What are they doing right? 3 cases

This article was originally published in Elm’s predecessor media, LLinE. Austria, Germany and Switzerland all have low youth unemployment rates compared to the rest of Europe. What are they doing differently in education policy? What good practices could be shared? Three cases from each country shed light on this question. All countries use a mix


This article was originally published in Elm’s predecessor media, LLinE. Austria, Germany and Switzerland all have low youth unemployment rates compared to the rest of Europe. What are they doing differently in education policy? What good practices could be shared? Three cases from each country shed light on this question. All countries use a mix of active labour market policies and operate a dual system with apprenticeships combined with vocational education and guidance.

Austria’s success on the youth labour market – not systemic but voluntaristic

Lorenz Lassnigg



Austrian politicians are currently very happy about the country’s performance on the youth labour market, and EU politicians point to the successful small country. Indeed, the conventional indicators about youth unemployment give a very favourable picture. The youth unemployment rate is among the lowest of the OECD and the European Union after the crisis, and has been already in such a favourable position for some time already. This contribution aims at a closer look at the situation in Austria, and tries to explain this development.

Austria is one of the few countries that retained a strong apprenticeship system, together with Germany and Switzerland.linkit As youth unemployment is also low in the latter countries, apprenticeship is seen as a major factor that contributes to the favourable situation. Recently some authors have theorized the collective skills systems as a kind of insurance against unemployment.

However, the outside views differ from perceptions from inside the country. In Austria apprenticeship is widely perceived as an endangered species, and several reforms were made to counter structural problems. On four strong indicators of the recent EUROFOUND (2012)  study about the youth labour market we find Austria together with the Netherlands and Denmark four times, and Germany three times among the best five countries. Austria is ranking second on average, Germany fourth; thus not only the traditional apprenticeship countries rank best.

We will show in this contribution that apprenticeship is one factor that contributes to the favourable position of the Austrian youth labour market, however, not the only one. There are two other factors of the same importance as the apprenticeship system, one is a strong system of vocational education and training (VET) fulltime schools and colleges, and the second is a strong political consensus and priority for fighting youth unemployment, and also using active labour market policy (ALMP)  as an additional instrument for this purpose.

ALMP include state intervention measures such as public employment, training schemes and employment subsidies. In particular the third factor is underlined as a very important element that brings the other two into effect to some extent, as the ALMP instruments are much more flexible than the education and training (ET) institutions, and they have strongly supported apprenticeship already since the 1980s. However, the ALMP policies are also to some extent an Achilles’ heel, as their effects are not completely clear.

To explore how the Austrian policies work together with the framework of institutions we will first look more closely on the transitional space between education and employment, and secondly we will show how the Austrian youth labour market came through the crisis of 2009. This chapter heavily draws on two recent analyses by the author (Lassnigg, 2011a, 2012), and is supported by extended materials provided on the internet (Lassnigg, 2013).

The transitional space between education and employment

“Dualism” of full time school and apprenticeship in the 15-19-years age group

We first look at the age group of 15-19. At age 15 compulsory school ends at grade nine, which is a transitional stage, as the upper secondary cycle starts already within compulsory schooling. This has provided strong incentives for young people to start a programme in full time VET. A broad range of three to five years upper secondary VET programmes in full time schools is visited parallel to the academic school (traditional Gymnasium) and a one year preparatory school for access to apprenticeship (the proportion of VET to the academic school is about 3:1).

Apprenticeship starts at grade ten, after completion of compulsory school.

The VET system is occupationally specialised according to more than hundred programmes and at the same time to broadly three vertical levels: (1) five years upper level VET colleges provide a double qualification for an occupational field and an equivalent to the academic Matura for access to higher education, these programmes are the main path for upward mobility in Austria whereas the Gymnasium serves primarily for status reproduction; (2) two to four years medium VET schools provide medium level qualifications to some extent equivalent to apprenticeship, and (3) the traditional apprenticeship trades are under reform towards modular programmes that allow to combine basic occupations and specialisations.

Until the recent past the apprenticeships were situated at the lowest end of this hierarchy, and with respect to the economic returns they still are. The medium level schools and the apprenticeship qualifications are separated from higher education (HE), more recently still small but more stable bridges towards HE are under construction from the medium level (Aufbaulehrgänge, Lehre mit Matura).

At the transition from compulsory school to upper secondary education at grade nine and ten the young people are about fifteen years old; about five per cent of a cohort, mostly disadvantaged young people who have already repeated grades within compulsory school, get immediately lost at this transition point and are going into the pool of early school leavers, the others start an upper secondary programme.

