Advanced training at the highest level – certified business economist

Gunther Spillner, Hannelore Mottweiler

The qualification of certified business economist pursuant to the Berufsbildungsgesetz (BBiG) [Vocational Training Act] is one of the flagship certifications in the area of advanced commercial training. It is one of only a very small number of vocational qualifications which are aligned to level 7 of the German Qualifications Framework (DQR) and thus enjoy equivalence with university-based master’s degrees. The qualification has been updated with the aim of addressing the current needs of companies and of those completing the certification and thus also with a view to enhancing the attractiveness of this advanced training option. This article highlights the objectives of the revision, the content adjustments which have been made and the particular characteristics associated with alignment to DQR level 7.

Dynamism within the commercial sector – goals of the new regulations

In the more recent past, the social partners and trade and industry organisations have received increasing feedback from practice that the existing ordinance dating from 2006 ought to have its contents extended to include thematic areas such as risk management, compliance and digital development in order to take account of the requirements arising as a result of cross-sectoral change in the commercial occupational areas. The qualification has now been updated. At the same time, the advanced training regulations have been adjusted to meet current ordinance standards and are now formulated in a robustly competence-oriented way. The subject-aligned format of the previous ordinance was restructured to achieve a holistic and process-oriented consideration of the respective areas of activity which is guided by the model of the self-contained activity. A further intention is that the formulations of the requirements should correspond to DQR level 7 (cf. Information Box) in terms of their respective degree of complexity and responsibility and with regard to scope.

DQR-level 7

The German Qualifications Framework (DQR) describes eight competence levels to which qualifications within the German educational system can be aligned. Each reference level has a brief introductory text which describes the requirements structure of the respective level. The “level indicator” for level 7 – comparable with level 7 of the European Qualifications Framework (EQR) – describes requirements in the following terms. “Competencies which are required for the processing of new and complex professional tasks and problems and for the autonomous management of processes within a scientific subject or within a strategically-oriented field of occupational activity. The structure of requirements is characterised by frequent and unpredictable changes.”

The advanced training regulations were previously divided into the three examination areas of business activity and company performance processes, leadership and management at the company and project work and project-related specialist oral examination. The structure of the updated examination now follows five areas of activity:

  1. Identify and organise company-specific strategic areas
  2. Evaluate general regulatory and fiscal conditions with regard to company strategy
  3. Organise national and international performance processes
  4. Take account of strategic stipulations in shaping company organisation to secure performance and company processes
  5. Assume and monitor management of company processes.

The necessary content expansions have been integrated into the areas of activity. Compliance, for example, is included as qualification content within the field of “Identify and organise company-specific strategic areas” and should in future be accorded due consideration in the shaping of the strategic areas. Risk management is firmly established as part of the self-contained activity within the same area when the focus is on the means and measures which could be used to tap into new potential areas of success and to decrease risk potential. In addition, certified business economists must in future be in a position to identify and shape company-specific strategic areas and to develop and deploy marketing strategies and marketing instruments in accordance with the demands of domestic and international markets.

Third level of advanced training as the tip of the pyramid

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Figure: Levels model for advanced vocational training programmes

In its capacity as an ordinance at the third advanced training stage of DQR level 7, the examination leading to the qualification of certified business economist pursuant to the BBiG represents the tip of a pyramid whose basis is made up of a plethora of relevant training occupations at DQR levels 3 and 4 and a broad portfolio of advanced training examinations at DQR levels 5 and 6, particularly those leading to the qualification of senior clerk (cf. Figure).

Because of the generic profile of this advanced training, the requirements profile in the areas of activity needed to be formulated in such a way so as to map all relevant branches, including commerce, banking, insurance, IT, industry, management consultancy, the hotel and restaurant sector and social occupations. On the basis of the expansion of their employability skills, certified business economists should be able to act independently and autonomously in preparing and implementing strategic decisions across all branches and company sizes. This objective has been met with regard to the professional and personal competencies required in different areas.

Reciprocal permeability

Because of the alignment of the qualification to DQR level 7 and the broad degree of practical relevance exhibited, even the entry prerequisites particularly focus on making it clear that this form of advanced training is an equally attractive and pioneering option for persons who have completed higher education rather than merely being of significance within the scope of a vocational education and training career concept. The entry requirements (§ 3) set out that higher education graduates who have obtained a first degree, Masters or Bachelor in the economic sciences from a state or state-recognised institute of higher education may also be admitted to the examination if they are able to demonstrate at least one year of relevant professional practice following their qualification.

Quality assured examination

The new ordinance contains a range of various examination forms in order to provide quality assurance across the broad portfolio of competences. These include a written examination part in which assignments are derived from a description of company situations and which thematically addresses all areas of activity. This element of the examination has been further expanded to encompass demonstration of English language competencies. The oral part of the examination is also aligned to problems that arise from company practice. As well as providing evidence of analytical, problem solving and conceptual competencies, candidates are required to demonstrate the ability to communicate in an appropriate and proper manner and to present specialist contents.

The project-related examination forms a third and independent element. It comprises written project work together with a forward-looking practice-based company task, a presentation and a specialist oral examination based on the project work. This part of the examination thus particularly addresses the requirements relating to “the processing of new and complex professional tasks and problems and the autonomous management of processes within a strategically oriented field of occupational activity” and also takes account of the increasing significance of project-based work in company practice.


Head of the “Commercial, Media and Logistics Occupations” Division at BIBB
Dr., Research Associate in the “Commercial, Media and Logistics Occupations” Division at BIBB

Translation from the German original (published in BWP 4/2018): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin