, who attends the training centre within the scope of these education and training services, the training centre can thus become an institutional focus for lifelong learning and lay the foundations for an individual occupational career concept via such phases as vocational (re)orientation and initial and continuing training. It may also contribute towards the professional specialisation of the individual or to specific occupational development prospects” (BUSCHFELD/HEINSBERG 2014, p. 15).

The structure and varied education and training provision of inter-company vocational training centres enable them to take learners’ individual interests and requirements on board. Unlike companies providing training, they are also able to pursue their remit without according consideration to economic success. Empirical evidence of this remains outstanding. Nevertheless, we may conclude by stating that such potential should be accorded more attention within education and training circles, particularly against the background of current debates centring on the shaping of a permeable educational system.

  • 1

    The usual German term for “inter-company vocational training centre” was “überbetriebliche Berufsbildungsstätte”, abbreviated to ÜBS. The term “überbetriebliches Berufsbildungszentrum” is, however, also frequently used. These terms are used synonymously in the present article and are in each case rendered in English by “inter-company vocational training centre”.

  • 2

    Research institutes in the craft trade sector constitute exceptions to this in some cases.


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AUTSCH, B.; KATH, F.: Weiterentwicklung der Überbetrieblichen Berufsbildungsstätten zu Kompetenzzentren (Further development of inter-company vocational training centres to Centres of Excellence). In: CRAMER, G.; SCHMIDT, H.; WITTWER, W. (Eds.): Ausbilder-Handbuch (Trainer Handbook). 41st edition, Cologne 2000

BIBB HAUPTAUSSCHUSS (BIBB BOARD): Empfehlung zur Gestaltung und Durchführung von Ausbildungsmaßnahmen in überbetrieblichen Berufsbildungsstätten vom 28.06.2002 (Recommendation of 28 June 2002 on the structuring and implementation of training measures in inter-company vocational training centres) – URL: www.bibb.de/dokumente/pdf/HA106.pdf (retrieved: 11.12.2014)

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EISERMANN, M.; KÖNIG, O.: Analyse der Kosten der überbetrieblichen Lehrlingsunterweisung im Handwerk (Analysis of the costs of inter-company apprentice instruction in the craft trades). Heinz-Piest-Institut für Handwerkstechnik an der Leibniz Universität Hannover (Heinz Piest Institute for Craft Trade Technology at the Leibnitz University of Hanover). Hanover 2012

ESSER, F.; TWARDY, M.: Stellung und Aufgabe der überbetrieblichen Berufsbildung in einem zukunftsorientierten Bildungs- und Qualifizierungskonzept des Handwerks (Position and task of inter-company vocational education and training within a future-oriented concept of training in the craft trade sector). In: BIBB (Ed.): Überbetriebliche Berufsbildungsstätten. Dokumentation der Fachtagung des BIBB und des Ministeriums für Arbeit und Soziales, Qualifikation und Technologie des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen vom 3. und 4. November 1999 (Inter-company Vocational Training Centres. Documentation of a specialist conference staged by BIBB and the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Skills and Technology of the Federal State of North-Rhine Westphalia on 3 and 4 November 1999). Bielefeld 2000, pp. 77–100

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FRANKE, D.: Überbetriebliche Unterweisung im Handwerk im Jahr 2012. Zahlen – Fakten – Analysen (Inter-company instruction in the craft trades in the year 2012. Facts – figures – analyses). Hannover 2013b

KATH, F.: Überbetriebliche Berufsbildungsstätten (Inter-company vocational training centres). In: CRAMER, G.; SCHMIDT, H.; WITTWER, W. (Eds.): Ausbilder-Handbuch (Trainer Handbook). 6th edition. Cologne 1995

KIELWEIN, K.: 30 Jahre Planung und Förderung überbetrieblicher Berufsbildungsstätten. Von der überbetrieblichen Ausbildungsstätte zum Kompetenzzentrum für berufliche Bildung (30 years of palnning and funding for inter-company vocational training centres. From the inter-company training centre to the Centre of Excellence for vocational education and training). Bielefeld 2005


Research Associate, “Inter-company Vocational Training Centres/Regional Development of VET Structures” Division at BIBB

Translation from the German original (published in BWP 1/2015): Martin Stuart Kelsey, Global Sprachteam Berlin