Well-trained employees are a competitive advantage for businesses. Advanced training helps to keep vocational qualification levels up-to-date, safeguards jobs and improves career prospects.

Vocational advanced training is often associated with great effort and high costs where evening lessons and weekend seminars are attended over months or years, culminating in examinations requiring intensive preparation. In addition, employers have to agree and allow employees to take time off. Often businesses financially support advanced training programmes. However, they hedge their investment by way of contracts and repayment clauses. Employees leaving their company during or shortly after advanced training have to pay back costs.

Alternatively, the German federal qualification initiative provides support by way of the Advanced Further Training Assistance Act (AFBG - Aufstiegsfortbildungsförderungsgesetz), also called master BAföG. The act ensures individual rights to funding advanced training such as master craftsman programmes and comparable courses.

These courses may be full- or part-time, school- or home-based, media-supported or distance learning. Usually, advanced training programmes require a previous professional qualification and professional experience. Craftsmen and other skilled workers preparing for an advanced training qualification and holding a vocational education and training qualification can apply for a master BaföG (Meister Bafög).

A programme contribution is available for part-time and full-time courses; it is up to EUR 10 266 for training course and examination fees, of which 30.5% are given as a grant and the rest is offered as a loan at low interest rates. The exam work sample is funded up to half of the costs, yet capped at EUR 1 534 and given as a loan at low interest rates. Applications for support funding are submitted to municipal educational support offices. Loans are granted by the government-owned development bank (KfW - Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau). In 2014, over 171 000 employees received master BAföG funding and their numbers are increasing.

‘This is an extremely gratifying development’, says Education Minister Johanna Wanka. ‘It shows that investments into vocational education and training (VET) bear fruit. Master BAföG helps recipients to achieve better qualifications and develop professionally. It contributes to safeguarding skilled labour supply. Many recipients later choose to become self-employed and create jobs. So the approved funding of EUR 576 million is well invested.’

The Ministry of Education supports young qualified professionals under 25 years with continuing education scholarships. For up to three years, they provide graduates with funding for continuing education programmes in their discipline or across disciplines. Graduates with a final grade of 1.9 or better are eligible to apply. Qualification criteria are also met if graduates successfully participate in supraregional skills competitions or are highly recommended by employers. Each year, up to 6 000 scholarships of up to EUR 2 000 per person and year are granted. Personal contribution is 10% per programme. Continuing education scholarships are organised nationwide by the foundation vocational training programme for highly talented (SBB - Stiftung Begabtenförderung berufliche Bildung).

Upgrading scholarships provide experienced professionals with an incentive to enroll in university courses. Full-time study courses are funded with a lump sum of EUR 670 per month; part-time extra-occupational students receive up to EUR 2 000 per year. Applicants must have at least two years’ professional experience in addition to a particularly successful graduation result. Applicants are tested on their willingness to perform and learn and selection takes place after personal interviews.

The Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia offers education cheques for employees, people returning to work and entrepreneurs starting a new business. Half of all private expenses for occupational advanced training may be subsidised, capped at a maximum of EUR 2 000 per education cheque. All forms of continuing education are subsidised that serve a purpose of ongoing occupational qualification and maintaining one's employability. This includes language and IT training, media training and extra-occupational university courses. A ondition for issuing education cheques is free consultation at an advisory office prior to the continuing education course.

In addition, the Ministry for Education has introduced the education bonus programme (Bildungsprämie). All employed or self-employed persons, whose taxable annual income does not exceed EUR 20 000 (EUR 40 000 in the event of joint assessment), may receive a bonus voucher of up to EUR 500. However, this bonus must be match-funded out of one's own pocket. Vouchers may be used towards training courses, examinations and certificates.

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