Company-based continuing training in Europe: Germany ranked in the upper mid-range

Marion Thiele, Gudrun Schönfeld

The participation of adults in lifelong learning is right at the top of the European Union’s political agenda and is embedded for example in the joint working programme “Education and Training” (ET 2020). As the largest continuing education sector company-based continuing training plays a key role in achieving the ET 2020 objectives. Based on data from the Adult Education Survey (AES) 2016, the article provides information on participation rates of gainfully employed people in company-based continuing training in Europe.

Company-based continuing training in the AES

In the AES, the respondents provide information about their non-formal learning over the previous twelve months. They are classified as participants in company-based continuing training if at least one of the learning activities specified involves vocational elements and, at the same time, occurs entirely or predominantly during paid working time or paid leave and/or the employer has fully or partially covered the direct costs, such as tuition or examination fees or expenses for books and learning materials. Guided-on-the-job training is always categorised as company-based continuing training (cf. EUROSTAT 2017).1

Adult Education Survey (AES)

The AES was conducted during 2016 as a compulsory survey for EU states for the second time following 2011. EU regulations specify standardised questionnaires and methodology guidelines to ensure compatibility of results between countries.

The country analyses are based in each case on a representative sample of the population aged 25-64.2 The survey covered formal, non-formal and informal learning activities over the last twelve months (cf. EUROSTAT 2006). In addition to socio-demographic information, the topics of learning activities and time requirements were also covered.

A total of 34 countries participated in the AES 2016 which included, in addition to the EU member states, Bosnia Herzegovina, Macedonia, Norway, Switzerland, Serbia and Turkey. Comparability of data was checked using national quality reports which were available for up to April 2018, seven reports were unavailable. No significant deviations were identified from the concept specified by the EU. The results can be accessed in the EUROSTAT database (http://ec.europa. eu/eurostat/data/database). In total, more than 150,000 persons were surveyed, and for Germany the figure was 6,229 (cf. BILGER et al. 2017 for the German results).

Significant differences in participation in company-based continuing training in Europe

The participation rates of gainfully employed persons aged 25 to 64 varied significantly between countries in 2016 (cf. Figure). The Netherlands led the way with a participation rate of 62 per cent. By contrast, in Romania only one in every 20 gainfully employed people participated in company-based continuing training. In six countries from Northern and Central Europe, at least half of gainfully employed people participated in company-based continuing training (shown as dark orange in the Figure). Germany's participation rate of 48 per cent is at the upper end of a wide mid-range of at least 14 countries with participation rates between 40 and 49 per cent (light orange). This group covers countries from all parts of Europe, no geographical focus is evident. In both the two upper groups, companies provide a significant proportion of their employees with resources (as either time or money) required for continuing training. However, the participation rate in itself does not provide any indications regarding the intensity of the continuing training or the benefits for the company or the employees.

In the two lower groups, shown as dark and light grey in the Figure, participation rates are between 30 and 39 per cent (five countries) and under 30 per cent (eight countries) respectively. These include solely countries from Southern and Eastern Europe including some EU accession candidates. In these countries employees have only limited opportunities to secure their employability through company-based continuing training. To initiate national or European funding programmes it might be useful, also to strengthen the overall competitiveness of these countries.

To explain the reasons for the wide range of participation in the company-based continuing training in Europe, reference must be made for example – in addition to the various training systems – to the differences in the extent to which lifelong learning is embedded in society, to the differences in state funding and in the structure of the continuing training landscape.

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Figure: Participation of gainfully employed people aged 25 to 64 in company-based continuing training (in per cent, 2016)

Access opportunities for different groups of employees

In Germany, almost half of gainfully employed people took part in company-based continuing training. However, national analyses (cf. SCHÖNFELD/BEHRINGER 2017) indicate the different chances of access for different groups of employees. For example, low skilled workers, people with a migration background or employees in smaller companies had below-average participation rates. Analyses comparing access opportunities of disadvantaged groups and influencing factors internationally may provide important insights in which countries and under which conditions these employees are more successful in getting access to company-based continuing training.

  • 1 A slightly different definition is used in national reporting in Germany. The deviations in the participation rate observed here of gainfully employed persons aged 25 to 64 are minimal.
  • 2 In some countries, including Germany, persons aged 18-24 and 65 and older were also surveyed. EUROSTAT however only publishes results for the 25-64-year-olds.

BILGER, F. u. a. (Ed.): Weiterbildungsverhalten in Deutschland 2016. Ergebnisse des Adult Education Survey (AES). Bielefeld 2017

EUROSTAT (Ed.): Classification of learning activities – Manual. Luxemburg 2006

EUROSTAT: Specifications of online tables for AES. Version: 25.10.2017. Luxemburg 2017

SCHÖNFELD, G.; BEHRINGER, F.: Betriebliche Weiterbildung. In: BILGER, F. u. a. (Ed.): Weiterbildungsverhalten in Deutschland 2016. Ergebnisse des Adult Education Survey (AES). Bielefeld 2017, S. 56-73

Research Associate in the “Economics of VET” Division at BIBB

Staff Member in the “Economics of VET” Division at BIBB


Translation from the German original (published in BWP 3/2018): Martin Lee, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin