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Germany: challenges and opportunities for vocational schools

Demographic change, ongoing digitalisation of the world of work, the trend towards higher level school leaving qualifications and an increasingly heterogeneous group of learners: all these are challenges that dual vocational education and training (VET), including vocational schools, need to meet.

Hence, the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) is investigating of the current situation of vocational schools as learning venues and the various approaches adopted in the different federal states (Länder). Important points emerged in this national comparison, particularly in two areas: recruitment and initial and continuing training of teaching staff; and the need for close cooperation and synchronisation between the two learning venues, the company and the vocational school.

The study was based on data, literature research, secondary analyses and case studies involving expert interviews with representatives of Länder education ministries and vocational schools. Seven occupations were selected as examples: bricklayer, construction mechanic, plastics and rubber processing mechanic, information technology specialist, hotel clerk, hunting ground supervisor, and milliner. Within the scope of these occupations, the study traced student numbers, looked at the structure of VET-related teaching, and identified possible forms of cooperation between learning venues. The results show that:

  • declining student numbers have already led to closures of classes and vocational schools. From 2006/07 to 2014/15, the number of vocational schools fell by around 6.6% to 1 552 and the number of classes by over 8 000 (9.7%) to approximately 75 200. This makes it increasingly difficult to provide schooling near to an apprentices’ place of residence, particularly in eastern parts of Germany;
  • increased differentiation within training occupations also has its consequences. It is becoming more difficult to ensure that schools can provide the specialised knowledge and skills required in the last stage of the training;
  • the highly heterogeneous groups of learners is an increasing challenge for vocational schools. This not only relates to different outcomes of prior learning but also to the different occupations and branches and the size of the company in which the young people are trained.

Because the situation in the individual federal states varies due to regional differences, the particular characteristics of individual training occupations and the contrasting ways in which vocational school teaching is organised, it is not possible to arrive at a catch-all solution. However, the investigation is able to reach the following overarching conclusions:

  • close contact and good cooperation between companies and vocational schools are crucial to improving teaching quality, for instance in helping set realistic and authentic assignments. Cooperation between the two learning venues also has a significant part to play given the dynamic technological development in trade and industry;
  • all Länder face the challenge of recruiting staff to deliver high-quality teaching and providing them with subject-specific and practice-related initial and continuing professional development. Recruiting teachers for technical occupations is particularly difficult. BIBB’s analysis indicates that cross-Länder approaches may be helpful in securing subject-specific teaching. At the same time, the focus needs to be on alleviating staff shortages, covering training requirements and making the profession of vocational school teacher more attractive again;
  • school development planning across different locations, creating information and communication structures, e-learning provision, specialist classes for more than one cohort of apprentices, and more individualised teaching, could all be viable options to address the challenges.

Source: BIBB, revised by ReferNet Germany

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