Janine Frisch used to see painting as a job. But at the Philipp
Holzmann School she's discovered a profession - and also a passion.
Like all pupils in Germany's specialized vocational system, Ms.
Frisch learns both in school and on the job. And after she's through
with her three years of training, she'll be able to tackle any
painting job from a factory to a mansion.
"There's a lot more to the job than putting paint on a wall, It's
varied, creative," says Frisch, who alternates one week in school
with two weeks at a painting firm that specializes in historic
structures. She can paint with a sponge, a spray, or a ruler, and
draft client invoices. "And I've even discovered techniques I could
apply to my own home," she says.
Perhaps no other country has so thoroughly integrated job
training with actual hands-on experience. The apprenticeship system
in Germany offers trainees three years of formal study combined with
on-the-job learning in any of about 365 different trades ranging
from bank clerks to telephone operators, car mechanics to
This dual approach to education has become a model admired
worldwide. It's also viewed as one of the tools that helped Germany
recruit a highly skilled, specialized workforce and become a top
economic power after the devastation of World War II.
But today some complain that Germany's once prized system is no
longer living up to its goals. A downward economy has forced
companies to scale back their paid trainee positions. Many German
companies today are making do with a cheaper - albeit generally less
highly trained - workforce.
This year, a third of young Germans seeking an apprenticeship -
about 35,000 youths - didn't find one, according to the Institute of
Vocational Training in Bonn.
The problem recently surfaced at the top of the political agenda.
Under pressure to fight youth unemployment and counter a shortage
of skilled labor, the German government has now threatened to
penalize companies that don't train. The proposed new law has
created a storm of controversy, with unions hailing it even as
critics decry it as counterproductive and bureaucratic.
The real problem, say employers, is that pupils no longer come to
them ready to be trained, making apprenticeship programs much more
difficult to administer.
"Our dual system has proved itself and we have to keep it," says
Johannes Hilgendorf, a director at the Philipp Holzmann School,
which specializes in construction professions, from roofing to car
painting. "The problem is in our society. In the past, the main goal
was to learn a trade. Today it's a secondary goal, next to
entertaining and having friends."
Norbert Dieter, who took over the Frankfurt painting company
started by his grandfather, sees hiring young apprentices as an
investment in the future. …