Bringing order to the regulations

Markus Bretschneider, Henrik Schwarz | A heuristic for the structuring of training occupations

Training occupations may be differentiated by the nature of their inner structuring. Alongside so-called mono occupations, which do not exhibit any differences in terms of content, there are occupations with features such as specialisms, main focuses or elective qualifications units. During procedures for the updating of training occupations, the question which constantly arises is how and in accordance with which criteria training occupations should be structured. The present article addresses this issue on the basis of a BIBB research project. As well as characteristics of individual structural models and the delineations and overlaps of such models, we present typical rationale patterns for structural model decisions. These are finally included in a possible heuristic for the criteria-led structuring of training occupations.

The BIBB research project

One of the aims of the project “Structuring of recognised occupations in the dual system” was to identify various models and decision-making criteria for the inner structuring of training occupations (cf. SCHWARZ et al. 2015).

We began by compiling features and characteristics relating to the inner differentiation of a training occupation from all 328 recognised training occupations (as of 1 August 2014) and from 875 predecessor or former occupations in a structural model occupations database. In order to identify correlations between rationales, guided interviews were conducted with 24 stakeholders involved with regulatory procedures in a company, school-based, educational policy and academic research context. Evaluations took place using the rules of qualitative content analysis (cf. MAYRING 2010) and with the assistance of the programme MAXQDA.

Development of structural models

Of the 328 recognised training occupations currently in force, 56 have specialisms, 30 include main focuses and 27 feature elective qualification units. Areas of deployment exist for 23 training occupations. There are also five training occupations with combination models, for example a combination of specialisms and elective qualification units (designer of digital and print media) or of specialisms and areas of deployment (equine manager). Alongside these models, we find further differentiations in the shape of individual special forms such as “alternatives”, “branches of industry”, “specialist areas”, “areas of activity” and “cultures”.

The figure shows that the total number of recognised training occupations has fallen from approximately 430 in 1969 to 328 today. One of the reasons for this decrease is that a series of occupations has been abolished. In a parallel process, the introduction of specialisms and main focuses at the beginning of the 1970’s created the opportunity for an inward shift of the “external differentiation” of occupations which were originally separate. Extensive use was made of this possibility, particularly within the scope of the updating of the industrial metal occupations in 1987. This led to a significant reduction in the number of training regulations in this sector. A response to the question of how much differentiation a training occupation can tolerate without losing its separate occupational profile was provided in the form of guidelines issued by the then Federal Ministry of Education and Science in 1984 and agreed with the stakeholders involved in the updating of occupations. These stated that a training occupation usually needed to have at least two thirds of uniform training content in order “still to be defined as a homogeneous qualification adequately described to a sufficient degree of precision by the occupational title” (BMBW 1984, p. 1).

Figure: Development of training occupations with and without differentiations over the course of time (1969 –2014); Source: SCHWARZ et al. 2015, p. 23

Differences and overlaps of structural models

inhalt_Contentseite-MetaBildZoom 32658

The so called “one third principle” stipulates that imparting of differentiated contents in three-year recognised training occupations should not exceed a maximum of twelve months. The dominant pattern in occupations with specialisms is that specialism–related content is delivered from the third year of training onwards and extends for a period of 52 weeks over the entire third year. Although this maximum time frame also applies in the case of three-year recognised training occupations with main focuses, the periods during which main focus-related contents are imparted vary so greatly (between 14 and 52 weeks, cf. Table 1) that a clear pattern such as that which is exhibited in specialisms is not (any longer) discernible. In contrast to specialisms, main focuses are not listed in the occupational profile. Nevertheless, as they increase in scope, main focus-related contents blur the delineation vis-à-vis specialisms.

The introduction of elective qualification units in 1998 further progressed the phenomenon described above of the integration of differentiations under the umbrella of a training occupation. Examples here include elective qualification units in the printing and media occupations. Digitalisation in the printing sector has led to the abolition of many traditional occupations with their roots in the craft trades. The remaining occupations and new training occupations were initially collated in the form of specialisms and main focuses and further integrated via elective qualification units as more modernisations took place. The 30 training occupations that existed in 1969 thus became nine training occupations in 2014, six of which feature elective qualifications units.

inhalt_Contentseite-MetaBildZoom 32660

The introduction of elective qualifications has further exacerbated the problem described of delineation between the structural models. There is a strong variance between the time frame of individual elective qualification units. Although the proportion of differentiation is between 20 and 30 percent in the case of most occupations, it amounts to approaching half of training time in some occupations in the laboratory sector. If we follow the logic of the one third principle, occupations with a joint occupational core which has merged to a proportion of almost one half can scarcely be considered to be unified training occupations. In such a case, the flexibility and combinability of contents gnaws at the core of the occupational profile. This dilemma is also illustrated by the fact that the opportunities offered by specialisation in terms of favouring a minimum breadth of profile which is easier for companies to plan have not by any means been exhausted.

The overlaps presented pose the question of mutual delineation. With the exception of the fact that elective qualification units are localised within the occupational profile, elective qualifications and main focuses overlap with regard to aspects such as time frames, commencement of differentiation and consideration in examinations (cf. Table 2). A training occupation with main focuses could also be mapped with the elective qualifications structural model. This means that main focuses could be abandoned in favour of flexibly deployable elective qualification units, each of which should have a time frame of between two and six months. In contrast to main focuses, which may only be selected as an alternative, the combination of elective qualification units could encompass a scope of up to one third of training time without creating any problems of delineation with the specialisms.

Rationale patterns

In the case of the selection of structural models, the guided interviews with the stakeholders involved in regulatory procedures reveal various “rationale contexts” which frequently exert reciprocal effects.
The necessity of differentiation often results with regard to the generation of jobs, particularly in branches with differentiated structures. From a company point of view, the focus is on mapping occupational reality in as differentiated a way as possible in a regulation. A further aim is that the relevant breadth of training should secure the labour market suitability and occupational mobility of the trainee skilled workers. The nature of the structure model is initially accorded a subordinate role in this regard. The crucial aspect is that the curriculum should be adapted to the respective activities and products in as precise a manner as possible.

Whether differentiation is reflected in the skeleton curriculum plays an important role in vocational school teaching. In the case of main focuses and specialisms, the respective skeleton curriculum committee takes a decision in this regard on an occupationally specific basis. The same applies to elective qualification units, for which a maximum of two learning fields with a total time frame of 80 hours may be instigated. By way of contrast, a standardised skeleton curriculum is always developed for areas of deployment.
A further rationale pattern applies to the genealogical development of training occupations, in which the consolidation of training occupations which were originally separate plays a major role. One example of this is the training occupation of animal caretaker, into which the occupations of beekeeper, milker, fur farmer, shepherd and pig breeding assistant were subsumed in 1976. These were initially replaced by main focuses and since 2005 have been consolidated into specialisms, the area of fur farming having been removed.

The recognisability of occupations which were once separate is accorded central significance when occupations are consolidated, particularly from a professional point of view. In § 1 Paragraph 3 of the Ordinance for vocational education and training in the occupation of gardener from 1996, for example, this notion is taken into account via the formulation: “The designation of the specialism supplements the title of the training occupation.” Decisions regarding area of deployment may also be based on this consideration. Pursuant to § 27 Paragraph 2 of the Model Examination Regulations for Journeyman and Retraining Examinations, specialisms and main focuses may also be included in the examination certificate.

In overall terms, it is clear that the statements made by the stakeholders exhibit multifarious rationale patterns. Several factors usually need to be considered simultaneously and weighed up in a way that relates to the respective training situation. The fundamental main consideration is to differentiate “as much as necessary and as little as possible” in order not to jeopardise the respective vocationalism whilst also facilitating company specialisation.

Heuristic for a criterion-based structuring of training occupations

The structural construction of training occupations is a process of negotiation which is conducted by the different interests of state and societal stakeholders and informed by economic and labour market policy, educational policy and vocational teaching aspects. In order to facilitate the selection of a structural model that is more criterion-based, the interviews conducted were used to identify criteria which influence decisions regarding selection. It is initially possible to differentiate the following three levels. The individual aspects of these exert a reciprocal influence on one another and are characterised to varying magnitudes depending on the individual case.

1. Occupation system level – identification, allocation and integration function of occupations:

  • Vocationalism versus company specialisations
  • Qualified skilled workers suitable for the labour market
  • Generalist versus specialist
  • Ability and willingness of companies to provide training (branch structure, number, size and
    structure of companies)
  • Identification with “own” occupation (company, branch, skilled workers)
  • Permeability (between occupations and between initial and advanced training)
  • Educational policy framework stipulations (e. g. one third principle, regulatory structure, minimum standards).

2. Implementation level – suitability of differentiation:

  • Practical feasibility for companies (e.g. imparting of contents/differentiations or e.g. omission of contents in the case of consolidation of occupations)
  • Practical feasibility for vocational schools (school organisation/size of training occupation)
  • Examination organisation.
  • Transparency and comprehensibility of regulations
  • Training tradition versus introduction of a new structure

3. Discourse level – negotiation process:

  • Perspectives, experiences and bases of information of the stakeholders involved
  • Individual case orientation
  • Consensus orientation
  • Discourse modalities (including procedural rules, definitions and terminology, participation and responsibility of the stakeholders).

