Training occupation and current occupation – on professional and qualification matches

Anja Hall, Ana Santiago Vela

The current occupation does not always match the training occupation. Education-job match relates to the professional field or to the qualification level of the tasks carried out in the current occupation. If an occupational change has taken place, i.e. if training and current occupation are not the same, occupation-specific knowledge and skills may be lost, and the risk for overqualification may thereby be higher. Focusing on the relationship between training and current occupation, this article investigates whether, and to which extent, vocational education and training can enable women and men to do a job adequately matched to their qualification level. This also applies after an occupational change has taken place. The analysis bases on data from the BIBB/BAuA Employment Survey 2018.

Training and current occupation

Occupations form the link between individual skills and employment (cf. Ebner 2016, p. 13). They serve as a labour market guide for employers and employees by facilitating inter-company recognition and intra-company transferability of qualifications (cf. Sengenberger 1987, pp. 126 ff.). The VET system provides an important foundation for the occupational structure of the German labour market, although the occupation in which training has taken place and the current occupation do not need to be exactly the same (cf. Beck/Brater/Daheim 1980, pp. 111 ff.). The objective of VET is “to impart full occupational proficiency across a broad range of task areas to young people entering the world of work” (BIBB 2015, p. 7). This means that VET is intended to create a sufficient degree of occupational flexibility in order to open up good career prospects outside the training occupation (in a related occupation). Transferring the skills and competencies acquired in the training occupation is of considerable benefit in terms of gaining access to employment that is in line with a person’s qualifications level.

Relationship between horizontal and vertical match

Education-job match has two dimensions. A horizontal match indicates professional content match between the training and current occupation. The vertical match relates to the equivalence between the qualification requirement of occupational tasks and the acquired qualification level of the jobholder. The utilisation of labour skills on the labour market is determined by the training occupation. This particularly applies to the German labour market, which is characterised by a strong degree of occupational specifity (cf. Beck/Brater/Daheim 1980, p. 206) and by a strong link between the VET and the employment system (cf. Müller/Shavit 1998). One can expect that an occupational change (i.e. carrying out job tasks in a different professional field) will be associated with a loss of occupation-specific knowledge and skills and may also lead to occupational disadvantages (cf. Hall 2010).

The question as to when an occupational change has occurred is not a simple yes or no issue. Occupations display manifold kinship with one another. Occupational changes are thus often of a “gradual” nature. A complete occupational change only materialises if the current occupation is entirely different in terms of tasks and requirements from the previous occupation or from the training occupation (cf. Molle 1968). One example would be if a bank clerk were to be employed as a mechanic. Only a partial occupational change would ensue if the same bank clerk were to work outside his training occupation as an office management clerk. These two occupations (training and current occupation) are to some extent similar and therefore interrelated with regard to tasks performed.

Beyond this horizontal aspect, VET should also ideally lead to employment adequately matched with the qualification level of the employed person. Overqualification is associated with income disadvantages and a lower job satisfaction (cf. Rohrbach-Schmidt/Tiemann 2016, Büchel 1998). Working women are more likely than working men to be overqualified (cf. e.g. Hall 2011, Büchel 1998). The reasons for these disparities may lie in the differing employment histories of men and women. Female employment history is more likely to contain discontinuities as a result of phases spent caring for family members. Labour market interruption is particularly associated with negative consequences for the medium and long-term career prospects of mothers (Busch/Holst 2009). One can thus expect that the risk of overqualification varies in line with the degree of relationship between current and training occupation .The strongest divergence in the risk for overqualification between men and women is expected to occur if current and training occupation differs completely, i.e. after an occupational change has taken place.

Database and operationalisation

The BIBB/BAuA Employment Survey 2018 used here (cf. Information Box) is a current and representative data source on employed persons in Germany which also contains suitable indicators for the measurement of professional and qualification level match.

BIBB/BAuA Employment Survey 2018 (ETB 2018)

The data were collected by Kantar Public, Munich, during the period from 2 October 2017 to 5 April 2018 using computer-assisted telephone interviews (CATI). The selection of telephone numbers is based on a random mathematical and statistical procedure (Gabler-Häder sampling process). This ensures that the design of the sample is representative. Landline numbers were contacted, and 30 per cent of calls were made to mobile numbers (so-called dual frame approach). The statistical population comprises fully employed persons aged 15 years old and in paid employment for at least ten hours per week. Data was adapted to the structures of the statistical population via weighting in accordance with central characteristics on the basis of the 2017 Microcensus.

Further information on the BIBB/BAuA Employment Surveys is available at: www.bibb.de/arbeit-im-wandel.

The analysis is limited to employed persons whose highest educational level completed is dual VET. Persons with an upgrading training are not taken into account. If more than one training programme has been completed at the same level, the most recent achieved qualification is considered. The analysis comprises a total of 6,555 persons (3,523 men and 3,032 women).

The assessments given by respondents were used to measure occupational changes. The assessments determine whether the tasks carried out in the current occupation are related to the training occupation (partial occupational change) or whether these are no longer connected with the training occupation (complete occupational change). The relevant question is formulated as follows. “If you compare your current occupation with your training occupation, would you say that the current occupation is in line with the activity for which your training occupation usually provides preparation, that the current occupation is related to your training occupation or that the current occupation no longer has anything to do with the training occupation?”1

In order to map the education-job match, the qualification level required to carry out the occupational task first needs to be identified. The BIBB/BAuA Employment Survey 2018 posed the following question. “What sort of education is usually required to carry out your occupational tasks? Do you need to have completed VET? Is a degree from a university of applied sciences or an institute of higher education required? Must you be in possession of an advanced VET qualification, such as master craftsman or technician? Or is no vocational training qualification needed?” Persons who have completed dual VET are employed at a level adequately matched with their qualification if they carry out tasks for which at least a vocational qualification is normally required. By way of contrast, overqualification exists if no training qualification is usually needed for the work activities carried out (unskilled jobs).2

Descriptive results of the analysis are presented below. These provide a summary of the relationship between training and current occupation. A multivariate logistic model is then used to investigate the question of whether those changing occupation are more likely to be overqualified and whether these effects of occupational change on overqualification risk differ between men and women.