Here two different selection modes have existed in the Austrian system, a first one into full time schooling depending heavily on success with school achievement, and a second mode depending on the criteria of training companies and enterprises for apprenticeship, where school grades are not being a formal requirement. The enterprises are solely selecting according to their own criteria, and therefore different capabilities of young people play a role for getting access into an upper secondary career. The access to apprenticeship is supported by the Public Employment Service (PES) by an apprenticeship market as a special sector of the youth labour market. Here imbalances between seekers and places for apprenticeship are documented and immediately visible. Support measures have been built up towards a legally based system of institutional apprenticeship (Überbetriebliche Ausbildung – ÜBA), which is also called training guarantee (Ausbildungsgarantie).

About two thirds of 15-19-year old people are enrolled in full-time programmes and less than one third in apprenticeship. Within full-time schooling the major part of young people visit upper level schools, and the smaller part enrol into medium or lower level schools. The overall quantitative relation between the upper secondary tracks is about 2 : 3 : 2 : 3 of academic upper level : VET upper level : VET medium level : apprenticeship. According to PISA results the proportion of 15-year-olds with severe achievement problems is about one third, these young people are situated in the lower and medium tracks of VET. Since decades the system is not able to cater well with the increasing group of young people from migrant background, who are concentrated in special schools, among dropouts and in the medium level VET schools: apprenticeship is discriminating against them.

During the grades nine to thirteen a substantial flow proceeds from the strongly selective upper level programmes to lower level programmes. About one half of beginners of full-time schooling do not finish their programme; most of them change into apprenticeship. At least ten per cent of beginners leave their educational career as drop outs, and add up to the group of early school leavers. About 10 % of the 15-19 age group are employed outside apprenticeship, and the unemployment stock is low (about 2 % of 15-19-years youth). However, within these different kinds of transition the incidence of unemployment is about 10 %, and many young people receive labour market training.

To recap the above: of 15 to 19-year-olds, roughly two thirds enter full-time secondary schooling, with one third in apprenticeships. About half of full-time beginners later change into apprenticeships.

A “blind spot” of transitions into employment after completing apprenticeship

When we proceed to the 20-24 age group most of upper secondary education is completed, and about two thirds of young people are already employed. The stock of unemployment increases to 6 % with the incidence of unemployment experienced by about thirty per cent of young people in this age group. About one fifth is enrolled in postsecondary or higher education, with a strong overlap of work and education, as the majority of students are in some form working during their studies. We have to remember here that a high proportion of students have already completed an upper level VET programme at the upper secondary cycle. Therefore they can also fall back to their previous level, if they do not complete tertiary education which is often the case (Unger et al., 2011).

Unemployment at this stage is under much lower attention in Austria despite it is substantially higher than in the lower age group. Unemployment is to some extent transitional, as many completers of apprenticeship change their employer after completion, for some part voluntarily, for some part they are not taken over by the enterprise contrary to their wishes. At this stage a kind of systematic “blind spot” is built into the Austrian transition space, as the transition after apprenticeship into regular employment is masked behind the fact that enrolment into apprenticeship (“first threshold” in Germany) which is systematically a transition within ET is institutionally counted as transition into employment (apprenticeship is a special kind of employment relationship, with all social security requirements, and is regular part of employment and the labour force). Therefore the real transition from ET into employment (“second threshold” in Germany), which takes place after completing apprenticeship is not counted and followed up as such.

Not much valid knowledge is available about the use of the apprenticeship qualifications (synthesis), there are indications about very high outflows from the training enterprise, and about half of adult completers are not working in their occupation (Lassnigg, 2010). The focus in this age group is very much laid on the higher education graduates, who are not suffering severe problems.

About one third of young people experiencing unemployment in this age group are trained in ALMP measures, on average during about four months. In absolute terms the unemployment stock in the 20-24-years age group is about 30.000 persons, with more than 150.000 experiencing a spell of unemployment during a year, the inflow in ALMP training measures is about 40.000.

As a consequence of the mentioned “blind spot” we do not know much about the effects of the training measures on young people of this age group. Evaluations are mainly geared towards the younger group, and results are not very favourable. By and large we get a picture that a high proportion of young people without a job (up to two thirds) are enrolled into measures, however, the measures work rather as a second round selection device with about one third being successfully integrated, and with widely missing accounts about the others, which are frequently affected by sequences of measures.

Three building blocks, with ALMP as the essential stopgap

Summarizing this description and analysis of the transitional space, we get three major building blocks, (1) the vertically differentiated full-time schools, (2) apprenticeship, and (3) the framework of ALMP measures grossly comprising two parts: first, support of apprenticeships and second, a broad array of mainly additional training measures for unemployed young people.

The support of apprenticeships has reached about half of all apprentices, if we sum up the inflow of the support of regular apprenticeships (up to one in three 2008) and institutional apprenticeships (up to one in five 2010-11), or about ten per cent of the young population. Additional 7-8 per cent of young people is participating in ALMP training, so overall more than 15 per cent of young people are served by the third building block. Unemployment would be substantially increased if these measures would not exist.

Therefore the success of the Austrian youth labour market can be attributed neither to education, nor to apprenticeship, but to ALMP support.

