Why are education and training necessary


Heike Solga

Prof. Dr. Heike Solga, born in 1964, has been director of the "Training and Labor Market" department at the Science Center for Social Research Berlin (WZB) since 2008. She holds a professorship for sociology with a focus on work, labor market and employment at the Free University of Berlin and was appointed research professor for the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) in 2013. In the same year she received the Science Prize of the Governing Mayor of Berlin, the city of Berlin's most important official award for outstanding scientific achievements. In 2014 Heike Solga was appointed a member of the Federal Youth Board of Trustees of the Federal Government. She is also deputy chairwoman of the network committee of the National Education Panel (NEPS).

Interview by Benjamin Klau├čner

Around 250,000 young people still cannot find an apprenticeship position every year. Sociologist Heike Solga explains why this is dangerous and what should be done about it.

Notice of job and training offers at a job fair in Berlin. Around 250,000 young people still cannot find an apprenticeship position every year. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa, topic service)

Professor Solga, you once described the training situation in Germany as a "ticking time bomb". What did you mean by that?

Heike Solga (& copy WZB)
Heike Solga: Almost 1.5 million young people are sent into working life without vocational training. The likelihood that they will become Hartz IV recipients is high. And one must not assume that the training crisis will practically resolve itself due to demographic developments.
Why do so many young people fail to find an apprenticeship?

Heike Solga: On the one hand, this is due to regional conditions. There are areas in Germany that are economically weak and cannot provide many training positions. In parts of eastern Germany, this is compensated for by external, school-based vocational training. Because mobility for in-company training is difficult: those looking for training are very young and mostly do not come from wealthy parents. You can hardly move for an apprenticeship position. The companies are also mostly looking for young people from the region. They want the trainees to live with their parents so that someone can take care of them and they come to work on time in the morning. On the other hand, companies are less and less willing to give low-performing young people an apprenticeship position. Many companies no longer consider pupils with a maximum of one secondary school leaving certificate.

Why is that?

Heike Solga: The companies were spoiled for many years because there was an oversupply of very capable young people. Baby boomers entered the training market at a time when there were too few training places. As a result, the companies got used to high-performing young people. Today they would have to invest more so that their trainees pass the exams with good grades.

The losers in education in Germany are mainly young people with no or low school-leaving qualifications and young people with a migration background. This has been the case for years - do you think politics is doing enough for you?

Heike Solga: I believe a lot is being done. Special schools try to teach these young people in the smallest possible classes with well-qualified teachers. Many secondary schools, which also employ social workers or psychologists, are pursuing a similar strategy. However, the question arises as to whether these measures are efficient. Pupils who have problems are sorted out in the German school system and taught in separate classes. However, we know from studies that problems increase there. It remains to be seen whether the introduction of secondary schools will change this.

What is it that makes you so skeptical? In secondary schools, pupils from secondary schools and secondary schools can finally learn together under one roof.

Heike Solga: But even there, integration and inclusion only work if the students are not all treated equally, but if there are different support measures within these schools. For example, smaller classes, extracurricular care and support for schoolchildren or further training for teachers are necessary. Blocking the students only in a common school type and otherwise not changing anything else saves money, but does not help.

Despite numerous reforms in the education system, almost 50,000 young people in Germany continue to leave school every year without a qualification. Are they excluded from society?

Heike Solga: This is actually a big problem of our time. Anyone born in the 1950s or 1960s could find work without a school leaving certificate or training. At that time there were still jobs for unskilled workers with open-ended contracts that made it possible to earn a living above the poverty line. Those who do not complete an apprenticeship today have very poor chances on the job market. In principle, Hartz IV is preprogrammed. Education is the key to participation in society. People without education are excluded from many areas: for example, they have lower marriage rates and a much higher risk that their children will grow up in poverty and also remain poorly qualified. Your children are denied what one would call "a good life". It's a vicious circle.

Migrants and refugees are particularly at risk in this vicious circle. Are they receiving too little support in our education system?

Heike Solga: More and more young people without an apprenticeship have a migration background. Some of them have an intermediate school leaving certificate, so they do not necessarily belong to the poor performers. With this we have a double problem: They were promised that they would get an apprenticeship position if they tried hard at school. Now they have caught up with schooling in recent years, but are still not getting any apprenticeship positions. These young people notice that they are being discriminated against in the training market. I'm curious how long you will just look at it like that.

In addition to good grades, young people with a migration background also have intercultural skills. How could companies be persuaded to discontinue them?

Heike Solga: Anonymous applications could help. In the application documents there is usually nothing about the migration background, you can only infer it from the name. Candidates could apply under a number and black out their names on the certificates. Experiments and studies show that this often means that they are not sorted out in the first round of the application.

Would your chances in an interview be better then?

Heike Solga: In the job interview it can of course still be the case that companies have prejudices or say that these young people do not suit their workforce because there are no migrants in their company. But once the youngsters have come this far, it is more difficult for companies to reject them. You depend on good candidates.

In theory, every young person today can complete an apprenticeship. At least politics and the media keep reporting that there are enough training places.

