1. IBEX – Initiative Bildungsexport
Berlin, April 2016
Ayanga Victoria Edubio and Sonja Andjelkovic
sequa IBEX (TVET Export Initiative)
The Potential of the German Skilled
Crafts Sector for International
Cooperation in Vocational
Education Training (VET)
2. Table of Contents
1 Preface.............................................................................................................................. 1
2 The Importance of Education and Vocational Training.............................................. 2
3 The Specificities of the German System...................................................................... 3
3.1 Political and Legal Environment of Education in Germany................................ 4
3.2 The Process of Dual Training.................................................................................. 5
3.3 The Institutional Framework Regulating VET in Germany................................. 7
3.3.1 The Role of the Public Sector (Government)................................................ 8
3.3.2 The Role of the Trade Unions.......................................................................... 8
3.3.3 The Role of the Skilled Crafts Chambers ...................................................... 9
3.4 The role of the Business Community /The Private Sector ............................... 11
3.5 The Trainers in Vocational Schools...................................................................... 11
4 The Skilled Crafts Sector: Germany's Economic Backbone................................... 14
5 The Role of the Skilled Crafts Sector in International Cooperation....................... 17
5.1 International Activities of Skilled Crafts Institutions ........................................... 18
5.2 Confederation of German Builders Abroad......................................................... 19
5.3 Regional Craftsmen Association in Steinfurt-Warendorf
(Kreishandwerkerschaft Steinfurt-Warendorf, KH)....................................................... 21
6 Challenges to the international activities of German Skilled Crafts Institutions .. 22
7 Potential for Developing Countries ............................................................................. 24
8 Limits and Constraints of Developing and Transitional Countries for VET reforms
9. References......................................................................................................................... 25
ACP – African Caribbean Pacific Group of States
AEVO – Ordinance on Trainer Aptitude
BizClim – ACP Business Climate Facility
BBiG – Vocational Education and Training Act (Berufsbildungsgestz)
BerBiFG –Vocational Training Promotion Act
BIBB – Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training
BMBF – Federal Ministry for Education and Research
BMZ – Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development
BMWi – Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy
BPD – Federal Agency for Civic Education
DANIDA – Danish International Development Agency
DESTATIS – Federal Statistical Office Germany
DEQA-VET – German Reference Point for Quality Assurance in VET
DHKT – German Confederation of Skilled Crafts and Trades
EURORAI – European Organisation of Regional External Public Finance Audit
FAWE – Forum for African Women Educationalist
GOVET – German Office for International Cooperation in Vocational Education and
HwO – Regulation on Craft Trades (Gesetz zur Ordnung des Handwerks)
ILO – International Labour Organization
MDG – Millennium Development Goals
OECD – Office for Economic Cooperation and Development
UN – United Nations
UNESOC – United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
VET – Vocational Education and Training
ZDH – German Confederation of Skilled Crafts
Endowing the workforce with the skills required for the jobs of today and those of
tomorrow remains a strategic concern in the national growth and development
visions of developing and transitioning countries. Over the past decades, the
importance of education in the context of poverty reduction in transitioning countries
has risen considerably. Particularly with regards to employability, vocational
education and training has been receiving special attention. Additionally,
entrepreneurship as a potent vehicle to push forward economic development,
acquiring skills and competences that capacitate an individual to become
economically autonomous are among the important benefits that vocational
education and training can produce.
In this respect, the German dual system of vocational education and training (VET) is
considered to be a promising means of solving economic and social problems
because it makes the transition from compulsory schooling into the labor force more
effective and efficient.
In many developing countries, vocational education and training programs can
contribute to socio-economic development through:
improved practical skills and access to the labor market particularly for young
strengthening of the private sector/companies through skilled, flexible and
efficient employees and thus a thriving economy; and
sustainable social development.
While in the past there have been calls for the German VET system to be exported to
developing countries, recently the approach is rather to refer to it and provide tailor-
made systems based on the needs and resources of the respective partner country.
Notwithstanding the fact that the German vocational training system with its
historically rooted, political, institutional and legal conditions is too complex to be
exported in its entirety to countries without corresponding framework conditions, it
has a huge potential to augment existing VET strategies. This paper examines the
potential the skilled crafts sector holds for developing countries, looking specifically at
the extent to which the competences and capabilities acquired in context of
vocational training and education can contribute to a strong workforce in developing
This paper comes to the conclusion that above all, good-quality primary and
secondary education provide the vital foundation for any form of subsequent
THE IMPORTANCE OF EDUCATION AND VOCATIONAL TRAINING
The human capital approach towards education identifies substantial investment in
education as a key requisite and driver of economic growth. Technically advanced
countries are able to maintain their productive and technological superiority because
of their investment in the generation and improvement of new knowledge and skills.
The United Nations (UN) committed to prioritizing the universal provision of quality
education in its second Millennium Development Goals (MDG2) to be achieved by
The post-2015 agenda also emphasizes the importance of education, among
others vocational education.2
One of the most devastating consequences brought about by the lack of education in
developing countries is that the entry into both formal and informal workforces is
obstructed, which in turn prevents poverty alleviation for those who need it the most.
The correlation between incomplete education and the stagnation of economic
development in developing countries was drawn into focus in the 2012 Education for
which pointed to the incomplete education that young adults receive in the
majority of developing and transitioning countries as being the main cause of youth
VET plays an important role facilitating economic growth; as such it is an issue that is
a central policy concern for many developing countries.
Youth unemployment remains a serious global challenge that is closely linked to the
greater economic situation in any given country. Global youth unemployment grew
significantly between 2007 and 2010 but has now stabilized at just over 13%,
according to a recent report from the International Labour Organization (ILO).5
“United Nations Millennium Development Goals and Beyond 2015,” http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/education.shtml.
Transforming our world: The 2030 Agenda for stustainable development, http://www.un.org/pga/wp-
“Youth and Skills: Putting Education to Work,” United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
(UNESOC) Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2012, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0021/002180/218003e.pdf.
“World Employment and Social Outlook - Trends 2015,” International Labour Organisation, International Labour Office,
Sub-Saharan Africa, the explosive population growth has resulted in a demographic
shift in the opposite direction of the one currently ongoing in Europe, with a large
percentage of the population composed of youth and national economies lacking the
ability to adequately absorb and provide employment opportunities for them all.6
Youth unemployment in developing countries poses a serious security challenge,
because the absence of legal economic opportunities through which the youth can
earn a livelihood makes them more susceptible to participate in illegal activities and
engage in acts of violence. For this reason, efforts to combat marginalization in
working life are best focused on early education and youth employment.
With regards to the issue of gender empowerment, women in developing countries
are at additional risk of being ostracized when it comes to participating in VET
Despite the educational performance of women being generally better than that of
men, in many countries the existence of cultural norms and social constraints limit
the duration of primary education young girls are able to obtain (e.g. early marriage,
reproductive responsibilities, image of some professions etc.).
In this regard, an important transition that has to occur in developing countries is a
change in the mindsets of people towards gender equality, when it comes to
education and subsequent technical and vocational education and training. Above all,
there needs to be an increased societal acceptance of women training to work in
traditionally male dominated occupations. However, this is a long-term process that
will require a multi-dimensional approach.
Examples of existing, gender-sensitive VET programs are the Forum for African
Women Educationalist (FAWE) and the activities of the Danish International
Development Agency (DANIDA) in Sierra Leone, those two set themselves apart
from other VET programs by prioritizing both the formal and informal sectors.
THE SPECIFICITIES OF THE GERMAN SYSTEM
In order to understand how and why Germany has been able to position itself as a
pioneer in offering dual training and receives international attention for it, the
“World Population Data Sheet 2013,” Population Reference Bureau, 2013,
following section provides a synopsis of the unique legal and political environment in
the country that brought about the emergence of the German VET system.
1.1 Political and Legal Environment of Education in Germany
The dual training system in Germany with its two-track approach has generated a
new education system situated between the State and the market. Together with the
trade unions these three actors form the so-called “social partnership”
(Sozialpartnerschaft) and exercise joint control which is the basis of the German VET
system. Among other things, the Federal Government is responsible for regulating
the legal environment for providing education, while the vocational schools the
students are partly trained in are under the control of federal states.7
The role of education in Germany should be considered in context of lifelong
learning, a concept which envisions attaining education through formal and informal
channels as well as academic and practical training institutions. School attendance in
Germany is legally regulated by the 1717 royal declaration on compulsory education
Due to the sovereign nature of the Länder, (federal states) with
regards to education, the duration of the compulsory education varies in each federal
state, however it is usually between 9 and 10 years.
Vocational education and training (VET) in Germany is legally regulated by two
national laws, the Vocational Education and Training Act (Berufsbildungsgesetz,
BBiG) and the Regulation on Craft Trades (Gesetz zur Ordnung des Handwerks,
HwO). The latter provision officially regulated the performance of the skilled crafts
sector by laying down that Chambers of Crafts (Handwerkskammern) would be
established to represent the interests of the skilled crafts workforce within their
respective districts. As of 2016 there are 53 skilled crafts chambers in Germany,
confederated at national level in the German Confederation of Skilled Crafts
(Deutsche Handwerkskammertag, DHKT)9 and organized under the patronage of the
German Confederation of Skilled Crafts and Trades (Zentralverband des deutschen
Germany is comprised of 16 federal states, the Länder, which share responsibilities with the Federal Government.
“Germany – The Education System,” European Organisation of Regional External Public Finance Audit Institutions
ZDH Guide: “The Skilled Crafts Sector in Germany (Das Handwerk in Deutschland),” 2015.
Handwerks, ZDH). The Vocational Training Act (BBiG) was expanded to become the
Vocational Training Promotion Act (BerBiFG) in 1981, the same year the Federal
Institute for Vocational Training (BIBB) was founded.10
The dual training system has become synonymous with German efficiency partly due
to the long and successful tradition of skilled craftsmanship in Germany, and the
important role they played in social life before industrialisation and the spread of
modern technology as well as due to the high quality products that are made in
As of 2015, ZDH states that there are 1 million skilled craft enterprises in the
employing approximately 5 million Germans in the skilled crafts sector,
with over to 140.000 new apprenticeship contracts signed that year.12
training system is still a popular alternative for young adults in Germany, with
approximately 43% of students leaving school opting for this track in 2014.13
Their decision is largely influenced by the large array of VET programs vocational
schools offer. According to the OECD, as of 2016, there are 349 officially certified
occupations being taught under VET which relate to all sectors of the economy,
including skilled crafts, the industry and administration.14
The German dual training system sets itself apart from the formal academic system
by not having minimum (academic) entry or age requirements. The absence of formal
barriers to entry and the possibility of earning an allowance while undergoing training
are some of the benefits that motivate aspiring apprentices to opt for this system.
1.2 The Process of Dual Training
The German dual training system is based on a cooperative model. The duration of
vocational education and training programs in the dual system is between 2 and 3.5
years, during which the trainees spend approximately 1-2 days a week, or 30% of the
time, in a vocational school and the remainder of the time on an apprenticeship in
Helmut Pütz, “Vocational Education and Training – An Overview (2003)” Federal Institute for Vocational Training
“Number of Companies in the Economy (Betriebszahlen),” Zentralverband des Deutschen Handwerks (ZDH), 2015,
“Vocational Education Report (Berufsbildungsbericht), Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF), 2015,
Kathrin Hoeckel, Robert Schwartz, “Learning for Work – OECD-Studies on Vocational Training in Germany ((Lernen für
die Arbeitswelt – OECD-Studien zur Berufsbildung – Deutschland),” OECD, September 2010,
workplaces (companies and training centres). With regards to skill development in
Germany, “learning by doing” has proved to be the most effective training approach
to impart technical and vocational competences that include social, methodical and
One unique characteristic about German VET is that it is labour market oriented.
According to the ZDH, the dual training system results in lower rates of
unemployment and underemployment in Germany, because the ratio of demand to
supply with regards to applications for apprenticeships and the capacity of the market
to absorb them after training are remarkably balanced. This is due to the close
relationship and extensive coordination between the federal government, the
employers (chambers/ the business community) and the employees (trade unions).
Notwithstanding the previous statement, ever since 1999, some skilled crafts sectors
have in fact been in dire need of new apprentices – this phenomenon is closely
linked to the changing image of the skilled crafts sector that will be elaborated upon
towards the end of this chapter and the ongoing demographic shift in Germany that is
a result of persistently low birth rates.16
With regards to the specificities of the German dual training system, the decisive
factor that differentiates the German system from others is the commitment of all the
stakeholders involved to uphold the concept of dual training as an education system
in Germany. National qualification standards guarantee the relevance of the training
The process of dual training in the skilled crafts in Germany happens in the following
1) School-leavers decide that they want to earn money and learn a profession
2) After deciding what occupation they want to have in future, they begin
applying to companies
3) The company and the apprentice sign a work/training contract at the beginning
4) The apprentice undergoes dual training
“Dual Training at a Glance,” Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), 2007,
Demographic Change in Germany and Europe,” Federal Agency for Civic Education (Bundeszentrale für Politische
Bildung BPD), 2014, http://www.bpb.de/gesellschaft/migration/kurzdossiers/177962/germany-and-europe.
5) About once a year, all apprentices of a specific occupation in Germany attend
an intensive VET program at a different, specialized inter-company training
centres for some weeks.
The training that takes place in these specialized centres is another important
aspect of maintaining the high standard of the skilled craft certificates the
apprentices receive at graduation because companies can – correctly –
assume that their employees have had the opportunity to become familiarized
with the most modern technologies. These specialized inter-company training
centres are necessary because not every company is able to provide trainees
with real life scenarios, or with the most modern technologies in that specific
occupation, or with the complete content of the 3-years-training-profile given
that most of the companies in the skilled crafts sector are rather small or very
6) The trainees are tested halfway through their VET program. This ensures that
if they do not pass at the first time, they do not have to repeat the entire
program, but have the chance to retake the lessons they previously did not
pass. During the entire VET program, trainees are expected to keep a journal
detailing the lessons they have completed which serves as an auxiliary
checklist for the exam.
7) The final examination takes place in the chamber of skilled crafts for that
specific region. This means that regardless of the company the trainee is in,
they are all tested in the same facility and by the same examination board.
These boards comprise representatives of employers, trade unions and VET
school teachers. Specific parts of the examination take place in workplace
settings to test the practical execution of an assignment.
1.3 The Institutional Framework Regulating VET in Germany
The government, the trade unions and the private sector represented by the
employers' associations form the social partnership that characterizes the institutional
framework that regulates the German VET system.
An example provided by the ZDH is the possibility chimney sweeps have to test their practical skills under daily settings –
such as a bird falling into a chimney, a scenario that can hardly be replicated in office settings.
1.3.1 The Role of the Public Sector (Government)
At the government level, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)
has the overall strategic authority over vocational training. It is responsible for
invoking the Vocational Education and Training Act which was last amended in 2005
and also for supervising the practical training segment in VET programs that takes
place in the companies in collaboration with the skilled crafts chambers.
The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) coordinates with the
Ministry of Education and Research to conceptualize the individual training
regulations of the different VET programmes. At federal level, the individual states
have exclusive jurisdiction with regards to vocational schools and judicial control of
The federal states are actively involved in setting up VET curricula, and are
responsible for hiring the teaching staff.18
Due to the sovereign nature of German
federal states, there are significant differences between them with regards to the
organisation and content of the academic part of the training that takes place in
1.3.2 The Role of the Trade Unions
The trade unions represent the interests of the employees, the trainees and
apprentices. They work closely with the chambers, and in that constellation are
referred to as the “social partners.” Trade unions are the third actor involved in
upholding the dual training system in Germany. Their task is assisting in designing
the VET programs, the trade unions are also consulted when it comes to developing
training regulations and keeping them up to date.
The VET curricula are overhauled approximately every ten years (the decision of
renewing is up to the social partners), and have two components. Two-thirds of the
subjects taught in the vocational schools teach specific theoretical knowledge
required in that particular field of occupation, while 1/3 of the time is spend on
teaching subjects to expand general knowledge.20
“The Structure of Vocational Training in Germany (Struktur der Berufsbildung in Deutschland),” German
Reference Point for Quality Assurance in VET (DEQA-VET), 2010, https://www.deqa-vet.de/de/struktur-der-berufsbildung-
“Dual Training in Germany,” German Office for International Cooperation in Vocational Education and Training
Finally, they represent the interests of the trainees/apprentices and future employees
by negotiating the allowances the apprentices receive during their training.
1.3.3 The Role of the Skilled Crafts Chambers
The skilled crafts organisation is divided into two pillars: there are skilled crafts
chambers and national confederations of skilled crafts. Skilled crafts chambers are
non-profit corporations under German public law with compulsory membership for
each skilled crafts company registered in Germany.
The chambers are a very important pillar in the framework of VET in Germany and
play an important role in upholding the infrastructure of the dual training system.21
Every chamber is a self-governing organisation that represents the interests of all
skilled crafts in a given chamber district (Kammerbezirk).
The chambers are such an important pillar in the VET system because of their role as
the actor who lobbies on behalf of trainees/apprentices on the one hand and
represents the interests of the member companies on the other hand. The chambers
are the first point of contact for member-companies, they provide a wide spectrum of
services which range from advice on technical, financial and legal matters to an
extensive range of training and further education courses in their own vocational
training centres. The chambers advice companies on the costs and benefits of
apprenticeship and are as such the most visible and valuable ambassadors of young
adults seeking to enter the labour market through skilled crafts.
The chambers are also the first point of contact for small skilled crafts companies
who do not have the resources to actively search for replacements or new
apprentices to train, due to a lack of personnel and/or time. In case a company is
willing and able to offer an apprenticeship placement it contacts its chamber and
relays the properties and characteristics it would like its apprentice to have, and the
chambers begin searching for the ideal candidate. This personalized match-making
between apprentices and companies, are only one of the many advantages that
membership in the skilled crafts chamber brings.
Skilled crafts chambers are also responsible for promoting the interests of the skilled
crafts sector by regularly publishing reports on the status of that sector in the
(GOVET), 2014, https://www.bibb.de/dokumente/pdf/govet_praesentation_duales_system.pdf.
ZDH Guide: “The Skilled Crafts Sector in Germany (Das Handwerk in Deutschland),” 2015.
economy. The chambers are also a very important actor in the dual training system
because they are the only body that can officially register training contracts and
ascertain the degree of suitability of the different companies offering to train
apprentices. The chambers regularly supervise in-company training standards by
staying in close contact with the trainee and his supervisor to appropriately evaluate
the pace and progress of the training programme in enterprises.
The skilled crafts chambers in Germany are vital for quality assurance in the dual
training system. It is the skilled crafts chambers that are responsible for Monitoring
and Evaluation (M&E), which is a crucial requirement for maintaining high standards
in vocational education and training. They carry out M&E by evaluating the
competences of the trainers in the training centres, comprise the examination board
and organise and carry out the final examinations the apprentices have to pass to
become certified craftspeople.
The chambers also maintain the uniformity of skilled crafts certificates because
employers can expect every dually trained apprentice to be able to carry out a given
assignment that was included in the curriculum. If the standards are thus set too low
or too high for the examination, there is an almost instantaneous pushback from the
side of the employers and this serves to ensure that there are not too large
fluctuations in competences and working standards in the skilled crafts sector –
An additional, important determinant of the dual training system's success in
Germany is the amount of financial capital it takes to upkeep the system annually.
The German Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB)
published the following diagram in 2015 depicting the annual cost of dual vocational
training in Germany, as well as the distribution among stakeholders.
Figure 1. Annual Costs of the Dual Training System – BIBB
According to the German Reference Point for Quality Assurance in VET (DEQA-
VET), the federal states are responsible for financing vocational schools and
teaching staff, while the municipalities provide the infrastructure and equipment in the
1.4 The role of the Business Community /The Private Sector
The largest segment of training takes place in the companies, and as such the
private sector/ companies bears the brunt of the costs of maintaining the dual training
This distribution of responsibilities is briefly illustrated in the preceding diagram. In
2015, according to BIBB, the private sector spent approximately €24 billion on the
dual training system, while the government expenditure was €3 billion. The private
sector has a great social commitment to VET, nevertheless there have been calls for
a reform to the system, that would see the public sector take on a larger role in
financing the dual training system.
As an actor, the private sector is in the position to inform the government and skilled
crafts chambers about what competences and skills are in high demand on the
labour market. More importantly, businesses are the actors that draft proposals for
the creation of amended training regulations for new and existing occupations, as this
ensures that vocational education and training programmes endow the trainees with
the exact skills and competences the labour market requires, and that each training
cycle produces as many trainees as can be absorbed by the labour market.
Historically speaking, the private sector in Germany is regarded by society as being
responsible for providing VET training and workplace learning opportunities.
Businesses themselves consider the provision of VET training as being a cross-social
duty of the market economy.
1.5 The Trainers in Vocational Schools
The trainers in the vocational schools also play a very important role in the dual
training system. In this context, it is important to differentiate between the two types
of teachers the apprentices learn from. On the one hand there are vocational
teachers who impart the apprentices with theoretical knowledge and expand on the
general knowledge of academic subjects (such as mathematics, history, geography).
On the other hand, there are technical trainers who impart the apprentices with
technical knowledge specifically related to the respective occupation the apprentices
are training to learn.
These technical trainers are invaluable to the apprentices in terms of learning from
full-fledged craftsmen, because while technical trainers do not require a university
degree, they are usually top-tier experts in their particular skilled craft, and have
either reached the level of Master craftsman (Meister) or a certified craftsman.
The Ordinance on Trainer Aptitude (Ausbilder-Eignungsverordnung; AEVO) laid
down in the Vocational Education and Training Act regulates the requirements the
trainers have to fulfil.
The business community benefits immensely from participating in the provision of
vocational education and training programmes. As depicted in the BIBB illustration,
the private sector has to commit to a substantial annual investment to maintain the
dual training system.
Notwithstanding this initial investment, at the end of the day businesses are able to
recoup any losses they made at the beginning. Trainees receive a certification upon
completing dual VET programmes and progressive allowances from the company
employing them for the duration of their training. The following illustration was
compiled by the German Office for International Cooperation in Vocational Education
and Training (GOVET) to illustrate the benefits of the dual training system:
Source: GOVET: Dual VET - Vocational Education and Training in Germany
In addition to specialized technical knowledge, they obtain methodical and social
skills that give them a competitive advantage in the labour market. The government is
able to leverage its participation to efficiently steer the VET system promote an
increased formalisation of the economy be regulating in-company training at the
Overall, this results in a higher economic performance and greater degree of labour
market matching between employees and employers, while also integrating young
people in the market early on, keeping the transition between school and work as
effective as possible.
THE SKILLED CRAFTS SECTOR: GERMANY'S ECONOMIC BACKBONE
The German skilled crafts sector has its origins in the culture of guilds that was
prevalent in the Middle Ages before they became formally institutionalized in the late
century. The skilled crafts sector constitutes a large and very influential economic
and social group in Germany and has an annual turnover of approximately 500 billion
Using data provided by the Federal Statistical Office of Germany (Destatis),
the following chart was compiled to depict the distribution of the small skilled crafts
enterprises in the SME sector of the national economy.
Over 80% of the workforce in Germany is employed in small and medium-sized
enterprises – of those SMEs, the vast majority are occupations in the skilled crafts
As such, the skilled crafts sector essentially forms the backbone of the
German economy – its importance can hardly be overstated. The skilled crafts
sector in Germany has been comprised of occupations that fulfil two criteria:
a. the jobs are carried out with the hands (which is where the German term for
the skilled crafts sector, “Handwerk”, originates from, loosely translated to
mean “work carried out with hands”). However, jobs in the skilled crafts sector
“Vocational Education and Training (VET) in German Skilled Crafts,” ZDH, 2015,
“Representation of Small and Medium Sized Enterprises in the Skilled Crafts Sector,” Federal Statistics Office
are not anymore limited to manual labour. Most of them are actually based on
latest technology and require technical skills.
b. the possibility to become a “technopreneur” and thus an employer or supplier
for in-company training opportunities.
VET in the skilled crafts sector provides training for more than 130 occupations in 7
main areas: construction, electronics, mechatronics, wood, food crafts and textiles, to
name a few. In 2015, the ZDH published the following figure illustrating the different
areas of occupation covered by the skilled crafts sector.
ZDH Presentation (2015): Training Occupations in Skilled Crafts
The image of the skilled craftsman has changed significantly in the past decades,
which has resulted in a continuous reduction of school-leavers choosing the dual
training system. Albeit not based on empirical evidence, a widespread assumption in
German society is that the elderly usually hold skilled crafts jobs in a higher regard
than the young. Nevertheless, Master craftsmen are still held in high regard in
German society because they serve not only as role models for the trainees, but they
are economically shrewd and particularly knowledgeable in their field of work. Above
all, they serve as trainers for the next generation, passing on valuable knowledge
they gathered over the duration of their career. The fall in applicants in the skilled
crafts sector is tied to a handful of developments which have changed the image of
the skilled crafts sector among the population.
The labour market first began recording discrepancies between the number of
school-leavers entering the dual system and the amount of training positions
available in the 1990s, while simultaneously there was an increase in the amount of
young adults who opted to continue their higher education at a university.
Changing perceptions in society regarding the potential of creating a comfortable
livelihood working in the skilled crafts sector led to more young people – and their
parents – doubting the viability of “handiwork”. When contemplating long-term life
plans, young school-leavers are increasingly considering the consequences of
protracted manual labour, not only for their health, but above all for their finances. As
an expert in the field of VET in Germany stated, “young people look around and they
see people in suits sitting in air-conditioned rooms earning a lot of money, and those
kinds of images leave a mark.”24
On the international level the rise of technology, a spread of information and
globalization has instead pushed the importance of trade to the forefront at the
expense of the skilled crafts sector. For that reason, more school-leavers in Germany
are beginning to think that a degree from a university will give them a competitive
edge on the labour market, enable them to travel the world and have implicitly begun
to shun the skilled crafts sector.
This motivated the skilled crafts chambers in 2010 to initiate a campaign called
“Skilled Crafts – The Economic Superpower Next Door,” in an effort to spread more
information about the potential of further education in the skilled crafts sector and
how that can potentially result in similar, if not better results than obtaining a
university degree. In addition to this campaign, incentives were triggered to entice
academics to consider skilled crafts, such as the possibility of carrying out the very
ambitious “dual study” program, where trainees acquire specific technical knowledge
at the university and have opportunity to test their practical skills in the skilled crafts
An example of such a programme is the dual study program at the University of
Applied Sciences in Munich, which transfers the VET principle of practice-oriented
learning to university studies, consisting of several practical blocs at a company and
study phases at the university.
Dr. Stefan Wolf at the Technical University of Berlin, an expert in VET in Germany and developing countries.
Prof. Dr. Jürgen Bock, “The Importance of the Skilled Crafts Sector for the National Economy, (Die Bedeutung des
Handwerks für die Volkswirtschaft)” University of Bochum (2011).
Moreover, in an effort to bring those two institutions even closer, there is the
possibility for Master craftspeople to instantly deduct ¾ of the duration of a Bachelor
degree, a sign of how highly regarded the Master craftsman certificate still is in
Germany. The recently developed continuous learning program conceptualized at the
HWK Frankfurt and piloted together with IBEX called the International Meister
permits Master craftspeople who have acquired that international certificate to work
on projects abroad, certifying their aptitude to cope with different cultures and
THE ROLE OF THE SKILLED CRAFTS SECTOR IN INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
Dating back to the medieval times, an important part of the training to become a
craftsman entailed a voluntary period of travelling to different countries for several
years and working there. This not only increased intercultural competences and
language proficiencies of the craftsmen, but also provided them with first-hand insight
on how their occupation might be carried out differently in other regions, under
different economic and social circumstances.
The tradition of the so-called “journeyman years” (Wanderjahre or Walz) is one that is
no longer widely practised in Germany, which – considering the potential of craftsmen
to permeate knowledge across borders – is an unfortunate development, a
consequence of the decreasing number of apprentices (and subsequently
craftsmen). This development is particularly unfortunate in light of the constraints that
exist, when it comes to facilitating the spread of the best practices in the German
dual training system to other countries. An issue that will be elaborated upon in the
following chapter is the challenges German skilled crafts institutions face in going
abroad, due to a lack of personnel, inadequate language skills and a lack of funds.
Promoting increased participation in the journeyman years has the potential to
increase the international impact that skilled craftsmen could have abroad.
The lack of funds remains one of the most important and recurring factors that
discourages craftsmen from participating in the journeyman years. In order to
counteract this development, a recommendation would be the strategic coordination
of all partners at a national level, to dedicate money specifically to the purpose of
supporting journeymen that decide to go abroad. An increase in international
activities will require a greater degree of coordination and capacity building of skilled
crafts experts for international activities.
1.6 International Activities of Skilled Crafts Institutions
On the national level, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and
Development (BMZ) initiated so-called “chamber and confederation partnerships”
(Kammern – und Verbandspartnerschaften) in 1991 which were carried out under the
supervision of its partner organization sequa gGmbH. To date sequa gGmbH has
carried out more than 200 partnership projects in over 80 developing and
transitioning countries, bringing together approximately 50 German businesses from
all industries of the economy to support 400 chambers and associations in
developing countries. The goal of the ongoing partnership policy is to promote
sustainable economic development in the partner countries of the BMZ by using the
German private sector to support their counterparts abroad.26
While the overarching objective of this German funded partnership is to strengthen
the private sector in developing countries, one of the instruments the policy uses is
intercultural knowledge transfer on the basis of the subsidiarity principle, encouraging
direct communication on equal footing between both parties for the duration of their
There are also other schemes and programs funded by the BMZ through GIZ and
other channels that aim at developing capacities of the skilled crafts sector in partner
countries and many examples for the German engagement. This following section
elaborates upon the potential of the skilled crafts sector to be an engine of
development in BMZ partner countries and the limits to cooperation on both sides as
well as the capacities required to mitigate these shortcomings27
The basis of
information for the following chapter is the IBEX database of German skilled crafts
expertise as well as interviews with four skilled crafts institutions that are actively
engaged in developing countries, not only in VET but also in other fields of
“Consulting Colleagues in Developing Countries” Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ),
This section contains information that was acquired during (telephone) interviews with the following individuals: Heinz G.
Rittmann, Managing Director of the Confederation of German Builders Abroad and Karin Muenstermann, Head of
VET/International Projects at the Regional Craftsmen Association in Steinfurt-Warendorf, Hendrik Voss, ZDH. These
interviews are not a comprehensive representation of the international activities of German skilled crafts companies but
should serve as a snapshot of the status quo.
1.7 Example 1: Confederation of German Builders Abroad
The Confederation of German Builders Abroad (Deutscher Auslandsbau Verband)
serves as a network for its members, who are German SMEs in the skilled crafts
sector, specifically in the building industry. The confederation provides its members
with information about suitable building projects in developing countries, support for
international tenders and contact to local businesses in the skilled crafts sector
Currently there are members in the confederation who are actively involved in
building projects in Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda.
Among the factors that motivated the expansion of German skilled craft companies
abroad was the possibility of expanding their market at a time when the domestic
construction economy was in a downfall initially led the members to consider joint
ventures outside the immediate European region. The confederation presented their
proposition for a joint venture to the local building community in those three countries
and were contacted by a building company in Sierra Leone to collaborate on a
multimillion Euro building project in Freetown that began in 2015.
Above all, these joint ventures serve the goal of consolidating the presence of
German companies abroad with a long-term vision; in deepening ties to local
businesses, which is a two way process, both parties are able to engage in
intercultural exchange which facilitates a better understanding of their counterparts
and the business environment overseas.
The potential of the German skilled crafts sector to venture to developing countries
however is constrained on the German side by limits such as a lack of capacity in
many skilled crafts companies (meaning not enough employees, or lack of interest
among the employees and a lack of competences such as local language
proficiency) and a lack of funds (as was mentioned in preceding sections the majority
of skilled crafts companies are SMEs, they cannot venture overseas if they do not
expect to make a considerable profit).
The joint ventures the confederation executes are financed using funds from
sponsored projects, some of them under the umbrella of Proinvest and the ACP
Business Climate Facility (BizClim), an institution that provides assistance to private
sector in ACP Countries, regional organisations, and private sector organisations, to
finance the transportation and staff costs of executing the joint venture projects,
however the potential of individual craftsmen to sustainably execute joint ventures on
their own without the backing of a confederation or an association is restricted.
The presence of German skilled crafts institutions abroad should result in the
generation of new, and the spread of prevailing knowledge. In this regard, one of the
confederation's members is about to embark on its second project in Sierra Leone
has to date been particularly successful; besides one German builder the joint
venture has only employed local workers. Being business-minded, German skilled
crafts companies can only participate in these international projects to the extent that
their budget permits. In the aforementioned Sierra Leonean case therefore,
employing more than one German craftsman to work on the construction grounds in
Africa was too expensive.28
The success of these joint ventures however above all depends on the compatibility
of both parties in the partnership, the association's representative admitted.
Considering that the scale in which the German skilled crafts sector is represented in
Africa is still limited, there have been no holistic realizations or instructions to
facilitating a successful business relationship. For that reason, an understanding and
respect for each-others culture determines whether long term cooperation will be
The capacities the craftsmen in these partnerships needed are the following:
On the German side, more intercultural competence is required, particularly with
regard to international cooperation management. Prior to their first journey to Africa,
the confederation had to painstakingly deduce what they had to teach their members.
With regards to the work practices of German craftsmen, a recurring admission was
that, while it is almost impossible to replicate the German VET system abroad, the
best work practices of German skilled craftsmen and institutions abroad should not
be copied in entirety, but rather should be taken apart and individually adapted to
meet the specific local requirements.
On the African side, the capacities required from African partners are an ability to
understand the German work ethic. E. g. honesty is a criterion that the Confederation
Interview with Mr. Rittmann, German Builders Abroad
of German Builders Abroad values particularly highly because of the geographical
distance between the two partners and the fact that the African partner often makes
autonomous decision on behalf of the joint venture.
Having a trustworthy partner on the ground was the determinant of success identified
by another German institution involved in Africa, namely the Regional Craftsmen
Association in Steinfurt-Warendorf (Kreishandwerkerschaft Steinfurt-Warendorf, KH).
1.8 Example 2: Regional Craftsmen Association in Steinfurt-Warendorf
(Kreishandwerkerschaft Steinfurt-Warendorf, KH)
The KH operates 4 education centres in Germany and engages in VET support,
training trainers and exporting its competences and expertise to developing
countries, either through vocational training partnerships or by inviting trainers from
developing and transitioning to come to Germany and acquire the skills and
capacities they require here among other activities.29
The KH provides training for
over a dozen different occupations in its 4 education centres, however its VET
partnerships in South Africa focuses on three sectors of skilled crafts: carpentry,
masonry, and sanitary work.