We call this sector stopgap, or a “makeshift”, however, because it is somehow invisible in the discourses about the reasons of success. The sectors of the education system are claiming the success for themselves and are even criticising ALMP for questionable results of training measures and setting wrong incentives by institutional apprenticeships. From the viewpoint of policy provision, the ALMP measures also suffer from the common perception of being of a temporary nature only, with the consequence that the whole system and its inhabitants are basically perceived as transient and negligible, despite its in fact persistent and established character. This constellation works against professionalism and quality, and implies that the people doing the hard work in the system are carrying very commonly the characteristics of a secondary labour force, with low wages, extremely insecure employment conditions, and the like. An in-depth study about a regional ALMP training system has even found that the trainers often in the beginning of a week didn’t know on which side of the labour market they will find themselves (Zilian et al., 1999, 163).

Comparative data reinforce a relative high effort of ALMP. Standardised to the level of unemployment, the ALMP expenditure in per cent of GDP in Austria ranks third among OECD countries (BMASK, 2012, 5). Expenditure for ALMP has been about 40 per cent above the OECD average in 2009 and participation in ALMP relative to the labour force was about 20 per cent above the OECD. Expenditure for and participation in specific support measures for apprenticeship have risen to 14 % and 20 % of overall ALMP in 2009, being two to three times higher compared to the OECD average. This high effort in apprenticeship is an Austrian specifity and cannot be seen in Germany and Switzerland.
Figure 1 shows the proportion of special support of apprenticeship to ALMP in terms of financing and participation in Austria compared to the OECD average. Whereas the proportion in OECD is between 5 and 8 per cent, it has increased in Austria to 15 to 20 per cent.


Source: OECD LMP data base, own figure, calculation

The policies for the support of apprenticeship have taken another path than in Germany, where a high proportion of young people are enrolled in the so-called “transition system” (Übergangssystem) of preparatory nature, but not directly to the Dual System related measures. Amongst other factors this is due to the fact that the German apprenticeship system is situated later in the career rather than at the post-secondary level with a high intake of completers of upper secondary programmes (including the Abitur). In Austria apprenticeship is still clearly situated in the 16-18-years age group after the end of compulsory school with only slight tendencies to postpone it in the career course. When transition problems into regular apprenticeships became more persistent in the 1990s, supportive training measures were established by a specific law for the protection of youth training in 1998 (JASG-Jugendausbildungssicherungsgesetz).

In 2008, after ten years of development, this system was integrated into the vocational training law (Berufsausbildungsgesetz) as a regular form of “institutional apprenticeship” (ÜBA-Überbetriebliche Ausbildung). Young people who could not find an enterprise-based apprenticeship can establish an apprenticeship contract with a training institution, a reduced apprenticeship wage is paid by the unemployment insurance, and the practical training is acquired by internships in training enterprises. The main purpose of ÜBA still is to transfer the participants as early as possible into a regular apprenticeship, and to use the internships for this purpose; completion of the whole apprenticeship programme is also possible within ÜBA in special cases. The periods of apprenticeship contracts in the ÜBA are normally recognised as part of training in case of the transition into a regular enterprise based apprenticeship.

The way through the 2009 crisis

If we look at the policies concerning the youth labour market we can observe the first massive interventions in the beginning of the 1980s, after the “baby boomers” born between the late1950s and the mid-1960s started their transition into the labour market at the moment when the economy was hit by the oil crises of the late 1970s. Already in the 1970s the chancellor Bruno Kreisky declared his strong conviction of fighting youth unemployment at all cost and this conviction was echoed by the leader of the conservative opposition. In 1982 a youth LMP programme was developed that already  had the basic structure of today, with the support of apprenticeships and measures for orientation and training as its elements.

In the context of the big and expensive problems of social and labour market policy the measures against youth unemployment have always been relatively small and cheap, and signs for an increase of unemployment were immediately answered with policy responses. In the mid-1990s a big government programme was developed that included reforms of apprenticeship, ALMP measures and the extension of places in full time schools (OECD, 1997). Here we can already see the three mentioned building blocks in action. In addition to the specifically designed youth programmes, most of the common ALMP measures are also heavily used for the support of young people which comprise one third to half of participants in these measures.

Figure 2 indicates the relative quantitative development of the building blocks of the Austrian transition space between 2004 and 2012. Figure 2a shows the 15-19-year age group. The population is fairly stable; full time schools have expanded a little more than the population. Apprenticeship shows a slight decline after 2009 following an increase in the years before, and the development follows grossly the demography. Strong increases of twenty to thirty per cent are shown by tertiary and postsecondary education and ALMP.

In figure 2b we can see the very slight decline of unemployment in this age group, and at the same time the threefold increase of support of apprenticeships until 2007 that was reduced somewhat in the following years. Within full time schooling the lower and medium level VET schools are in decline, whereas participation in the upper level schools are on the increase; medium level schools for health occupations which are organised as a separate sector show a similar strong increase as tertiary education.

Figure 2c shows the respective indicators for the 20-24-year age group. The population has very slightly increased and employment remains fairly stable. Unemployment has increased by about 10 per cent, and the most expansive indicators are tertiary and postsecondary education and ALMP training. However these changes did not preclude the increase of unemployment in this age group.



Source: BMASK Bali web (population, employment, unemployment, ALMP, apprenticeship), Statistics Austria, BMUKK, BMWF data warehouse (education)

Conclusion: how the building blocks play together

We have asked in this contribution which factors might explain the success of Austria on the youth labour market. We have given a sketch of the transitional space that is constituted by three major building blocks: VET and academic schooling, apprenticeship and active labour market policy. Young people shift to a substantial proportion between these building blocks. In terms of success the younger 15-19 age group has more favourable conditions than the older 20-24 age group.

At age 15, after compulsory school ends, two systemic factors are considered very important until now: (1) the high incentive to start upper secondary education because its first year is situated within compulsory education, and (2) the existence of two different selection models into VET, one based on school achievement into fulltime schooling, and one based on enterprises criteria, and relatively detached from school achievement into apprenticeship. These factors have come under strain in more recent years, because of the delayed start of apprenticeship one year after fulltime VET schools, and because the results of school achievement are becoming generally more important also in apprenticeship due to the tendency of upgrading of skills requirements.

We argue that the “dualism” of full time VET schooling and apprenticeship is one of the strengths of the system. Apprenticeship has absorbed parts of youth who were not successful at school, and upper level schools and tertiary education have absorbed young people during economic downturns. However, the comparative success of the Austrian youth labour market cannot be traced back to the quality of education or the existence of the apprenticeship system alone either. Active labour market policy plays a decisive but somehow disguised and neglected role as a third building block in the success story.

Two channels work in this area; firstly apprenticeship is strongly supported by ALMP, secondly a broad array of LMP training measures has been built up during the decades since the early 1980s.

Not enough is known about the efficacy of the ALMP measures. More recently a debate has developed about shifting the emphasis from curative ALMP measures to preventive strategies, which hold people in education rather than to catch them up after failures at the labour market. A new pilot measure called youth coaching (Jugendcoaching) is trying to establish more direct links between ALMP and the education system by identifying young people at risk already in education and establishing support on a case management basis.

The interplay of apprenticeship and ALMP, and the development of the institutional apprenticeship indicate a successful solution for problems to provide enough places for apprenticeship training, at least in the short run. In the longer run the ongoing changes will require more severe adaptations.

Overall, we can learn from the Austrian experience that political will and action following from it are a key requirement for successful development. However, the analysis also points to some more problematic issues in the development of the youth labour market. If we take into account broader aspects of the quality of education and the longer term career opportunities of young people we must admit that low youth unemployment does not unambiguously point to the successful working of all the institutions involved. The OECD scoreboard that compares several indicators of 2011 to 2001 shows that the Austrian performance is still favourable, but for most of the indicators the positive distance to the OECD and EU averages is getting smaller.

In sum the relatively good situation in Austria cannot be explained by the apprenticeship system alone, but the high policy priority and the diversity of a broad range of institutional offers are probably more important. A good design of these measures is also important, as otherwise the vulnerable young people who are sheltered from unemployment by various measures during youth, might be transferred to adult unemployment, when they do not belong to the youth age group any more. This might be a negative side effect of the high policy priority, as this sometimes might favour low unemployment figures over real solutions. Moreover, the labour market indicators do not say anything about achievement and selectivity problems in the education system, which are quite severe in Austria.


Germany: Berufstart Plus- kickstarting working life

Kerstin Schmitz

In June 2012, some 350,000 young people aged 15 to 24 years were unemployed in Germany. This means that the youth unemployment rate was 7.9%. On the other hand, the unemployment rate in the EU as a whole was 22.6%, i.e. nearly 5,5million. In Thuringia, the federal state in central Germany where the project BERUFSSTART plus achieves good results in avoiding youth unemployment, the youth unemployment rate in June 2012 was 6,6%.

Thuringia has around 2.2 million inhabitants. About 30% of these are aged between 40 and 65. It is a former eastern German state which mostly cannot guarantee the same wages as in the western German states. Since the German unification the number of inhabitants is shrinking. The cause is twofold:  labour movement of young people and a low birth rate. In addition, many Thuringians commute to former western federal states as Bavaria and Hesse (additional information on Thuringia here).

Therefore the demand after apprentices is much higher than the number of graduates and last year’s applicants. In purely mathematical terms it would be possible for every graduate to find an apprenticeship. The crux is the matching between graduates and vacancies.


BERUFSSTART plus is a reinforced labour market oriented vocational preparation that is mainly used in Thuringia. It is considered exemplary throughout Germany as its concept for vocational preparation has a very practical and sustainable focus. The aim is to support and prepare students in being able to choose a career.

The stakeholders in Thuringia decided to start the BERUFSSTART plus project which aims to prepare pupils for their professional choice and to link the pupils and the regional companies. The Thuringian Chambers of Handicrafts, the Thuringian Chambers of Industry and Commerce, the Employment Agencies in Thuringia and the Regional Management of Saxony-Anhalt-Thuringia of the Federal Employment Agency, the Thuringian Ministry of Education, Science and Cultural Affairs, the Thuringian Ministry of Economy, Employment and Technology as well as the Agency for employment promotion and labour market development, the Thuringian Ministry of Social, Family and Health Affaires realized the difficulties of matching between graduates and vacancies. Therefore they decided in 2004 to introduce the BERUFSSTART plus project within in the framework of the “National pact for vocational training and junior experts in Germany”. Its aim is to facilitate the cooperation between all the stakeholders being involved in the education and training process to help youngsters successfully with the transfer from school to work.

It has been running for already eight years now and the financing is assured until the school year 2013/2014. Right now 137 schools (regular and comprehensive schools) with ca. 18000 pupils are participating. These are school types where pupils graduate at the age of 16/17. Usually they continue with a vocational training and do not plan an academic career) The six Thuringian Chambers support the project by financing 31 guides (Bildungsbegleiter) that accompany and guide the pupils from form 7 until they start their vocational training. Additionally, the guides work together with the coordinators for vocational preparation of the participating schools. All stakeholders that are in contact with the pupils should be involved in the project to have a holistic approach.


The BMBF (Federal Ministry for Education and Research) is financing a high percentage of the project via a Bund-Länder agreement as the project is recognized nationwide. Part of the financing comes also from all seven Thuringian employment agencies as well as from the Thuringian Ministry of Economy, Employment and Technology. The guides that supervise the pupils during the whole vocational preparation phase are financed by the local chambers. Participating companies do not contribute in financing because the project wishes to involve all kinds of companies (public and private ones; small and medium sized as well as big companies). Public institutions are not allowed to contribute with financial support and it would be harder for small and medium sized companies to contribute. Most companies in Thuringia are small and medium sized companies; there are just a few financially strong companies that usually do not have too big problems in finding qualified junior staff as they are able to pay more. Therefore BERUFSSTART plus tries to involve all companies located in Thuringia, especially in economically underdeveloped regions. The aim is to spread the apprentices in the whole region and to localize them where the financially strong companies are located.

Program, process, concept

The vocational preparation starts in the 7th form (pupils aged 13/14) in regular and comprehensive schools. The first module is a competence assessment and a professional inclinations assessment that aim to help the pupils to decide for a professional field.

Figure 1: Process chart BERUFSSTART plus

Competence assessment

Guides and the vocational preparation coordinators in the schools do an interview with the pupil and support the pupil in finding the professional inclination through a special test.

The competence assessment has six steps:
1. Knowledge test
2. Team exercise
3. Individual practical exercise related to professional fields
4. Presentation
5. Group discussion
6. Self-assessment

In the process, pupils get a chance to assess their own skills and abilities and discuss about them with their guide and class mates. Besides the practical competences, the guide assesses the working method and the approach of each pupil. The results already indicate if the chosen professional field is compatible with the competences of the pupil and everything is noted in a so called vocational preparation passport. Additionally everything is stated in a certificate that is accessible to the pupil, the guide and the vocational preparation coordinator at the local school. Based on these results the pupil makes a decision for the first orientation element. It is important to keep in mind that the personal wishes, interests and professional aims of the pupil are in focus during the whole process.

Vocational orientation

The vocational orientation starts with the pupil choosing a professional field. There are 13 professional fields:

1. civil engineering,
2. mechanical engineering,
3. textile engineering and clothing,
4. electronics,
5. food and home economics,
6. health,
7. personal hygiene,
8. wood engineering,
9. colour engineering/interior design,
10. agriculture,
11. economy/administration,
12. printing technology,
13. chemistry, physics and biology.

After choosing the professional field, the pupils spends one week experiencing the chosen professional field in a protected environment, the vocational education and training centre that is cooperating with the school. The next period of one to two weeks when the pupils focus again on job-related issues is at the end of the 8th grade. In this period the guide and the vocational preparation coordinator organize workshops (e.g. application training, events in cooperation with other stakeholders (employment agency, chambers)). The pupils can choose a workshop that suits best their interests and their professional development. The orientation elements help the pupils to get to know the contents, work and requirements for the entry of the specific professional field. After the second orientation module, the pupils have time to evaluate their experiences again; write them down in the vocational preparation passport and get a certificate with their developed inclination stated.

Working experience

In the 9th form (pupils aged 15-16) the vocational orientation module is finalized by a third one-week experience in the chosen professional field and a two-week phase with a project week or days concerning job-related issues. Usually, the last orientation element is done as an internship in a company with the intention to improve the knowledge about the operational reality and the work flow. In the 10th form, mostly the pupils know in which professional field they would like to work and use the time to prepare their application. If they are still unsure about the professional field or if they would like to get to know another professional field or company, they can use a fourth orientation element. The orientation elements can be passed in one professional field or in different professional fields depending on the pupils’ choice. The same appears to the workshop at the end of the second orientation element and the project week at the end of the third orientation element. It always depends on the cooperation and conditions in the region where these activities are carried out. With the knowledge of their professional development, which is written down in the vocational preparation passport, and the support of the guides, the pupils have to apply for a vocational training. This is usually done in the 10th form with a lot of support from the guide and the vocational orientation coordinator. Pupils often get in contact with potential employers already during one of the orientation elements, so that the transition between school and vocational training can be simplified.

A success story

Throughout the study visit „Best practice of vocational preparation in a European context” organized by the Europe Service Office of Central Thuringia in October 2012, the invited European experts in the field of education experienced the successful transition story of two apprentices. Tobias Gehring and Tobias Semm are now both doing an apprenticeship as mechatronics at the company MIWE in South Thuringia. Each of them took part in the BERUFSSTART plus project during their school time. Starting in the 7th form they were supported by their guide and experienced in the competence assessment what they like to do and what they are good at. Taking these results into account, they both decided to do the first orientation module in the professional field of mechanical engineering. They were guided by their guide Ms Fuckner through all the vocational orientation modules until they signed their vocational training contract. They developed their skills and knowledge until they were sure that the mechatronic profession is perfect for them. Because they both did an internship at MIWE, thanks to the BERUFSSTART plus project, they got to know the company quite early. It was up to them to do the following orientation elements again at the same company.

Because their experience was very positive, they decided to do the next orientation element there as well to experience other units. Note that in general pupils have a free choice about their orientation elements, so they can get to know up to three different professional fields, but it is also possible to do all the orientation elements in one professional field to get to know it very well. The project’s aim is to offer possibilities corresponding to the needs of each individual pupil and there they organise the orientation elements as flexible as possible. The guides have a big responsibility to help the pupils with deciding which orientation elements are the right ones for them. Moreover if the pupils change their preference later, it is possible to reconsider their choice. The experts had also the chance to talk to the person in charge at MIWE who recognized the two pupils doing a good job. Being satisfied by their competences and their development, they signed the vocational training contract. In the end it was a successful choice for both sides. Both apprentices will finish their vocational training in spring 2013 with the option of a new contract.

At a study visit at MIWE, the two apprentices explain how they got in touch with their training company through BERUFSTART plus. Source: Berufstart plus.

As seen in the success story above, one aim of the project is to qualify pupils enough to be able to complete an apprenticeship and to become a trustful and successful employee of the company. Additionally, it is desirable to inform the pupils and the parents about all kinds of jobs that exist in the region to match the graduates and the vacancies.
Until now there are no numbers yet for the school year 2012/2013, the survey is still going on. The numbers of the graduates of the school year 2010/2011 and 2009/2010 are the following:

Table 1 Number of graduates and apprentices between 2009 and 2011.

The national dropout rate is 19,8%.

Unfortunately it is just possible to do a survey after one year after graduation to find out about how many pupils managed the transfer into an apprenticeship. Usually apprentices drop out during the first year of the apprenticeship, so surveying at the end of the first year is a good indicator but it would be better to survey again after 3-4 years after graduation to see how many pupils completed the apprenticeship and how many got employed afterwards.

Success factors

Role of guidance (Bildungsbegleitung) and transition management

Guidance is the main element in BERUFSSTART plus. The guides are working for a better vocational preparation in Thuringian schools. They are responsible for the coordination of the vocational preparation and the cooperation of all different stakeholders (chambers, ministries, employment agencies, schools, parents). Their responsibilities are:

• support the vocational preparation in the schools
• help pupils find their choice for their professional orientation
• build a closer relationship to the pupils during the years with the particularity that they do not have to assess the pupils as e.g. teachers have
• support the pupils to reach their training maturity (Ausbildungsreife)
• minimize the number of apprentices who quit
• guide the pupils through the whole process until a successful transition to an indenture
• communication with all stakeholders
• inform all stakeholders (ministries, chambers, cooperation institutions like other educational centers, school (head of school, teachers, vocational orientation coordinator), social workers, parents, pupils) about the projects
• trustful contact person for all stakeholders, especially for pupils
• support the educational bodies with the organization and realization of the orientation modules
• evaluate the orientation modules
• evaluation of the transition from school to work (survey after one year of graduation)
• collect and transfer results into a database that can be used by teachers and pupils during the process of vocational preparation
• get in touch with potential companies for internships and positions
• refer the guidance of the pupil after graduation to the responsible careers officer at the local employment agency
Due to the role of the guide who is known by all stakeholders it is often easier to find the right combination of pupils and companies that take an apprentice.
Guides have to fulfil the following requirements:
• Have at least a polytechnic degree
• They have to be teachers, social workers or have at least one year of experience in guiding pupils
• Have qualifying working experience and social skills as well as knowledge of the system in order to coordinate and link schools and economy.

Until now the qualification of guides is voluntary. A concept for the qualification is developed and partners that can carry out the qualification exist, but the willingness to do the qualification among the guides is low. This has a few reasons. First of all, the guides hesitate to make the investment, because they usually already have a qualification and it is questionable if this additional qualification would benefit them. Additionally, the qualification is very project-oriented and not yet recognized nation-wide. However, this might change in the future as the project evolves.

Besides that, all stakeholders have a chance to meet at regular local meetings to discuss the current situation.

Out of the BERUFSSTART plus project emerged an initiative called “Vocational preparation and integration in modern Europe – an important basis for future workforce development” to found a transnational network on the subject. The idea is to discuss different models and perspectives on vocational preparation and integration that might be used in other European contexts. Often there are just simple elements that fit into other systems or that worth transferring. The importance of guidance might be useful everywhere. However, in regions lacking qualified staff, the involvement of companies of all sizes, especially small and medium sized companies, might increase the chances for pupils to find an apprenticeship and for companies to find motivated and effective new staff.

Switzerland: a dual track to low unemployment

Rudolf Strahm

In German-speaking Switzerland almost 70 percent of all young people complete an apprenticeship. Many go on to add to their professional qualifications by enrolling for continuing education and training. Countries offering a dual-track system of vocational and professional education and training (VET) have a significantly lower rate of youth unemployment. “Youth”, in the Swiss context, is defined as 15 to 24 years. Whilst the average throughout the EU is around 23 percent, about three percent of youngsters in Switzerland are without a job. The dual-track vocational and professional education and training system is undoubtedly a success.

Throughout Europe, only Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Denmark and Holland offer apprenticeships based on the dual-track system. Dual-track is understood as a combination between an apprenticeship and a state vocational school. Most countries in Western Europe only know full-time education, i.e. attendance at secondary schools or schools for the university entrance certificate followed by universities and universities of applied sciences.

Usually an apprenticeship has a duration of 3 or 4 years, and the students are around 20 years of age upon completing the apprenticeship.

At the height of the economic downturn in autumn 2009, the five countries previously mentioned offering vocational and professional education and training, had an average youth unemployment rate of 8 percent, whilst that of Switzerland was a notable 5.5 percent. In contrast, ten comparable countries in Western Europe were characterised by an average youth unemployment rate of 25 percent, in other words, almost three times higher.

The youth unemployment rate is the best indicator to judge whether an education and training system is suitable for the labour market and integration in the workplace. There is no doubt that vocational and professional education and training is superior to full-time educational programmes alone. In countries where apprenticeships are lacking, those youngsters possessing practical skills but who might be weaker in specific school subjects run the danger of being left behind.

Poor education and training is the greatest risk for poverty

A detailed analysis of the last federal population census in Switzerland examined the relationship between the level of education and unemployment. The analysis shows: statistically, whoever completes a professional apprenticeship runs a three times smaller risk of being unemployed or remaining unemployed in the long-term than an unskilled person. The situation is even more favourable for those adults who, following an apprenticeship, go on to complete a course of a tertiary level B professional education and training. This could be a college of professional education and training, technical training or an Advanced Federal PET Diploma Examination. These people are even more sought after in the labour market than persons with a university background.

Statistically, people without formal education and training run a two and a half times greater risk of ending up drawing social benefits than unskilled workers. Today, a lack of vocational training is thus one of the greatest risks of being poor. This fact is often noticed by foreign work colleagues in Switzerland who had no opportunity to complete an apprenticeship. It is therefore hardly surprising that the unemployment rate amongst the foreign population in Switzerland is roughly twice that of the Swiss working population. This has nothing to do with migrants not wanting to work but the fact that they lack vocational and professional education and training.

Industry needs well-qualified workers

A survey of companies conducted by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office showed that there is a growing need for persons with vocational education and training, whilst the requirement for unskilled workers is steadily declining. In industry, 27 percent of company bosses state that they have an excess of unskilled workers. (compare with MacDonald’s contribution in this issue). At the same time, 18 percent of companies report that they have a shortage of skilled workers (persons who have completed a training programme). The picture is much the same in the service sector. These findings are clear: Industry needs fewer and fewer unskilled workers but more and more people with vocational or higher education and training.

One professional qualification leads to another

The vocational and professional education and training system in Switzerland has been expanded and upgraded massively in the last fifteen years. Every professional qualification today can be followed by another – the vocational education and training system has become much more interchangeable. Anybody who has completed an apprenticeship and would like to study further has countless possibilities at their disposal.

In order that those wishing to study further can benefit from an effective and forward-looking continuing education and training system, the Swiss Federation for Adult Learning (SVEB) is committed to providing the ideal conditions to promote this. It is devoted to providing high quality training programmes in Switzerland and encouraging the professionalism of the system, by training trainers or by awarding the quality label eduQua to continuing education and training institutions.

Students having completed an apprenticeship and the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate are entitled to enter a university of applied sciences (tertiary level A) without having to sit an examination. Persons successfully completing a university of applied sciences programme are very much in demand by the labour market and are just as well paid as those with a university degree. Whoever has completed a vocational apprenticeship, but not the federal Vocational Baccalaureate, is entitled to attend a college of professional education (tertiary level B) either as a full-time student or, over a period of two to three years, as a part-time student and expect a job in middle management. Colleges of professional education and training are, for example, technical schools or information system schools. Apart from the colleges of professional education and training, there are specialised programmes leading to a Federal PET Diploma or a Advanced Federal PET Diploma. These specialists, too, with over 500 variants of professional education and training are much sought after by industry and are absolutely indispensable.

Tertiary level B professional education and training is important for rolling-out and distributing the latest technologies in industry. In other words, students are trained in using those new technologies. In the building industry, for example, this applies for new materials including building materials or thermal insulation; in building technology – heat pumps, for instance or energy regulation; in the mechanical engineering industry for coating technologies or computer-controlled machines, in the commercial sector the financial controllers, accounting specialists and trustee experts.

The educational programmes for tertiary level B professional education and training are very expensive for students and can easily amount to CHF 10,000 (around 8 €) per year. Industry and employee organisations quite rightly expect the state to assist with these costs. With its education and training policy, the SVEB is committed to achieving equal opportunities with regard to continuing education and training. As education and training must not be thought of as elitist the focus here must be on promoting continuing education and training amongst disadvantaged target groups.

Qualifications in the Swiss vocational and professional education system

Apprenticeships, as basic vocational education and training, lead to the Federal VET Diploma or, for low-threshold professions, the Federal VET Certificate. The colleges of professional education and training, the Advanced Federal PED Diploma and vocational examinations occupy the next level. These lead to a proliferation of different titles such as: Technician, Controller or Auditor. Degrees from the universities of applied sciences and universities (tertiary level A) are based on a uniform system of Bachelor – Master – Doctor.

What, however, is missing in Switzerland is a uniform system of titles on completion of tertiary level B education. Proposed, but not yet approved nor implemented in the federal vocational and professional education and training act is a system of uniform and comparable titles such as: “Professional Bachelor” and “Professional Master”. In the long term, the intention is to operate with a National Qualification Framework for Switzerland that is based on the European Qualification Framework. However, an arrangement involving roughly 800 different qualifications is complex to say the least. The SVEB is committed to ensuring that Switzerland does not choose a special solution but, as in other European countries, favours internationally standardised diploma supplements.

Swiss industry is based on quality

Industry needs good engineers and scientists. But it also needs employees who are in a position to execute and implement innovations with precision. Precision, accuracy, reliability, the ability to keep to deadlines and the skills to come up with tailor-made solutions are the watchwords; these are without doubt the qualities of work that make Swiss industry internationally competitive in spite of the high salaries.

As a high-salary and expensive country Switzerland has no chance in international markets with cheap mass-produced articles and simple technologies: textiles, wood, leather or simple metal articles, to name just a few. The country can only prosper by producing high-priced specialist articles for niche markets. And this needs a well-trained labour force. Sixty-two percent of our exports go to global markets where the competition for quality is more important than the competition in prices. Ninety-two percent of our exports sold in these markets have the edge on quality. This is the reason we have permanent export surpluses even compared with low wage countries such as China, Hong Kong and India. Thanks to its high quality articles, Switzerland is one of the most competitive countries in the world. The vocational education and training system is responsible for the high productivity of the export economy. It is the source of our prosperity.

Naturally both university graduates and practical specialists are needed in this type of economy: university-level graduates for developing new technologies as well as specialists who have the knowhow of putting innovations to use.

Two different educational cultures

Despite what has been described above, vocational and professional education and training in Switzerland has a social stigma attached to it as it is not afforded the same recognition and appreciation as an academic career. The latter is thought of as the path of education for the elite. This different appreciation leads to a concealed lack of self-confidence in the vocational and professional education and training scene. It is conveniently forgotten that industry and the SME economy represents the most important provider of training in the country.

In the eyes of Swiss legislators both paths of education – the apprenticeship, followed by tertiary level B professional education and training, or a university of applied sciences, and the baccalaureate-university alternative, are “equal but diverse”.  Diverse is to be understood as more practice-oriented, application-oriented and closer to the needs of the labour market. Much effort will be needed to achieve equivalent recognition for the two educational cultures in the political mindset. A merger of the two cultures, however, would be just as fatal as it would only serve to consolidate the dominance of the academic culture.

The Swiss education system



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