Inclusion as a task for vocational education and training

Friedrich Hubert Esser

Dear readers,

It’s not all about winning but taking part! This slogan from the sports world proved its timeless global validity once again in the year 2008, when the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities declared that inclusion was a human right for people with a disability. After the Convention took force in Germany in 2009, inclusion became central to a societal, education-policy and academic debate in our country.

The goal is beyond dispute – but how can it be achieved?

From now on, intensive work will pave the way for autonomous participation in society for all. UNESCO understands disability, then, as a social category which includes all forms of possible barriers to participation.

The question that fuelled controversy was how the desired result can best be achieved. Only after some rigorous exchanges did it become clear that inclusion does not mean the mere integration of “divergence” in an otherwise unchanged environment, but adaptation of the environment to each person’s given abilities. So inclusion is not “integration” in another guise but looking at individual needs, and giving attention to how adequate help and assistance can be obtained.

Initially the main perceived disputes over inclusion revolved around kindergartens and schools of general education. This may create the impression that it has nothing to do with vocational education and training, which is certainly not the case! Vocational rehabilitation grants and assistance for disadvantaged individuals in the vocational training system, which have existed since the 1960s, underline that point. Equally, there is no denying that there are still not enough companies with experience in providing initial vocational training to disabled young people, for instance.

Examples of good practice show how it works

This makes it all the more gratifying to report that BIBB recently awarded the Hermann Schmidt prize to some innovative company models for inclusion. Among them was a model whereby trainees spend the first two years in a vocational training centre and then train in-company for one-and-a-half years. A notable feature is that the courses take place in mixed teams led by trained instructors.

The advanced vocational training landscape is beginning to address the changing demands upon trainees. Beyond this, it is an important task of trainers to create new forms of initial, advanced and continuing vocational education which are more integrated into the company context.

The different forms of provision – at least for people with disabilities – should be geared towards facilitating accessibility, compatibility, permeability and occupational proficiency. We should bear in mind that half of companies training young people with disabilities rate that experience as positive. The glass is definitely half full. At the same time we must persist with the prevention of exclusion, and achieve universal, sustainable employability and labour-market compatibility. A modern, future-oriented vocational education and training system which learns lessons from international experience must open up flexible entry and exit points for everyone – and not just because of demographic change and skilled-worker shortages. In addition, it is necessary for business and industry to be willing and able to make appropriate jobs available. Another interesting debate in this context concerns whether the “model provisions” pursuant to Section 66 of the Vocational Training Act (BBiG) for the initial vocational training of people with disabilities have not actually outlived their usefulness.


Professor Dr., President of the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB)

Translation from the German original (published in BWP 2/2015): Deborah Shannon, Academic Text & Translation, Berlin