The KH initiated the 3 year VET partnership funded by the BMZ in collaboration with
Umfolozi College in Richards Bay, South Africa in 2015. Despite the college being
efficiently run, many students are unable to find employment upon graduation
because their competences are not adequate for the occupation they want to
exercise. If they do find employment, they often have to be completely re-trained in
the companies, which is expensive and dissuades companies from reaching out to
The goal of the KH's presence in South Africa is to build up a network between
Umfolozi College, local business chambers and skilled crafts businesses to
conceptualize new teaching and training content, so that the trainees are taught skills
and develop capabilities they will apply later on during their job. This entails
increasing the practical fraction of the entire training program, which in Africa is
currently still focused on theoretical teaching. Another objective of the partnership is
to increase the participation of the private sector, so they develop a stronger
commitment to supporting the younger generation of potential workers. This
approach also ensures that businesses can develop an idea of the initial education
level of the trainees, so they can customize the training modules to represent exactly
what the businesses need.30
Once again, the point was made that while the partnership seeks to export vocational
educational and training, it does not attempt to replicate the German system entirely.
The KH seeks to contribute to increasing the interaction between the German skilled
crafts sector and educational institutions in developing countries, however this
requires permanent presence overseas.
Financing a full time position for an individual to work as an ombudsman for the
German and African partners requires substantial funds, nevertheless, according to
the KH the partnership gained momentum and began showing more results once the
full time position was created. However, having a local partner or a local presence in
Africa is a big obstacle to small German skilled crafts institutions, and as such their
opportunities to contributing to facilitating sustainable development through the
skilled crafts sector in developing countries is limited.
CHALLENGES TO THE INTERNATIONAL ACTIVITIES OF GERMAN SKILLED CRAFTS
The following issues pose the greatest challenges to international activities of
German skilled crafts institutions in Africa.
a. Uncertainty: Many German companies are simply uncertain about going
overseas. To counteract this, a concerted effort is required by the ZDH to
inform its members about the benefits and opportunities they can gain from
venturing overseas. Chambers, federal ministries and social partners should
aim at including intercultural competences in vocational education.
b. Inadequate qualification: Muenstermann stated that the capacities of
German trainers to teach abroad in a different language are limited, many of
them do not feel they are adequately qualified for such an assignment.
Moreover, the scope of VET programs is restricted due to a lack of or limited
access to teaching material in different languages.
c. Lack of interest: In order to generate interest among skilled craftsmen in
Interview with Karin Münstermann, KH Steinfurth-Warendorf
Germany e.g. the representative of the KH Steinfurt-Warendorf directly
approaches Master craftsmen at the education centres. The KH offers
additional training to apprentices seeking the Master-certification and -
keeping in mind the potential of knowledge dispersion that the journeyman
years of Master craftsmen of craftsmen carries - their representative use the
moments of direct interaction to inform them about the international activities
of the KH. Notwithstanding the benefits and shortcomings of the KH's
international partnership, the challenge of finding experts to go abroad to
teach remains a big obstacle. However closer collaborations with
organisations such as sequa gGmbH can help interested skilled crafts
institutions to identify the trainers with suitable qualifications and
competences even faster.
POTENTIAL FOR DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
The skilled crafts sector has the potential to contribute to poverty alleviation in
developing and transitioning countries, because the jobs in this sector can be
empowering to the individual carrying them out and provide a sense of autonomy, as
the craftsman does not need to be employed by someone else. Particularly in
developing and transitioning countries where the informal economy is an important
pillar of the national economy, the skilled crafts sector also has the potential to
empower marginalized groups.
Skilled crafts professions such as basket weaving, tailoring and carpentry are usually
passed on intergenerationally from the old to the young, as such there is no barrier
preventing individuals who might otherwise be disenfranchised due to where they live
(i.e.: in rural, underdeveloped areas) or how much money their family has (i.e.: to pay
school fees) or constraints imposed on them by their gender (i.e.: limited or denied
access to education) from becoming empowered through that knowledge.
The potential this knowledge holds however cannot fully unfold if the workers do not
possess the full breadth of technical and practical applications related to that specific
occupation. For this reason a foundation is required, which ensures that not only are
the vocational and technical competences strengthened, but that the quality of the
work carried out is of such a high standard as to be competitive on the labour market.
The backbone of the German economy, the skilled crafts sector, is a product of the
VET system, which in turn rests on the aforementioned concept of life-long learning
that views the development of new skills in Germany from a life-cycle perspective of
building, maintaining and improving skills. Policies aimed at skill development in
developing and transitioning countries, particularly in the skilled crafts sector, should
therefore aspire to adhere to the life-cycle approach to learning and need to be
The spine of any educational system is the quality and reach of its basic and
secondary sectors, along with the education of its teachers. All further and
subsequent lifelong learning is supported by this. In order to be effective, a skills
development and capacity building strategy relying on education cannot be
developed in isolation, but rather must be embedded in wider economic and social
policy environments. Creating such an environment can take the following approach
in the three key stages of personal development:
Childhood. The foundation for life-long learning is laid by providing initial and
compulsory education, this requires the appropriate ministries (for example the
Ministry of Education) and institutions to be equipped with sufficient authority
and human capacity to carry out its assignments.
Adolescence: There needs to be continued investment in youth. The public
sector and business community must commit to bearing the costs of additional
vocational education and training to consolidate the foundation skills and
provide young adults with important workplace skills and experience for a
successful transition from school to work. Social dialogue also plays a key role
in processes to reform technical and vocational education and training
systems and in shaping national skills development strategies. A continued
dialogue between all stakeholders involved is conducive to successful reform,
as a process that brings all actors into alignment with a shared commitment to
working towards a common goal.
