Berlin (Picture from Wikimedia)In terms of vocational education and training (VET), the German system is a reference in Europe.

Initial VET is organised mainly in the form of apprenticeships called the « dual system » since it takes place at both the enterprise and a vocational school. It enjoys a very positive image in German society.

In the system, which has proved its worth in terms of qualification and integrating young people, the content of courses depends on the Länder (regions) and the social partners. The quality of the dual system forms a solid basis for the competitiveness of the German economy.

However, some people believe it is too dependant on enterprises, and this, in a period of crisis, can lead to a shortage of apprenticeship places. Changing from one stream to another is limited due to the degree of specialisation. Things are however changing.

Germany must raise the challenge of globalisation and mobility and confront the structural upheavals in the economy. Barriers between the various sectors in education are gradually disappearing. To facilitate recognition of qualifications and apprenticeships outside individual sectors, a national cross-sector qualifications framework is currently being developed.

Apprenticeship enables also smooth education to work transitions, resulting in low youth unemployment (2015: 7.2% of aged 15 to 24 versus 20.4% in the EU-28).

Germany, which is a high-export country, is developing an education and training system leading to the acquisition of international qualifications, such as language skills and understanding markets and business structures abroad. Apprentices can conduct up to one quarter of their training abroad with the agreement of their apprenticeship tutor.

Moreover, Germany has launched in 2013 a new program called « The Job of my Life » for young Europeans (from 18 to 35 yo), in order to get rid of labour shortage. It offers them the opportunity to benefit from Germany’s dual training system while providing a financial support and german language courses.

Finally, Digital innovation has an impact on qualification profiles and curricula. The Vocational training 4.0 initiative identifies changing demands in the qualification of skilled workers and how to respond to the challenge of digitalisation.


The German education system – 2017





The vocational pathway in Germany


Secondary education

Vocational education in Germany is characterised by schooling lasting on average for 2 to 3 years in 350 specialist streams. Traditionally, it relies on a work-study system between work placements and vocational school where mainstream subjects are taught (languages, economics, mathematics etc.) along with the theoretical fundamentals for the trade or craft chosen.

Enterprises bear the costs of company-based training and pay learners a wage. Those successfully completing training are qualified to be employed as skilled workers. AVT is at the heart of the VET system.

It confers the right to exercise a trade independently, to hire and train apprentices and to enter university education. It also facilitates the acquisition of middle management qualifications in companies. Dual study programmes provide a blend of vocational and academic training, offered by universities of applied sciences (duration three to four years) and other higher education institutions (Berufsakademien, duale Hochschule), leading to double qualifications (vocational qualification and bachelor degrees or bachelor/master degree).

It is open to all pupils from the age of 15. The current trend in enterprises is moving towards recruiting more mature young people or pupils who have followed a long-term training cycle.

Pupils who pass the final examination successfully have the right to exercise a regulated trade as a skilled worker (Qualifizierte Fachkraft / Berufsqualifizierender Abschluss).

Some apprenticeships are only open to students who hold the Abitur (A-levels).

Vocational diplomas are awarded by the chambers or guilds responsible for the trade studied.

Vocational training also exists within the school system at the Berufsfachschule, but qualifications are different and lead to the status of assistant.

An about one in two secondary school graduates chooses a vocational education programme; of those, 70% participate in apprenticeship.

Higher education

Studies can be pursued in a technical stream at the berufliches Gymnasium/Fachgymnasium/ Fachoberschule) where the Fachhochschulereife diploma is prepared, giving access to technical higher education and certain university courses.

For professions in health and care, there are specialised vocational schools. Admission is often gained through an interview about the students’ motivation and an analysis of their school record.

Vocational schools (Berufsakademien) in some regions (Länder) offer Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees through work-study courses. They include both mainstream education and practical vocational training. Applicants are selected by the enterprise. The studies lead to technical (engineering), business, banking and social professions.

Technical colleges (Fachhochschulen, also now called Universities of Applied Sciences) offer courses for Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. As the number of places for students is limited, admission is decided on academic record and a work placement is required.


Key figures

  • Employment rates of young graduates (%) of 20 to 34 years old no longer in education and training in 2016:-Upper vocational secondary and post-secondary  non-tertiary education about 88,4%-Upper general secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education about 65,2%-Less than primary, primary and lower secondary education about 53.1%  (EUROPA – 2017)
  • Over 25% of students have followed a vocational pathway before conducting university studies.
  • Apprentices receive an average  training allowance of 854 € gross per month (BIBB/GOVET – 2016)
  • The average training allowance based on collective wage agreements for the whole of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2016 was €854 per month (+ 3.4 %). (BIBB – 2017)

 Last update : 21/02/2018


Two websites describe different trades :

The Federal Office for employment, very detailed

The Federal Institute of vocational training

The German Education system on Eurypedia

EURES (European Job Mobility Portal) : Living and working in Germany

The German portal for career guidance : studies, trades, courses, jobs, apprenticeship places

To find a school running the right course for you

Website of the Federal Office to look for a job or a place as an apprentice

Exchange Forum for apprenticeship places coming under the Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Association of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Germany : Deutscher Industrie- und Handelskammertag (DIHK)

German Confederation of Trades and Crafts : Zentralverband des Deutschen Handwerks(ZDH)

The Job of my Life : program which facilitates placement into vocational training or employment in Germany for European citizens  | 

Azubis : German portal for people in vocational training 

Vocationnal education and training in Germany – assuring the future