Institutional Arrangements of Germany's Vocational Education System; What Are the Policy Implications for the U.S.?

By Rieble-Aubourg, Sabine | International Journal of Comparative Sociology, June 1996 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Institutional Arrangements of Germany's Vocational Education System; What Are the Policy Implications for the U.S.?

Rieble-Aubourg, Sabine, International Journal of Comparative Sociology


Germany's vocational education system has attracted considerable international attention because of its contribution to the "German economic miracle," the comparatively low rate of youth unemployment, and the successful combination of general and work-related training that provides Germany's economy with a "pool of highly skilled workers" (Streeck, 1992). The apprenticeship system, which provides about 60 percent of young people with quality training, is one reason why Germany has been able to adopt more flexible manufacturing strategies and to pursue a "high-wage, high-skill" economic strategy (IG METALL, 1993). Compared to its European neighbors and the U.S., vocational education in Germany is not considered a "dead-end" education, but instead provides various avenues for career advancement (Max-Planck-Institute, 1983). It is defined as a collective good to which everyone contributes beyond his/her own self-interests.(1) Moreover, it is one of Germany's strongest economic advantages in an increasingly competitive economic environment (IG Metall, 1993; Berufsbildungsbericht, 1994).

For all these reasons, the German vocational system has received much international attention, particularly from the United States, where the wages of workers without college degrees are declining (Mishel et al., 1994), and the ability of its economy to compete successfully in international markets is seriously undermined by its neglect of training bluecollar workers (Marshall et al., 1992). The lack of training is seen as an impediment for U.S. companies to adopt more flexible manufacturing strategies, which translates into a competitive disadvantage. The training gap becomes even more serious considering that currently only 25 percent of U.S. high school graduates receive a college degree, and the remaining 75 percent are left with few educational choices (Jobs for the Future, 1993). Vocational training programs exist in the U.S., but they often are considered too narrow and too job or employer-specific. Moreover, they often lack quality and flexibility (Brint and Karabel, 1988; Berg, 1994; Lynch, 1994). The various programs, ranging from vocational classes in high schools, community colleges, and employer-specific training, lack coordination and do not form a national training system. Moreover, compared to the definition of vocational education as a collective good in Germany, such training is considered an individual responsibility in the U.S. (Thurow, 1993).

This paper addresses the following questions:

1) Why is there so much variation between the vocational training programs in the U.S. and Germany?

2) Why does Germany have a vocational educational system with nationally recognized certificates, whereas vocational training in the U.S. is rather fragmented, informal and employer-specific?

And 3) To what extent can the German system be transferred to the U.S.?

In order to answer these questions, I use an institutional framework that analyzes the underlying institutional arrangements of vocational education in both countries. Whereas considerable research has already been done on Germany's institutional arrangements, little research has analyzed the U.S. institutional context. The success of Germany's apprenticeship system is based on a complex network of institutions - including labor, business, and the government - whose role is often overlooked. Due to this interconnectedness, Germany has created an "equilibrium" training system where the supply and demand of apprenticeships are well balanced and where high quality training is assured.

An Institutional Framework

An institutional approach has been applied in various areas: to explain differences in economic policies across countries (Shonfield, 1969; Hall, 1986; Katzenstein, 1978; Gourevitch, 1986); in factory and work organization (Lane, 1989; Maurice et al., 1986); and more currently to explain differences in training systems (Berg, 1994; Streeck, 1992; Wagner, 1993).

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Institutional Arrangements of Germany's Vocational Education System; What Are the Policy Implications for the U.S.?


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?