Elderly workers: Elderly workers are an invaluable source of knowledge. For
that reason, they should have the opportunity to upgrade their existing skills
and have these improvements certified. Moreover, in applicable cases, elderly
laborers who lack academic certification but have technical expertise should
have the opportunity to work as trainers in vocational schools to impart their
knowledge onto the next generation of skilled craftspersons.
The potential for developing and transitional countries to benefit from the presence of
a strong skilled crafts sector does not require an exact replication of the German VET
system. A country that wishes to reorganize its vocational training system will
consider the relevant aspects that can easily be integrated into the existing structures
– and which adaptations and modifications need to be made. A national vocational
training system is a tool for achieving certain objectives, which may differ from one
country to another. There is no “best” training system, each system can be judged
only by its success in achieving those identified aims. Germany’s current dual system
has been shaped by prevailing legal norms, traditions, pedagogical principles and
institutional structures. It did not come about as the result of a rationally considered
design on a drawing board, but instead developed gradually as the result of a social
and cultural history.31
Skill development and the restoration of the skilled crafts sector in a developing or
transitional country has potential benefits that cover the individual, economic and
The potential of skill development for the individual dimension refers to the role of
vocational training in developing the skills individuals need to strengthen
employability or develop entrepreneurial skills.
The social dimension refers to vocational training as a means of promoting the social
integration of the younger generation, both in the workplace and in society at large. A
vocational training system should be designed to prevent social marginalization and
integrate young people smoothly into training and employment. The economic
dimension refers to the role of vocational training in ensuring a high level of
economic, business and individual productivity.
The economic focus is on developing human resources by ensuring that there are
enough workers with adequate skills, and increasing their number and level of
qualification. The subsequent section discusses the limits to the development of
LIMITS AND CONSTRAINTS OF DEVELOPING AND TRANSITIONAL COUNTRIES
FOR VET REFORMS
Developing and transitioning countries face different challenges and limits when it
comes to creating the pre-conditions that facilitate the generation of a strong skilled
crafts sector. While some of the constraints have been implied in the preceding
sections, the limited role of the institutionalized private sector representation
system weakens the feedback mechanism between private and public sectors. The
consequence is that an interruption of the information flow between the government
and the private sector when it comes to skills that are currently in demand. Thus the
output of the usually state-driven VET in terms of skilled graduates does not match
the requirements of the private sector.
Another constraint lies in the fact that there has not yet been sufficient
commitment generated among the business community to bear the responsibility
for educating the next generation of skilled crafts persons. While it is accepted in
Germany and other industrialized countries that this initial financial pledge to
upholding the dual training system will be compensated over the duration of the
apprenticeship training, the skilled crafts sector in developing countries is often
composed of small enterprises that require additional incentives to take on trainees.
This requires a transformation of mind-sets that training the future workforce is
primarily the responsibility of businesses.
One of the determinants of success of the German VET system has been the
delegation of authority over issues of education from the central governments to
regional chambers (basically for quality assurance) as well as national associations
and trade unions (mainly for developing curricula for "their" professions), representing
"the economy", and the willingness of those actors to take on this responsibility.
Developing countries can benefit from the delegation of authority on the basis of the
subsidiarity principle (at a lower level than the central government), which has proved
in Germany to be effective in facilitating swift policy amendments and improvements.
The policy-level therefore plays a crucial law in fostering the reform of current
vocational training systems.
To the extent that developing and transitioning countries are inherently different from
industrialized countries, one important constraint impairing the development of a
skilled crafts sector is the concept of fragility.
Fragility in developing countries entails both a state-dimension and a socio-economic
dimension. As this paper has illustrated, development cooperation between the
skilled crafts sector in industrialized and developing countries has the potential to
reinvigorate the skilled crafts sector with new energy, however such international
cooperation activities are greatly reduced when the government has no monopoly on
the legitimate use of violence and foreign skilled crafts persons and/or trainers run
the risk of being attacked or kidnapped, when they visit.
Conflict and crisis situations reduce access of youth to VET programs in developing
and transitioning countries. Women for example are unlikely to participate in training
programs that take place in enterprises or schools too far away from their homes, as
they run the risk of being attacked on their way back home. Another constraint
brought about by fragile state existences is the lack of legitimacy governments in
such countries often face. When the population believes the government to lack
legitimacy, the government is unable to enact reforms which strengthen the
vocational education and training system, as it lacks the required trust and support of
Socio-economic fragility comprises a breakdown of the judicial environment, which
poses an existential challenge to the business community, i.e.: as this affects the
validity of work contracts and cooperation agreements between skilled crafts
institutions in Germany and in Africa. Despite the fact that business communities take
care of informal education the level of the skills trained is neither examined nor
certified and poses a challenge for development partners to assess the current status
quo and program their interventions sensibly.
The absence of funds provided by the government to support vocational
education and training in developing countries leads to administrative deficiencies
that act as constraints to the creation of a strong skilled crafts sector. Many ministries
related to education are under-financed and have limited implementation capacities,
above all however there is little to no inter-ministry coordination on issues of
education and labour policy. To exacerbate the issue, vocational training has only
recently crept to the forefront of education policy in developing and transitioning
countries. The importance of skill development for facilitating economic development
needs to be acknowledged by all pillars of society, by private citizens and the public
and business sector.
Other social components such as cultural norms have the potential to affect the
marginalization of sub-groups such as women and disabled people. Gender identities
affect the allocation of training positions to women and their access to VET programs
in professions not traditionally carried out by men, which is particularly detrimental for
long-term economic development, specifically in countries that have faced violent
conflicts in the past that led to most households being managed by women.
On the other hand German development partners on the company or chamber level
are still in the process of acquiring the skills and capabilities needed for international
cooperation in vocational education, such as intercultural sensitivity, communication
and negotiation in the international context, strategic planning for international
activities, project management and reporting and language skills. A structured
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