• 2 The Holistic Quality of German Training Schemes
  • 3 Links of VET to the Labour Market
  • Modularisation and Flexibility within German vet

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    Thomas Deissinger, University of Konstanz (Germany)

    Modularisation and Flexibility within German VET

    Paper to be Presented at the JVET Conference at Wolverhampton/UK, July 16-18, 2001

    1 Introduction

    Within German vocational training policy, images of modularisation based on CBT (competence-based training) at first glance do not give the impression of offering a viable alternative to the "vocational principle" which may be considered the "organisation principle" within the so-called Dual System which is based on apprenticeship (Greinert, 1994). It is the vocational or occupational segmentation of the German labour market (Sengenberger, 1987) which is accredited with a general stabilising effect on selection and allocation processes. For the "qualification supplier" it constitutes autonomy from the firm, while it provides the "qualification demander" with reliable information on the manpower aspects of in-company labour structures. International sociological research has unmistakenly proved that vocational orientation tends towards the "decentralisation of competences" in the context of the division of labour (Maurice/Sellier/Silvestre, 1979; Deissinger, 1998, pp. 150 ff.; Sengenberger, 1987).

    Within the German VET system (Dual System) occupations stand for integral vocational qualifications based on uniform training schemes and highly standardised examination procedures. This perception embodies the ability of the learner or apprentice respectively to transfer skills and knowledge to new situations within a broader working area. All training schemes end up with a final qualification award in initial vocational training issued by the regional chamber. Although some schemes now allow for more specialisation breaking up the occupational qualification by isolating discrete modules or independent competency units seems incompatible with standardisation and quality control within the system. While some critics of the Dual System are calling for more flexible training ordinances hoping that this may lead to more training places and more efficient training arrangements in companies, others maintain that the scope for reform is rather limited. Scepticism in the German discussion therefore points to the question whether modular principles are generally compatible with the organisational features of the Dual System as well as with the didactical organisation and realisation of training schemes. The newer schemes, such as the IT occupations (Müller/Häussler/Sonnek, 1997), are more open towards the idea of flexibility and differentiation and employers' organisations suggest that modular concepts should also be linked to flexible training times and examination procedures (Deutscher Industrie- und Handelstag, 1999). Against this background specific types of modularisation may well be compatible with the principle of occupational orientation. Therefore the term itself has to be differentiated and mirrored against national and international modular approaches in the field of VET.
    2 The Holistic Quality of German Training Schemes

    One of the countries where regulation of VET in companies has always been subject to the law and thus to public quality control (Raggatt, 1988) is Germany with its Dual System. However, it is not the law itself, but the specific combination of tradition and public quality control of VET, which makes the German system more than just a Dual System, mainly because it is based on and rooted within an “occupational” or “vocational” training culture (Deissinger, 1998; 1999). Against this background, the German perception of the British VET system has traditionally focussed on the fact that vocational training here takes place in what, at first glance, may be called a "market model" (Greinert, 1988, pp. 146 f.). This term suggests that VET takes place in a decentralised, heterogeneous system, characterised by the particular importance of individual firms in the development and formation of qualification processes - although the system offers formal schemes of training and further education (Sorge, 1979, pp. 2 f.). Since the “Thatcher Revolution” in training and education policy, Britain's "training culture” seems to be even more dominated by a "system understanding" which relies on public activity as institutional innovations normally stir from political decisions and a strong will to reform the system and cope with some deficiencies endangering the competitiveness of the British economy (Raggatt/Williams, 1999).

    On the other hand, the system now in existence, with vocational qualifications as the backbone of the National Qualifications and Certification Framework (Hodgson/Spours, 1997; Bates, 1995), still differs from the Dual System in which legal, organisational and didactical guidelines coincide with the private responsibility for firm-based qualifying work. In Britain, companies, as the major agents in the system, still seem to prefer on-the-job training in its various manifestations as the main route of labour market integration offered to young people (Bynner/Roberts, 1991, pp. 238 ff.). In a recent paper, Paul Ryan points out that, although government support for Modern Apprenticeship (Unwin, 1999; Canning, 2001; Ryan, 2001), introduced in 1994, indicates that there is now a “wish to increase the supply of intermediate skills, with apprenticeship as a favoured means”, the UK approach continues to “differ fundamentally from its counterparts elsewhere in Europe”. He also claims that “differences have even increased, as continental countries elaborate the public regulation of apprenticeship, while the UK favours deregulation” (Ryan, 2001). In Scotland, the new policy initiative in work-based education linked to MA under the Skillseekers Programme can be characterised as “voluntarist and devolved” (Canning/Deissinger/Loots, 2000, p. 108 f.).

    In contrast, maintaining and developing a homogeneous set of training occupations has always been one of the basic principles of VET policy in Germany. Since the passing of the Vocational Training Act in 1969, which overcame divergent developments in the craft and the industrial sector, nearly the whole set of „recognised skilled occupations“ have been based on new or revised „training ordinances“ (Benner, 1977; Deissinger, 1996; Deissinger, 2001). They apply to more than 90 % of all apprentices. Training ordinances set up the didactical pattern of the qualification process which is completed in an examination before a „competent authority“, normally a chamber. As the existence of a skilled occupation requires a training ordinance its formal recognition depends on governmental (federal) approval. In material terms, however, training ordinances are the result of consultations among employers' organisations and trade unions (Greinert, 1994, p. 89). The procedure which leads to training ordinances claims to be reality-based and tries to take account of the changing nature of workplaces.

    Between 1970 and 2000 the number of skilled occupations has decreased from around 600 to 348. Most schemes are „mono occupations“, with one homogeneous profile not allowing specialisation in material terms at all. In section 25 the Vocational Training Act (VTA) prescribes the mandatory components of a training ordinance (Deissinger, 1996). In addition, the “principle of exclusiveness” (section 28 VTA) makes sure that training ordinances represent the only way leading young people into skilled employment (section 28 VTA), which means that training for a state-recognised occupation shall be given only in accordance with the relevant training regulations. Training courses have the function to create marketable qualifications that can be used beyond the training company (Beck/Brater/Daheim, 1980; Harney, 1985). A major difference against the English system of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) may be seen in the input factor underlying the German training philosophy – firmly related to a specific understanding of the joint responsibility of the two „learning venues“ to produce skilled qualifications relevant to the labour market.
    3 Links of VET to the Labour Market

    The share of apprentices among employees in the German economy is around 5 %. Hereby, the distribution among companies of different size is fairly similar although smaller companies on average take a larger proportion of trainees in relation to their employees. In 1998, 52 % of apprentices received their training in companies with up to 50 employees while 48 % trained in firms with a workforce of more than 50 (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, 2000, p. 124). Some 50 % of German companies possess the qualifications needed to take apprentices, which does not mean that all these firms actually take part in the Dual System: In 1998, 24 % of all German companies offered apprenticeships to the market (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, 2000, p. 128). The inclination to establish training opportunities on the side of German companies declined in the nineties although in 2000 the situation on the training market – clearly dependent on the general constitution of the labour market – has improved against 1999 and 1998.

    On the other hand, the losses of training places produced in the nineties have not yet been compensated. As a matter of fact, Germany’s VET system remains exposed to structural and regional frictions as well as under general pressure from economic cycles. Although the training system and the employment sector are still bound by a strong professional or vocational link (Maurice, 1993; Konietzka/Lempert, 1998; Deissinger 1998), career opportunities in the nineties, even if grounded in skilled training, were clearly more exposed to labour market restraints than in former decades (Timmermann, 1994, pp. 81 ff.). The Federal Labour Office reports that youth unemployment (under 25) rose from 8.5 % in 1993 to 12.2. % in 1997, although it now (April 2001) again is at 9.1 %. The fact that unemployed people under 25 suffered unemployment for a shorter period than the average unemployed person does not compensate for the fact that, in 1997, in the old federal states 27 % and in the new states 39 % of apprentices became unemployed right after the end of their training course (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, 1999, p. 146-148). For demographic reasons demand for training places is expected to rise up to more than 700,000 per year by the year 2005 (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, 2000, p. 10; Zedler, 2000, p. 14). Therefore, the Federal Goverment announced that it considers the situation as still far from satisfactory and steps to cure the unstable situation on the training market in the new federal states still require apprenticeship subsidies and supra-plant training arrangements (Zedler, 2000).

    Nevertheless it may be argued that the present situation appears promising for the Dual System: Against the background of some 630,000 new training contracts in 1999, the number of unprovided young people (all Germany) went down by 18 % as against 1998. More than one year later, the stock of young people who could not get an apprenticeship has reached its lowest level since 19931. According to a recent survey carried out for the Institute of the German Economy, German apprenticeship leavers still are considered to have the best employment prospects among all graduates. 42 % of German companies actually are intending to augment their apprenticed labour force while 38 % expect to fill up their labour stock with academically qualified personnel2. And it seems to be another promising signal from the training market that while new training contracts in general rose by 2 % in the East and by 3 % in the West, traineeships in the IT sector, introduced in 1997, have become a major new segment within the Dual System. According to an analysis carried out by the Federal Institute of Vocational Training only 50 % of companies actually want to hire graduates from the tertiary sector3 for IT workplaces. While in the craft sector the number of new apprenticeships in 1999 fell slightly it rose by 45.3 % in the new IT occupations (Zedler, 2000).

    4 Is Modularisation compatible with Apprenticeships?

    Vocational qualifications based on the German Vocational Training Act clearly differ from National/Scottish Vocational Qualifications in the UK, both in terms of their specific design and their implications for training implementation and provision. This is only partly due to the fact that in Germany initial training takes place in a Dual System. Whereas NVQs are based on outcomes (Jessup, 1991; Wolf, 1995), occupational qualifications in the German case also provide information on how training outcomes have to be achieved (Deissinger, 1994; 1999). Besides, training schemes belong to one homogeneous system of qualifications delivery and certification whereas in Scotland, e.g., emergent apprenticeship models within MA keep on combining old and new vocational awards (Canning/Deissinger/Loots, 2000, p. 109). Scepticism in the German discussion has therefore become centred around the question whether modular principles making way to more heterogeneous forms of training outcomes can be compatible with the organisational features of the Dual System as well as with the didactical pattern and pedagogical understanding underlying training arrangements (Deissinger, 1998; Deissinger, 1999; Kloas, 1997; Sloane, 1997). The debate has certainly gained momentum as both VET experts and VET administrators see the German system under pressure in terms of international developments in VET policy which seem to contribute to the rising attractiveness of flexible, modular, competence-based approaches (Münk, 1997).

    One of the structural innovations following this route in Germany is the implementation of optional mandatory or elective modules within training courses. This kind of training course amendment has been carried out in the four IT occupations of which two have a more technical, and two a more commercial emphasis. The advantageous implication of such a "mild" strategy of modularisation is that companies and apprentices may specify and “customise” their particular training needs. It may therefore contribute to more easily and more quickly adapting the training system to technological developments. The same principles have been applied to the media occupations and the area of laboratory technology training schemes (Glass/Feuchthofen, 2000). Although individualisation and differentiation are leading principles behind these newer schemes traditional occupation orientation is not being dispensed as all training programmes still have individually distinguishable profiles. The vocational principle is also still firmly rooted in the fact that skills have to be demonstrated in a final external (chamber) examination. It may therefore be argued that there is a strong consensus in Germany concerning the functional links between training and employment which requires that occupational standards are known to employers and school leavers alike, that they are relevant to workplaces and marketable as nationally acknowledged qualifications (Presse- und Informationsamt, 1999).

    In terms of making training schemes even more flexible the so-called "Satellite Model" developed by the German Chamber Association takes reform options one step further (Deutscher Industrie- und Handelstag, 1999). It is the view of the chambers that there ought to be "three freedoms" for companies when settling the training contract:

    • reducing the training length down to a minimum of 2 years;

    • inserting both optional and additional modules into the training process although it remains based on fundamental skills for everybody learning this occupation;

    • bringing more flexibility to examination procedures.

    Besides the technological argument, another, more pedagogical, problem urges what may be called “internal modernisation” as a “soft” strategy to flexibilise training occupations in the Dual System. One of the serious problems these days is the integration of school leavers who are not capable of complying with the expectations of training providers, i.e. companies, as well as coping with the training standards as laid down in the newer training ordinances. It is estimated that every year some 100,000 young people leave general education without a formal qualification (Beckers, 1998, p. 16). Although in 1998 2.5 % of entrants into the Dual System did not have a basic school qualification from the lower secondary school, the lower segment of skilled practical work has been and will be shrinking with the omnipresence of information technology and its various applications accompanied by the disappearance of old-established training occupations. In a "globalising" economic environment this means that income and career opportunities for young people with minor or no general or vocational qualifications are bound to decrease, although in the craft sector there is an oversupply of training places in some traditional occupations, even in the East of Germany. Yet there is no doubt that the new occupational profiles designed and decreed in the past fifteen years prove to be too demanding for the so-called weaker learners. Consequently, companies become more and more selective as they act in a training market where the supply of training places is always in danger to meet the demand.

    This policy actually started in the late eighties when the metal and electrical occupations got their faces lifted by the implementation of differentiated specialisation profiles within occupations and occupational groups (Borch et al., 1991).

    Against the background of both the UK modularisation concept and the more tentative German differentiation schemes, three types of modularisation may be distinguished:

    • It may be possible to alter vocational courses along the lines of a pure and simple differentiation model which means that modules specify qualifications within integral training courses that still retain their full occupational character (Euler, 1998, pp. 96 ff., Kloas, 1997). The newly designed recognised occupations within the Dual System undoubtedly belong to this category.

    • A second way may be to link supplementary modules to the “occupational picture”. This option may be seen as a further development of the differentiation model as additional modules may be offered both during the initial training period as well as in further/continuous training (Pahl/Rach, 1999; Braukmann/Sloane, 1994).

    • The third concept may be called the fragmentation model. Here modularisation means dissolving occupational patterns by establishing a system with variable access opportunities and flexible levels of qualification standards. England and Scotland with their respective certification systems have established competence-based training based on modularisable qualifications and mainly delivered in the workplace (Burke, 1990; Hodgson/Spours, 1997; Steedman, 1998; Deissinger, 1999; Pilz, 1999).

    A fragmentation policy like in the British system would be a break with a long-standing tradition of VET in Germany as it would collide both with the vocational principle and the basic features of occupational labour markets (Deissinger, 1999, pp. 199 ff.; Pilz, 1999). In this model six features may be considered as diverging from vocational or occupational orientation (Pilz, 2000, p. 13):

    • Individual learning units (modules) may be used in a highly flexible way

    • Standards of competence and performance/assessment criteria are clearly defined for each unit

    • The performance of learners/students is judged according to what they can do rather than on the courses they have done (Misko, 1999, p. 3)

    • Each unit is assessed and certified on its own

    • Access to individual studies based on modules is comparatively open and flexible

    • Learning venues and their cooperation play a minor role in the delivery of competences

    There is no final answer as to the potential design of future training schemes to be revised or developed within the Dual System – be it for the sake of weaker learners or employers' flexibility demands. It will certainly depend upon the extent to which modular principles actually find their way into the German system. My suggestion, however, is that the soundest approach might be to carry on what may be called a policy of “internal modernisation”. Any reform option will certainly have to be measured according to its impact on the social, pedagogical and economic function of occupations as formalised links between training and work (Konietzka/Lempert, 1998; Kutscha, 1998, p. 259; Adler/Lennartz, 2000) based on standardisation, quality control, transparency of courses as well as marketability of qualifications (Berger/Brandes/Walden, 2000). Whereas CBT in the UK seeks for coherence of vocational qualifications through setting up learning objectives and a formalised system of workplace assessment, the German system – following its tradition and experiences – sticks to final examinations which overarch courses and keep modules virtually "inside" the occupational profile.

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    Prof. Dr. Thomas Deissinger

    University of Konstanz
    Faculty of Economics
    Fach D 127
    D-78457 Konstanz/Germany
    E-mail: Thomas.Deissinger@uni-konstanz.de

    1See Press Release of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (January 18, 2001).

    2See "Informationsdienst des Instituts der deutschen Wirtschaft", No. 42 (October 19, 2000).

    3See “BiBB News”, No. 1 (2001).

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