Andrea Nahles, Germany’s labour minister, likes to point out that the two European Union countries with the lowest unemployment – Germany and Austria – have dual-education systems. Like Switzerland, they have a tradition of combining apprenticeships with formal schooling for the young “so that education is always tied to demand”, she says. When youths graduate from the system, they often walk straight into well-paying jobs.
Visiting an automotive components manufacturer’s plant last September, Nahles praised the fact that among the entire production site staff of 550, nearly 10 per cent were apprentice youths engaged in vocational training. They will stay at the company, or move on to another one if there is no need at their current employer, after their three-year training – they are qualified to work in their profession anywhere from the day they receive their certificate.
With youth unemployment in Germany and Austria below 8 per cent, compared to 56 per cent in Spain and 38 per cent in Italy, Germany’s dual vocational training system is today “an export blockbuster”, as Nahles recently phrased it. Germany has already signed memoranda with Greece, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain to help set up vocational-education systems.
German Ambassador to Cambodia Joachim Baron von Marschall described the effectiveness of the dual system even more bluntly.
“A well-trained work force is the secret of a successful economy – the case of Germany is proof to this,” he said. “The German ‘dual system’ [training on the job and school classes provided simultaneously] has a long tradition. Stretching from small businesses to big companies, the whole private sector in Germany engages in training.”
But should other countries adopt it? Prominent Germans in the Cambodian business community seem to think so.
“The vocational training system in Germany has proven itself over many decades, actually centuries,” says Tassilo Brinzer, head of the German Business Group in Cambodia. “It is the base on which today’s successful products made in Germany, what their high-quality standards are built on. The ADW and its members are very interested in developing, and are actively engaged in promoting, a similar system in Cambodia; though possibly not for a three-year training, but over two years.
“Schools can be supported by the private sector as well as by international organisations, and teach basic mathematics, English, or whatever else is needed for the profession,” he continued. “We need to bring many young people with basic education, who are not qualified for university, to a level where they can work anywhere in ASEAN by having recognised expertise and knowledge in one profession. Only then will they receive a decent salary or be able to start their own enterprise.”
Although based on century-old traditions, today’s modern dual vocational training system formally dates to 1969. German youths not interested in, or qualified for, university can sign up for a program in which they work three or four days a week for a firm that pays them a low salary and teaches relevant skills on the job. One or two days a week they spend in school, completing mostly specialised courses, but also general courses such as learning English. Chambers of commerce or industry associations make sure that the work and the teaching are matched, and certify the trainees after three years.
About two in three young Germans go through this system and into about 350 different careers and specialist occupations. Some end up in blue-collar jobs, others in sales and marketing, shipping and agriculture, masonry or car mechanics, pharmacology or accounting. The practical nature of the education, its close adherence to real-life expectations and its reliance on input from employers are a huge advantage, ensuring the system provides the market with qualified, expert workers in line with the latest market expectations.
“No doubt, Cambodia’s economy will get a major [boost] with the arrival of a modern vocational training system, with the public and the private sector coordinating their efforts,” Ambassador Baron von Marschall said. “I would be happy to see the German example serving as an inspiration along this way.”