Sources

How Germany Beats The Youth Unemployment Trap

The "dual" vocational training system used to be derided as limiting university degrees. Now it is being lauded in the U.S., and exported to struggling southern European countries.

Youth unemployment in Germany is below 8%
Youth unemployment in Germany is below 8%
Stefan von Borstel

-Analysis-

BERLIN - Over five and a half million young Europeans are without jobs. In the crisis countries in southern Europe, a generation is coming of age with few prospects: one in two Spaniards and Greeks under 25 are unemployed, and it's one in three in Italy and Portugal.

To them, Germany must look like an island of the blessed: youth unemployment here is below 8%. In no other of the 27 EU member states is it this low. Only Austria is anywhere close (8.9%).

How do they do it, our European neighbors ask – and even make pilgrimages to Germany to research the phenomenon. What they discover is our dual vocational training system – going to school (theory) and working (practice) simultaneously rather than consecutively. For most Europeans, that’s new: learning and working, instead of learning then working.

The European Commission has praised the German model as a "guarantee against youth unemployment and shortage of skilled labor." Even U. S. President Barack Obama praised the German model in his 2013 State of the Union address: “Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they're ready for a job."

For a long time, other countries criticized Germany for this approach – in fact, the OECD regularly upbraided us for having too few university graduates. For many international education experts, a university education -- bachelor or master’s degree, doctorate -- is the measure of all things. German “Meister” (master) certification is seen as rather exotic.

Practical training is considered to be notches below academic training. Equating an apprenticeship diploma with a high school degree, considering master certification to be on a par with a bachelor’s degree, is inconceivable for many Europeans. But slowly, word is getting around that German industry’s ability to innovate -- and indeed its success as measured by the success of its products worldwide -- might have something to do with the sound training German workers receive.

Even within Germany there are critics of the dual system. It has been said that the training is too specialized, too tailored to the specific needs of certain industries, and that the number of different specialties (more than 300) that kids can train for is way too high. Doubts have also been expressed as to whether dual-system qualifications can keep up with fast-changing economic times in our Internet era.

Export hit

The system came under a lot of pressure about a decade ago when there was mass unemployment in Germany, and tens of thousands of young people were unable to get apprenticeships. In 2004, the red-green (Social Democrat/Green Party) government was even pushing for a training levy to force the economy to create more apprenticeships.

But then in June 2004, the German government joined with employers and business associations in pushing through the national Vocational and Educational Training Pact, which helped reverse the situation: now, supply is greater than demand.

The global economic crisis has turned the German model into an export hit. Germany has signed a training cooperation deal with six EU countries, and German companies are playing a pioneering role by training staffers in their subsidiaries abroad according to the German model.

Expectations are high – also for the Germans. Germany doesn’t only want to export a winning system, it’s hoping for dynamic, motivated southern Europeans to occupy all the apprenticeship slots that aren’t presently being filled – and who once they’ve got their qualification don’t head back home but stay in Germany to fill out the growing shortage of skilled workers.

Skeptics are quick to point out problems, like language barriers, and say they doubt whether migrants can play a determining role in alleviating the shortage of apprentices in Germany.

And it is true that the time-frame may not be ideal, as the German system is strongly dependent on the economy. The market, not education experts, is ultimately what determines the number of apprenticeships available. It is companies that decide how many positions requiring which qualifications they will need in the future; that is the basis for the number of apprenticeship positions they open up.

So the big advantage of the German vocational training approach is also its biggest drawback. The system is contingent on the economy – and in bad times, such as the crisis countries in Europe are currently experiencing, demand for apprentices will be lower.

Open arms

That southern Europeans are looking for an answer in the dual system shows how desperate they are. They not only lack companies willing to create apprenticeship positions, and patient “masters” happy to pass on their know-how to “their” apprentices, but also the institutions, and close-knit cooperation that is required between employers, politicians, unions and other players to implement the dual training system successfully.

Even in Germany, where this collaboration is so well established, the system is still not without its own setbacks, such as the conflict over the Training Pact and the resistance from the unions.

So southern Europeans adopting the German system have undertaken something highly ambitious. But it’s better to push for courageous structural reform rather than opt for the simpler solution of giving young unemployed people senseless occupational training just to keep them busy -- and quiet. That deserves our support. As do young southern Europeans who are leaving home to come to Germany to find a job or receive vocational training. We should welcome them with open arms.

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Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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