Heike Solga: One can prove that this is not true. There are significant studies that show that there are many more applicants than places. If you come to a different conclusion, it is due to the method of calculation: Those who have not been given a training place and therefore complete a "vocational preparation measure" are no longer counted as applicants. Around 250,000 young people end up in the so-called transition system every year - the clear majority of them because they have not found a training position. If these young people are factored out of the statistics, there are even 20,000 vacant apprenticeships left.

Do companies have to train more?

Heike Solga: In the 1970s or 1980s, companies trained about their needs out of a sense of responsibility towards society. At the time, it was assumed that training and further education was an investment in employees. Today you see this more as a cost factor. In addition, the company structure has changed: There are still large companies that train a lot of young people. But there are also self-employed and small companies that can no longer afford trainees. And even if the companies in economically strong regions were to train more, that would not necessarily help the young people in other parts of Germany. Still, society's expectations have risen. Today everyone has to do an apprenticeship.

In the transition system, young people who have not found an apprenticeship place should make good use of their "waiting time" - for example by completing a school leaving certificate or doing internships. Critics speak of a waste of money. Is the transition system ineffective?

Heike Solga: That depends on how you measure effectiveness. The system is intended to enable young people to make a transition - either into training or into employment. That doesn't work for the majority. When they have completed one vocational training course, many do not start working, but complete the next one. You have to think about whether the variety of measures is expedient - especially because the current transitional system is quite expensive and there are major deficits in the relationship between the individual measures. At the same time, one has to ask oneself whether it makes sense for the young people to complete one loop after the other. To date, however, too little has been scientifically investigated how many young people can still find a training place or a job after one or more measures. We also don't know whether they will improve their grades or skills during this time. There are some studies that have looked at underperforming students. They show that the motivation of the young people in the transition system decreases over time - they realize that the measures are of no use. However, the case numbers in these studies are too small and therefore not meaningful.

The transition system has been debated for years. How is it that it is still poorly explored?

Heike Solga: This is also due to the fact that it is not easy to grasp the innumerable and heterogeneous measures of the transition system. They differ in every federal state, they are of different lengths and are geared towards different age groups or educational levels of the students. To investigate this comprehensively, you need large samples and perseverance.

Are there countries that manage to spare their young people these senseless educational loops?

Heike Solga: Denmark, for example, changed its vocational training system a few years ago. Young people there receive what is known as an initial qualification. This is a kind of basic training that takes between half a year and two years, depending on the level of performance. It then goes on to training, which takes place either in a company or at school. After three years of training, all young people have the same degree. The system guarantees that they are trained flexibly and that they do not lose any time in a kind of transition system as we know it from us.

Would this system be politically enforceable in Germany?

Heike Solga: On the other hand, there are two restrictions: First, the ideology that in-company training is the best. The German "dual system", in which theory and practice are combined through in-company training and the vocational school, is very good. But those young people who fail to simply put them into vocational preparation measures cannot be the alternative. The second restriction is the money: a system like the one in Denmark would have to be financed largely by the federal states or by a regional fund in which companies that do not provide training also participate.

Not everyone is of the opinion that in-company training is the best. Some studies even come to the conclusion that the "dual system" promotes inequality of opportunity.

Heike Solga: You cant say it like that. In Germany, the inequality of school opportunities is not increased in training. The problem with the dual system, however, is that professions are also trained that are not very demanding and poorly paid. These training courses often lead to marginal employment or unemployment. For example, one third of the sales women are marginally employed and often unemployed.

Saleswoman, office clerk, motor vehicle mechatronics technician: When choosing a career, many young people push them into typically "male" or "female" professions. As a result, boys end up in the dual system more often, girls in school-based vocational training. As a result, the young women have poorer job opportunities - are they disadvantaged in the transition to working life?

Heike Solga: No, because girls often choose jobs that are stable and in which the need is increasing: nurses, educators or geriatric nurses. That is why a year after completing their training, the majority of these women are still working in the profession they have learned. This is not the case in the construction industry, for example: a third of the employees there no longer work in this profession one year after their training. The nurse is paid less than the electrician - but in the long term it is more the young men than the young women who run into problems.

Many countries envy Germany for its dual training system. Politicians, too, often point out that this is the only reason why Germany is doing well in comparison to other countries in terms of youth unemployment.

Heike Solga: Yes, but it is only a successful model in a few countries: Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Denmark. These four apprentice countries with dual training have created a "breathing system" of vocational training - with the transition system in Germany, for example, or the school alternative in Denmark. This is the only way for the dual system to work even in difficult economic times when there is a lack of company training positions. In many of the current crisis countries, young people would not be in company training at all, but in these "alternatives" - even if these countries had such a system.

So it couldn't just be transferred to other countries?

Heike Solga: No, because it is institutionally very demanding. In addition, it must be taken into account that it was introduced in Germany in rather strong economic times.

From: DJI Impulse, The Bulletin of the German Youth Institute 2/2015, pp. 9 - 12.