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EACEA National Policies Platform


3. Employment & Entrepreneurship

3.11 Current debates and reforms

Last update: 28 November 2023
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  1. Forthcoming policy developments
  2. Ongoing debates

Forthcoming policy developments

According to the national report Education in Germany 2022, current topics and challenges for the vocational training field include:

  • A significant decline in the number of people starting vocational education and training, which fell 7% between 2019 and 2021 and reached a record low of fewer than 900,000 new apprentices. The decline is most pronounced in the dual system of vocational training.
  • Both the supply and demand for in-company apprenticeships have declined significantly since 2019. Even if supply and demand balance each other out mathematically, there are mismatches between young people without training places and apprenticeship vacancies. These increased from 9% to 12% between 2019 and 2021.
  • The number and share of young people starting apprenticeships in healthcare, education and social services continue to rise, but they still fall short of demand.
  • The chances of accessing areas of vocational education and training programmes that lead to a full vocational qualification still vary greatly depending on level of school education and nationality. Young people with a first school-leaving certificate at best and non-German nationals are far less likely to succeed in full-time college-based training than German nationals with a lower secondary school-leaving certificate and (technical) higher education entrance qualification.
  • Over one third of young people who drop out of education often become unemployed or work as unskilled labourers and are therefore increasingly affected by unstable careers.
  • Compared to other EU 27 countries, Germany still has an above-average employment rate among people aged 20-34 with an upper secondary school education or vocational qualifications. However, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are also clearly in evidence here: the employment rate decreased by 2.7 percentage points between 2019 and 2020. This is due to the fact that the number of apprentices taken on by their company decreased compared to 2019.
Securing skilled labour

The problem of increasing skilled labour shortages occupies a central place in discussions on current labour market policy. On 12 October 2022, the federal government adopted its new skilled labour strategy (Fachkräftestrategie). The federal government has introduced a raft of measures with its skilled labour strategy to support the efforts of companies and enterprises to attract and retain skilled workers. Vocational education is also gaining importance in this context.

The Immigration Act for Skilled Workers (Fachkräfteeinwanderungsgesetz), which came into force on 1 March 2020, makes it easier for skilled workers from third countries to enter the labour market. The new law also offers people from abroad the opportunity to enter the country for up to six months for the purpose of looking for a training place. It is also possible to apply for a residence title for vocational training and, after successfully completing at least two years of qualified vocational training, a residence permit for employment.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a total of 500 million euros was made available in 2021 for the federal programme "Securing apprenticeship places" (Ausbildungsplätze sichern) to enable small and medium-sized companies particularly hard hit by the pandemic to maintain their apprenticeship places for young people. The programme was extended on 17 March 2021 to the 2021/2022 training year.

Given the current shortage of skilled workers in healthcare professions, the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend) launched a nursing care training offensive (Ausbildungsoffensive Pflege) (2019-2023) to oversee the introduction of new nursing training courses under the Nursing Professions Act (Pflegeberufegesetz). With concrete goals and around 100 measures, the campaign aims to attract well-trained and committed nursing professionals to the profession and to help nursing schools and training institutions transition to the new training programmes. The second report on the nursing training offensive presents the main results of the second third of the training offensive and trends in apprentice and student numbers.

Ongoing debates

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to heavily impact social and economic life and have significant repercussions for the vocational training market. Although the supply-demand ratio has improved, the situation on the dual vocational training market remains strained. This is due in part to the fact that the pandemic has led to a significant increase in skills mismatches. The 2022 national report on Education in Germany (Nationaler Bildungsbericht 2022) noted that the number of persons seeking apprenticeship places and simultaneously the number of apprenticeship vacancies increased from 9% to 12% between 2019 and 2021.

