Home / Study Tours / Economic Developers’ Apprenticeship Learning Academy

Economic Developers’ Apprenticeship Learning Academy

A Project of the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness

in collaboration with the American Council on Germany

October Mission to Bonn, Cologne, and Stuttgart

From October 15-21, 2023, a 13-person delegation of Americans visited Bonn, Cologne, and Stuttgart as part of the Economic Developers’ Apprenticeship Learning Academy to learn more about the strengths and shortcomings of Germany’s dual education system and to help identify how U.S. states could model the positive elements of the apprenticeship system for use in the United States. The delegation included state workforce and training executives, representing Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Beginning in Bonn, the delegation first met with the Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung (BIBB) / Federal Institute for Vocational Training for an overview of the German vocational education and training system. In Germany, around half of secondary education students choose to take the path of vocational education and training (VET). The dual system of apprenticeship is “dual” in that it consists of theoretical training at vocational schools (25%) AND practical training in companies (75%). The group learned about the value of the dual system and how it leads to high-quality vocational qualifications in more than 325 occupational fields and simultaneously results in fluid transitions from education to work. There are various players involved in the VET process including trainees, employers, chambers, social partners, and government. The key takeaway came from BIBB Chief Technical Advisor, Dr. Hannelore Kress, who stressed the need to motivate and encourage students to seize the opportunities that vocational education provides.

For the second leg of the trip in Cologne, the group visited the Industrie- und Handelskammer zu Köln (IHK) / Cologne Chamber of Commerce and Industry for an overview and discussion of the chamber’s role in the apprenticeship system. The chamber’s responsibility is to monitor vocational training in the companies, appraise companies’ aptitude to provide training (also providing training to trainers), register training contracts, and organize and conduct the examinations. In Germany, there are approximately 1.6 million apprentices in total with 566,000 new contracts every year. There are about 500,000 companies, ranging from small firms with 5 employees to large multinational corporations, providing apprenticeship programs. The chamber emphasized that apprentices are not just employees but also school students, earning while they learn. At the AusbildungsCampus der Handwerkskammer zu Köln and TechnologieCampus, the group learned more about the role of the Chamber of Handicrafts in the apprenticeship system, which has similar responsibilities as the Chamber of Industry and Commerce but focuses on trades provided by smaller companies that provide services.  The delegation was given a tour of the training centers. During the tour, the delegation was able to interact with the trainers and apprentices to discover more about what motivated these individuals to pursue their trades. At the Agentur für Arbeit Köln / Cologne Employment Agency, the group was provided with more insight into the employment structure and environment in Germany and the services the employment agency provides, such as career counseling in schools, job placement, and further training and career transition advice. Nationwide, the agency network receives more than 95,000 customer calls per day, and 5,700 vacancies are filled on a daily basis.

To understand how vocational schools play a role in providing theoretical training in the dual system, the group visited the Werner-von-Siemens-Schule Cologne. In a lively and interactive discussion with the school’s director, teachers, and students ranging in age from 19-27, the students shared more about their work and school-life balance, as well as what motivated them to pursue this path. Many of these students are training at companies in the Cologne area, like Ford Motor Company. The students are able to focus on a profession with integrated schooling which provides them with a well-rounded educational foundation and ultimately connects theory with practical training. The trainees spend around 70% of their time training in a company, and 30% of their time in lessons at school. Interacting with teachers at the school, the group learned how the instructors closely partner and communicate with the trainers at the companies, underlining how the student’s success and well-being is prioritized. At Currenta GmBH & Co, the group toured the training center and interacted with various apprentices to learn more about the how the company, as an inter-company training provider for companies in the chemical industry, supports Bayer and other companies in the Cologne region with theoretical vocational education and on-the-job practical experience.

The delegation then traveled to Stuttgart for the remainder of their German visit. At Porsche, the group was given a presentation on the vocational training program by the company’s apprenticeship program manager and given a tour of Porsche’s plant and training center. Porsche’s training center opened in 2015 and prides itself on a strong team spirit and corporate culture, emphasizing that one is always part of the Porsche family. Interacting with various apprentices, the group learned that most had found out about the training opportunities at Porsche through social media postings and advertisements. Many apprentices also live in or relocated to the Stuttgart area for this opportunity. The delegation was also able to tour the factory and see the production process of the first fully-electric Porsche Taycan. Despite technological advancements and the rise of artificial intelligence, the company does not foresee replacing employees with machines, rather sees the value of having both employees and machinery working in tandem with one another. At Coperion, a typical German Mittelstand company that produces compounding and extrusion systems, the group spoke with four apprentices who were training as industrial clerks and mechatronic technicians. In the case of these trainees, all of them had connections to the company through relatives who already worked at the company which helped influence their decision. Additionally, the apprentices noted how much they appreciated the hands-on training they received which they believed would be beneficial to them should they later decided to pursue university studies. Finishing up their first day in Stuttgart, the group met with IG Metall (IGM), one of the largest German unions representing the metal and metal crafts industry, the textile and clothing industry as well as woodworking, wood, and plastics processing. Unions, along with employers and the government, are the third pillar in the dual system of apprenticeship and are involved in the creation and revision of apprenticeship fields, as well as apprenticeship examinations. Recently, they have been advocating strongly to help ensure apprentices get proper compensation during their training programs as well as affordable housing options like those provided to students at universities.

At Bosch, the delegation met with Dr. Wolf Bonsiep, Head of Training at Stuttgart-Feuerbach, and toured the training facilities. Each year Bosch trains around 6,000 apprentices worldwide in thirty different specialties. Apprenticeship programs are generally three years in duration with trainees receiving basic education in the Bosch Training Center, the first year, practical work assignments and in-depth training modules the second year, and assignments in several plant departments and their final exams in the third year. All three years, the apprentices have regular participation in vocational school classes (general and job-oriented topics). Bosch has also been expanding its program for dual university students who complete three-year higher education programs leading to post-secondary bachelor’s degree. These students, instead of doing dual vocational training during their secondary education, are selected by Bosch through a competitive process and complete a dual program consisting of phases of academic studies and practical assignments that alternate in regular 3-month intervals.

For the last meeting of the trip, the delegation visited the Duale Hochschule Baden-Württemberg (DHBW) / Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University for a presentation and discussion about the new higher education format founded in the German state of Baden-Württemberg (utilized by Bosch). DHBW offers work-integrated university studies in cooperation with corporate partners. The dual studies are split between intensive academic studies and practical work-integrated learning at a company. Students are paid by the companies and receive their academic training free from the public, state-funded university. Serving more than 30,000 students in Baden-Württemberg, this educational model is being expanded to other German states as more students and companies recognize the value of having university graduates with practical job experience.