Vocational training in the Federal Republic of Germany is divided in on-the-job training and theoretical education in vocational training schools. This system is called the dual system.
The characteristic feature of this system is that theoretical knowledge and practical skills are combined already during the training. Only on-the-job will a trainee be able to learn how to cope with the constantly changing demands of the job and to appreciate the variety of social relationships that exist in the working life. In addition, learning by doing will give a sense of achievement and provide a special source of motivation for the trainee. It promotes independence and a sense of responsibility, which are indispensable qualities in a developed industrial country. By tackling concrete tasks under true working conditions the trainees can give evidence of the knowledge and skills they have acquired and experience the success of their efforts.
The Vocational Training
The Vocational Training Act regulates inter alia the training of young persons after their period of compulsory school attendance. As determined in the Act, the concept of vocational training comprises initial training, further training and vocational retraining. In conformity with the powers of jurisdiction laid down in the German constitution, the Vocational Training Act does not apply to vocational training schools, for which the constituent states of the Federal Republic (the ”Länder") are responsible.
The consequence of this is general freedom to contract. The employer can decide whether he wishes to take on trainees and with whom he concludes a training contract. The same applies to the young persons. Neither for employers nor for young persons is there an obligation to train. Nor are young persons directed into specific occupations: the labour offices merely give vocational advice and help to find training places for prospective trainees.
The Process of Training
While any company is free to decide whether or not to take on trainees, the process of training itself is of course governed by certain rules. The responsibilities lie with the responsible federal minister. He or she is charged with issuing training regulations, specifying the name of the trainee occupation, the period of training (generally between two and three years), and the abilities and knowledge to be imparted in the course of training.
The Companies' Qualification for Training
The above mentioned need to make due allowance for differing conditions throughout the working environment in formulating training regulations does not mean that every employer will have to be able to undertake training in accordance with these regulations. There will always be firms that are unable to provide training, whether because of their structure, their facilities, their degree of specialization, their production programme, the services they offer or their personnel structure and the like.
Technical developments make training contents, particularly in the field of industrial training, increasingly complex. Training for a large number of occupations have to be imparted independent of production, in separate training courses. For this purpose, medium and large scale enterprises have installed special training workshops. For those firms that are too small to operate their own facilities, training workshops above single firm level have been established by the Chambers and by professional associations. However, such facilities are no substitute for, but only a supplement to, training on the job.
Attendance at the vocational training schools, which accompanies on-the-job training, is compulsory for every trainee for twelve hours of instruction a week. The schools are state-run.
The Task of the Chambers
The principal tasks undertaken by the Chambers in vocational training are the following:
Looking after and supervising training matters
One of the most important tasks of the Chambers is advising companies that train people on all problems connected with training. Issues they are concerned with are, the structure of the training, the use of training aids, educational, psychological and legal questions. At the same time the Chambers also give advice to trainees. Any employer wishing to engage trainees must fulfil certain conditions regarding their suitability for this task. The company must be able to offer facilities, production programmes or services to train people. In addition, the training employer and any training officers must have specific personal, professional and teaching qualifications. The Chambers will ascertain before the start of the training and also during the course of training whether these qualifications are present. This is done on the basis of a vocational training register kept by the Chambers, in which all vocational training contracts must be entered. The task of looking after and supervising training matters is assigned to the training counsellors on the staff of each Chamber.
Interim and final examinations
Each trainee must take an interim examination in the course of the training. The examination serves to ascertain the level the trainee has reached. The Chambers establish boards of examiners to hold these examinations. Every trainee has to take a final examination at the end of his period of training in order to show that they have acquired the necessary professional qualifications. The Chambers will establish boards of examiners consisting of at least three members, being employers' and employees' representatives in equal numbers and at least one vocational school teacher, to hold these examinations. Rules to be observed in connection with final examinations are issued by the Vocational Training Committee of the Chamber, consisting of employers' and employees' representatives in equal numbers and vocational school teachers as consultant members. These rules make provision for the conditions of admission, the form of the examination, the criteria for marking, the issue of examination certificates, the consequences of breaches of the rules and the possibility of repeating the examination. The abilities to be examined are laid down in the training regulations. According to the occupation, they may provide for a test of practical and/or theoretical skills. The practical examination will call for samples of work and/or test workpieces. The theoretical test is conducted as a written and/or oral examination.
After having passed the examination, the trainee will receive an examination certificate issued by the responsible Chamber. This certificate is not an authorization. Its principal purpose is to show that the person concerned has acquired the qualifications necessary for a specific occupation. But it is also the basis for professional progress and career advancement. Passing the final examination is one of the conditions for admission to the Masters' examination and many other further training examinations, for demonstrating the aptitude for training in a number of branches of trade, industry and commerce, and in many cases basis for the assertion of collectively agreed claims.
The Chambers may hold examinations to test the knowledge, abilities and experience acquired as a result of further training. The Vocational Training Committees issue special regulations governing the subject matter, purpose, standards, procedures and conditions of admission of such examinations. The Chamber establishes boards of examiners to hold the examinations, subject to the same conditions as for the final examinations. To achieve an orderly and uniform system of further training, the Federal Minister for Education and Science may issue ordinances regulating the examinations. The Chambers collaborate in formulating such regulations through experts whom they appoint.
However, the activities of the Chambers in the field of further training are not confined to holding examinations. They also provide further training measures. In this context one may distinguish between training for advancement, the object of which is to enable the trainee to gain advancement in his job, i. e. to take on a better qualified position in his firm, and training for adaptation, the object of which is to retain and to extend occupational knowledge and skills and to adapt them to technical developments. These are generally short-term measures, while training for advancement will normally require the trainee to attend courses totalling 500 to 700 hours of instruction. As a rule only these courses are completed by taking an examination held by the Chamber.
The Chambers hold examinations for persons who have been retrained for a different occupation, setting up the required boards of examiners. Where these examinations are not held for recognized training occupations, the Vocational Training Committees must issue the necessary regulations concerning subject matter, purpose, standards, procedures and conditions of admission.