In arriving at a decision, the respective stakeholder perspectives and various weightings of criteria relevant to the decision should be taken into account. The significance of a differentiation in the examination or in the skeleton curriculum may, for example, be accorded a different weighting depending on the number of trainees in an occupation. The interviews with stakeholders from various companies, branches, associations and from the field of academic research, all of whom had experience with regulatory procedures, and the testing of a guided procedure for the selection of a suitable structural model have shown that a multi-level, criterion-based (heuristic) procedure to be pursued recursively should take the following points into account.

  • Orientation towards requirements profiles instead of structural models
  • Transparency and clear delineation of criteria
  • Individual case consideration including effects on the weighting of criteria
  • Consideration of the various perspectives of the stakeholders.

The proposal is for a procedure which uses a qualifications needs analysis as the basis for evaluating the requirement for differentiation.

Qualifications needs analysis

An initial investigation needs to be undertaken as to whether a requirements profile derived from relevant business and work processes can be mapped by a sufficiently large number of potential companies offering training. The aspects that need to be taken into account include the size, vertical range of manufacture and organisational structure of the companies. If the intersection of the joint company requirements covers at least two thirds of the requirements profile in the given minimum number of companies, the extent to which company requirements can be differentiated needs to be investigated. If less than two thirds of joint contents exist, an investigation can be carried out in order to ascertain whether there is a quantitatively relevant requirement for different training occupations.

Analysis of the requirement for differentiation

Three cases featuring various degrees of differentiation are subjected to a process of elimination via guided questions whilst taking relevant aspects and the perspectives of the stakeholders involved into account. Certain structural models can be allocated to cases A (weak differentiation), B (flexible differentiation) and C (strong differentiation). Insofar as weak differentiation can be excluded (case A not presented here because of reasons of space), case B would need to be investigated on the basis of the following guided questions.


  • are in demand in specialised business or functional fields and/or
  • are derived from different branch requirements and
  • are highly heterogeneous in terms of breadth and depth and
  • can be clearly delineated from one another and
  • are in demand as alternatives or in various combinations and
  • tend to remain in the background vis-à-vis the actual core of the occupational profile and
  • can be mapped by a “minimum number” of companies with regard to their respective specific characteristics and/or combination.

Relevant aspects and stakeholders here would include the following.

  • Combination and/or mapping of specific profiles, particularly from a company perspective
  • Separate or joint schooling, in particular from a school-based and company-based perspective
  • The organisation of examinations, in particular from the perspective of the chambers
  • Further (case-related) aspects and perspectives of stakeholders.

To the extent that case B applies, differentiation in the form of elective qualification units or main focuses would be possible. If case B can be excluded, even stronger differentiation (case C) could be considered, to which the specialism model can be aligned (for further details on the individual cases and summaries of the procedures cf. SCHWARZ et al. 2015, pp. 96 ff.)

Further honing the heuristic developed

Based on the quantitative and qualitative data collected, the decision-making process for or against a certain form of differentiation can be placed on a more systematic foundation using the procedure indicated. Following this project, the plan is to work in conjunction with the stakeholders involved with the regulation of vocational education and training to further hone the criteria and heuristic identified in order to be able to use them in future as an agreed basis for consensual structure decisions within the scope of the regulation of training occupations.

BMBW [FEDERAL MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND SCIENCE]: Subject: Spezialisierungen in Ausbildungsordnungen. Handlungsrichtlinie des BMBW vom 23.05.1984 [Specialisations in training regulations. Guidelines issued by the BMBW on 23.05.1984. Bonn 1984 (unpublished)

BRETSCHNEIDER, M.; SCHWARZ, H.: Berufsbildung in Unordnung? Strukturierung von Ausbildungsberufen [Vocational education and training in disorder? Structuring of training occupations]. In: BWP [Vocational Training in Research and Practice] 40 (2011) 5, pp. 43-46 – URL: www.bibb.de/veroeffentlichungen/de/bwp/show/id/6628 (retrieved

MAYRING, P.: Qualitative Inhaltsanalyse [Qualitative content analysis]. Basel 2010

SCHWARZ, H. et al.: Strukturierung anerkannter Ausbildungsberufe im dualen System. Abschlussbericht [Structuring of recognised training occupations in the dual system. Final Report]. Bonn 2015 – URL: www2.bibb.de/bibbtools/ tools/fodb/data/documents/pdf/eb_42381.pdf (retrieved 15.06.2015)

Research associate in the “Industrial and Technical Occupations” Division at BIBB

Research associate in the “Electrical, IT and Scientific Occupations” Division at BIBB

Translation from the German original (published in BWP 4/2015): Martin Stuart Kelsey, Global Sprachteam Berlin