Apprenticeships for Everyone? An Assessment of Germany’s “Transition System”

30 September 2014

An increasing number of German youth are unable to access Germany's much lauded vocational training system due to increased competition and a shortage of spots. The German government has introduced the "transition system"– a collection of schemes aimed at providing young people a bridge between school and the vocational training system.

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This report was featured as a chapter in ‘Overcoming the Youth Employment Crisis : Strategies from Around the Globe’, a joint report co-authored by the global partners of JustJobs Network.
The highly regulated German vocational training system is known worldwide for enabling structured transitions from school to work and offering high numbers of young people quality training that leads to good job outcomes. The dual system, which combines practical firm-based apprenticeships with theoretical school-based training, has been, and still is, strongly linked to employers and labor market demand. It provides relatively smooth transitions from school to work. Moreover, there are no formal entry qualifications for training within the dual system, meaning – at least in theory – that young people with fewer formal qualifications can still progress toward a high-quality job.
During the last two decades, however, the transition from school to vocational training has changed, particularly for low-educated young people – those with lower secondary degrees or less education. Rising numbers of youth fail to start regular training immediately after leaving school. Instead, they often enter schemes of the so-called transition system. The transition system is constituted by all kinds of training, education and labor market schemes that are meant to facilitate the transition from school to training, but do not provide approved vocational certifications.
This report assesses the extent to which the transition system is providing effective linkages between school and formal vocational training for vulnerable young people in the German labor market. First, it discusses two different explanations for why transition system programs are growing. The next section describes the transition system and who enters it, providing an evaluation of the system’s ability to channel young people toward positive employment outcomes. Finally, the chapter highlights some of the system’s success stories and discusses ways forward to ensure that Germany’s globally lauded vocational training system continues to put young people on a path toward high-quality employment.