Does the current occupation match the training occupation?

Figure 1

According to the BIBB/BAuA Employment Survey 2018, around one in four employed persons with a dual training qualification (25.7%) are working in the occupation in which they have trained. Around a third (34.0%) have experienced a partial occupational change, i.e. the training and the current occupation are related. Four in ten employed persons with a vocational training in the dual system (40.3%) have completely moved away from their training occupation, i.e. experienced a complete occupational change (cf. Figure 1). Persons from broadly based training occupations such as industrial mechanic, tools mechanic, mechanic for motor vehicle body maintenance technology and the commercial office occupations are particularly likely to carry out tasks which are outside but related to their training occupation (cf. Hall 2011, pp. 134 ff.).

Differentiation by gender (not presented here) shows that women are slightly more likely than men to experience a complete occupational change (42.3% as opposed to 38.9%). In turn, men are slightly more likely than women to work in occupations related to their training occupations, i.e. partial occupational change (35.7% as opposed to 31.4%).

Change of occupation and the consequences for overqualification

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Figure 2

Figure 2 shows the estimated likelihoods of overqualification for employment depending on the degree of kinship between the training and the current occupation for men and women. Calculations are based on a logistic regression model, in which various characteristics have been included (cf. note to Figure 2).

It is revealed that men and women who have completed dual VET and are working in the occupation in which they trained are highly unlikely to be affected by overqualification (1.5% and 3.6% respectively). Although proportions of overqualification rise significantly to 6.3 per cent and 8.5 per cent respectively if the occupation is partially changed, these figures remain clearly below the rates recorded for persons who have completely changed their training occupation. If current occupation is entirely different from the training occupation, 21.9 per cent of men and 34.6 per cent of women are predicted to be overqualified, i.e. working below their qualification level in unskilled jobs.

These results permit two interpretations. On the one hand, a complete occupational change is associated with an increased risk of overqualification. The explanation for this is that occupation-specific skills and competencies acquired in training cannot be used in the current occupation. On the other hand, a majority of men (78.1%) and of women (65.4%) hold a job which match their qualification level despite the fact that they are exercising a completely different occupation compared to the training occupation. This makes it clear that skilled workers who have undergone training in the dual system also enjoy good prospects outside their training occupation. One finding which has emerged from other studies is that women are more likely to exhibit overqualification for employment than men (cf. e.g. Hall 2011; Büchel 1998). Although the present result supports this assertion, it also puts it firmly into perspective in terms of extent. In case of partial occupational change or no occupational change at all, women are only slightly more likely (2 percentage points) than men to be overqualified. Large and significant differences between men and women only occur in the case of complete occupational changes (difference of 12.7 percentage points). This means that women’s higher risk of overqualification does not apply across the board. They are in particular significantly more likely than men to suffer overqualification as the result of a complete occupational change.

Overqualification involves significant income losses. According to the BIBB/BAuA Employment Survey 2018, the average gross hourly wage for overqualified women is significantly lower than the equivalent wage received by women who are employed in a job matching their qualification level (€ 11.40 as opposed to € 15.10). The income difference calculated for men goes from € 14.40 to € 17.50.

Occupational prospects outside the training occupation – men enjoy advantages

The results show that the knowledge and skills acquired in dual VET can also be utilised outside the training occupation. One in three employed persons with a VET degree work in an occupation related to their training occupation (partial occupational change). Many of the knowledge and competencies obtained in training can be used, and this means that the risk of overqualification is relatively low.

Secondly, there is also a considerable amount of employment adequately matched with qualification levels of job holders, even if tasks carried out are no longer connected with the training occupation (complete occupational change). Such opportunities to switch occupations without loss of status makes people flexible and thus independent of employment conditions in their own occupation. Occupational flexibility plays a key role in overcoming economic structural change and in avoiding future shortages of skilled workers in certain fields of employment (cf. Helmrich/Zika 2010).

However, complete occupational changes are also associated with a higher risk of overqualification (and thereby income losses). This risk is generally higher for women than for men. However, the greatest difference between men and women with respect to risks of occupational status loss occurs in the case of a complete occupational change. Outside the training occupation (complete occupational change) men are more likely to be employed in jobs which adequately match their qualification level and they are also more likely to benefit from flexibility between the training and current occupation.

We know from analyses of gender wage differences that long breaks in employment following the birth of a child (beyond the statutory stipulated period) lead to lower wages for women (cf. Schmelzer/Kurz/Schulze 2015). Opportunities to achieve a work-life balance are thus a crucial factor in determining occupational opportunities for women. Further analyses would be required in order to investigate which role training occupations of women and men play for the risk of overqualification.

  • 1

    Analyses on the utilisation of occupational knowledge and skills indicate that the construct possesses a high degree of validity (cf. Hall 2011, p. 129).

  • 2

    Research considers the subjective approach to be robust (cf. Büchel 1998, pp. 68 ff.). Further characteristics are also used for the measurement of the requirements level in order to achieve a valid operationalisation with as little inconsistency as possible. These are the induction period, attendance of particular seminars or courses and position in the company.


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Dr., Research Associate in the “Qualifications, Occupational Integration and Employment” Division at BIBB

Research Associate in the ”Qualifications, Occupational Integration and Employment” Division at BIBB


Translation from the German original (published in BWP 2/2019): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin