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What Canada Can Learn From The Germany Apprenticeship Program

By Justin D'Onofrio

Several young Canadians are struggling to find jobs, here's how Germany’s Apprenticeship Program can help.

The “Made in Germany” label has long been associated with superior quality and well-made products. German brands such as BMW, Audi and Bosch have garnered a reputation for their unparalleled quality, and have been exported and made famous worldwide. The success of these brands however, would not have been possible if it was not for the implementation of Germany’s dual education system.

Since 1969, Germany has been running a dual education system which has now become the world’s most successful apprenticeship program. The system is a government sponsored program that has not only allowed Germany to develop the world’s most skilled and competitive workforce, but has also boosted the productivity levels of all companies participating in the apprenticeship. So you may be wondering, why hasn’t Canada implemented this program yet?

Canadian Situation

Each year, over 500,000 students graduate from Canadian universities, all with the hopes of landing a job in their chosen field of study. However, an undergraduate degree does not always guarantee a job, as it once did. In 2017, Canada’s youth unemployment rate reached 11.10%, twice the rate of the general population. Moreover, the underemployment rate, representing graduates working in jobs that don't require the degree they hold, has reached 25%.

The youth unemployment rate is quite surprising given that Canada is currently undergoing a labour shortage, with over 400,000 vacant jobs as of the end of 2017, with 32% of companies claiming they have trouble filling these jobs due to unqualified applicants. The solution to this perfect storm created by the lack of youth unemployment and the Canadian skill gap lies in the implementation of Germany’s dual education system.

Dual Education System

Trainees under Germany’s dual education system typically split their week spending 2-3 days at a vocation school and the remainder of their time working with a partnered company. The program typically lasts between two and three years, during which the trainees are paid a modest salary of a couple hundred euros per month. The training program ends with a nationally standardized exam and a guaranteed job for all qualified trainees.

Some 350 occupations are represented under this system, with jobs ranging from bankers, electricians and even morticians. What originally started as a joint effort between the German government and employer organizations to help non-university students find specialized employment, today up to 55% of German youth are educated under the system.

This program has not only led to the high skill level in the German workforce, but the country also has the lowest youth unemployment rate in the EU at 6.1%. When compared to a youth unemployment average of 16.1% in the EU and countries like Greece, Spain and Italy all hovering around 40% in 2017, it is evident that the program has proven to be quite successful.

Company Involvement

In order for this to be successfully implemented in Canada, the push must come from within the private sector, comparable to how it began in Germany. There have been apprenticeships implemented in Canada, but they are typically restricted to skill trades such as mechanics, carpenters and plumbers with majority of the vocational training being led by colleges. In Germany however, employers are just as involved in the vocational training as are the colleges, and as a result, they are able to attract a specialized and highly skilled workforce. While some companies in Canada sponsor their own training program to fix the skill gap issue, according to a recent study by the Conference Board of Canada, investment in employee training by Canadian companies has fallen by up to 40% since 1993.

A dual education system allows companies to significantly reduce the training costs associated with new hires. The participation in a government-subsidized apprenticeship program would cover much of the training costs that would otherwise be incurred by a company, reducing costs by up to $10,000 annually, and encouraging companies to join in on the program and help reduce the skills gap.

The Bottom Line

Overall, Germany’s dual education system provides Canada a solution to issues that have plagued it for years: youth unemployment and the skills gap. Not only will this help young people find jobs, but will also make it easier for companies to recruit and train specialized employees, reducing costs and increasing productivity... therefore giving more reason than ever to add its dual education system to the list of German imports into Canada.


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