Another consequence of the pandemic are the considerable restrictions children, adolescents and young adults experienced and continue to experience as a direct result of the pandemic and related interventions. The effects of these measures are inscribed in the biographies of these young people. Policymakers are called upon to absorb and mitigate the impact of these measures. The research network Childhood – Youth – Family During the COVID-19 Pandemic (Kindheit – Jugend – Familie in der Corona-Zeit), consisting of the Institute for Social and Organisational Pedagogy at the University of Hildesheim (Institut für Sozial- und Organisationspädagogik an der Stiftung Universität Hildesheim), the University of Frankfurt's Institute for Social Pedagogy and Adult Education (Institut für Sozialpädagogik und Erwachsenenbildung an der Universität Frankfurt) and Bielefeld University, has conducted two nationwide studies: the JuCo study on the experiences and perspectives of young people during lockdown and the KiCo study on the experiences and perspectives of parents and their children during lockdown.

Russia's attack of Ukraine, and in particular, the dramatic rise in energy costs, are also having a major impact on economic life. The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales) has introduced effective mitigation measures, including adjustments to short-time worker pay (Kurzarbeitergeld). The citizens' benefit (Bürgergeld), which was introduced in autumn 2022, also aims to improve the living conditions of disadvantaged unemployed citizens and their integration into the labour market.

Under the 2020 Act to promote continuing professional development in structural change and the promotion of vocational education (Gesetz zur Förderung der beruflichen Weiterbildung im Strukturwandel und zur Weiterentwicklung der Ausbildungsförderung), known for short as Arbeit-von-morgen-Gesetz, the support instruments of labour market policy will be developed to prepare employees and trainees in good time for the work of tomorrow. Continuing professional development activities will be improved to ensure that employability is maintained in the face of structural change. The Act is part of the National Skills Strategy (Weiterbildungstrategie), which is extended and developed on a continual basis. The national continuing education and training strategy identifies the key challenges and problems arising in connection with the changing professional environment and designs appropriate responses in the form of laws, projects, measures and instruments.

With the reform of the Child and Youth Services Act (Kinder- und Jugendhilfegesetz, KJHG), which entered into force in June 2021, the inclusion of young people and their enabling or facilitating “to interact in a self-determined manner in all areas of life that affect them, in accordance with their age and individual abilities, and thus participate in life in society on an equal footing” (Section 1(3)(2) of Book VIII of the Social Code (SGB VIII)) became a guiding principle of child and youth welfare and therefore of all occupational child and youth welfare services, especially youth vocational assistance and work-related youth social work. What this means in detail for the various services provided in the different fields of practice and in cooperation with employment administration is only now starting to become the focus of the current professional discussion (cf. Der Paritätische 2020).

The 16th Child and Youth Report of the federal government (Deutscher Bundestag 2020) was present-ed a few months before the new legal regulations of the Act to Strengthen Children and Youth (KJSG) came into force. The report looked at the importance of political and democratic education for young people during the various phases of childhood and adolescence. Two key areas here were vocational education and training and the importance of political education in the world of work on the one hand, and youth social work on the other. The report devoted separate chapters to each of these, albeit in varying degrees of detail.

With regard to the political education of young people in the world of work (Deutscher Bundestag 2020, pp. 239-266), the report diagnoses “a significant deficit of systematic, conceptual and empirical research, as well as corresponding focal points in the basic and further training of vocational school teachers, company trainers and trades union education both for young people and adults. There is an urgent need for resources for research projects and basic structures both in higher education and in continuing education and training for skilled workers” (Deutscher Bundestag 2020, p. 266).

Youth social work was considered in the report to be a hitherto “undervalued area” (Deutscher Bun-destag 2020, p. 477ff.) in the sense that both the professional discussion itself and the services and institutions specialised in political education have not yet systematically considered the possibilities afforded by this field of practice. A discussion has now begun on how educating young people about democracy can become a sustainable aspect of youth social work (cf. Kooperationsverbund Jugendsozialarbeit 2021; see also Issue 26 of the magazine DREIZEHN – Zeitschrift für Jugendsozi-alarbeit on “youth social work as an undervalued area for political education”).