Magazine article Management Review

Lessons out of School: The German Benchmark in Training

Magazine article Management Review

Lessons out of School: The German Benchmark in Training

Article excerpt

It's a common criticism: American secondary schools are not training students successfully to enter the workforce.

Only 30 percent of American students are expected to graduate from college, yet today, those high schoolers who opt out of a college prep curriculum receive little vocational training beyond basic typing and shop classes. We haven't told our teachers how to prepare students for work, only for college," believes William Brock, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and senator from Tennessee, who spoke at a symposium on global competitiveness sponsored by Kepner-Tregoe in Princeton, N.J., last fall. Brock believes we should not be surprised that our teenagers leave high school without sufficient knowledge of career opportunities or the job skills necessary to succeed in business.

America is the only developed nation that has no structured school-to-work system, according to Robert Jones, Assistant Secretary of Labor, who also spoke at the conference. But plans are in the works to change all that.

We cannot afford an apprenticeship system and a school-to-work system that lags behind our global competition," Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin said at a meeting sponsored by the Conference Board in New York City last fall. In 1990, the U.S. Department of Labor launched a $10.5 million program, part of its "Apprenticeship 2000" research initiative, to redesign school curricula to teach students more practical, job-related subjects and to better prepare noncollege students for the workforce.

We should ask: What do children in other countries know at age 16? What should be America's competitive benchmark in education," Brock suggests. Indeed, Apprenticeship 2000 is based on the competition; its genesis is Germany's own highly successful apprenticeship system.


In Germany, apprenticeships are as much a part of the educational process as reading, writing and arithmatic. Almost 70 percent of workers in former West Germany have successfully entered the workforce through apprenticeships; the current number of apprentices is 1.8 million.

The Federal Institute for Vocational Training Bundesinstitut fur Berufsbildung), comprising representatives from industry, trade unions and the government, regulates the system. This group determines the competency standards for almost 400 occupations and sets guidelines for each training program. A major priority of this group is to ensure that employers' current and future labor needs can be met.

German students begin to make their career decisions at age 10 when they graduate from elementary school. At that time, they must select from three different secondary school curricula, and their future educational and career decisions are based on that election. Unlike the more structured process in the United Kingdom, the decision is based on more than objective test scores-teacher recommendations and parental choice are also strong considerations in the final choice.

The three different curricula are as follows:

* Gymnasium (academic high school). Students attend from ages 10 to 19, and graduate qualified to attend the university.

* Realschule (secondary school). Students attend from ages 10 to 16, and upon graduation, are qualified for a three-year apprenticeship in a skilled labor craft. The majority of German students attend realschule.

* Hauptschule (intermediate school). Students attend from ages 10 to 15, and upon graduation, most become unskilled laborers.

German students clearly link their school performance to future career success, according to Brandeis University researchers Robert I. Lerman and Hillard Pouncy. They have found that only 10 percent of German students leave school without a certificate of competence proving their knowledge of a variety of basic subjects.

If the student's parents and teachers disagree on which academic program is best for the child, the parents' wishes usually prevail, "but it's amazing how frequently the teachers are proven right," according to Christian Nitsch, an oberstudienrat (senior academic advisor) in the Bismarckschule, a gymnasium in a Hamburg suburb. …

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