The striking success of the German dual system


An apprentice addressing strikers in Cologne

There’s a Warnstreik on today, and Cologne is full of striking Kindergarten teachers, social workers, firefighters, health workers and tram drivers. It’s all part of the regular round of negotiations over pay and conditions in the public services, with the union Verdi and the employers engaging in what may or may not be a tactical stand-off.

With the tram service cancelled, I’ve been working at home. At half past eleven, I thought I’d pop along to Heumarkt to buy an espresso and take a look at the union rally, which was large and good-natured. There was a small police presence down by the Rhein, with none of the forcible ‘kettling’ that you tend to see in Britain.

While most of the strikers were clearly people who had spent some time in their jobs, I was struck by the number of apprentices who were there, one of whom was invited to speak from the platform. He described the strike as important for Azubis (Auszubildende) not simply in terms of their pay but also the quality of their training, which he claimed was jeopardized by the employers’ refusal to negotiate.

I’ve a couple of comments to make on this. First, the union doesn’t just recruit apprentices but went out of its way to ensure that their voice was heard. Second, apprentices clearly feel themselves to be a part of their workforce, and they identify strongly with the service that they provide. Both of these factors – as well as their legal status as employees – help to shape their identity as members of an occupational group, in it for the long term.


6 thoughts on “The striking success of the German dual system

  1. Apprentices, involved with strikes? It almost seems unheard of now, but post-war apprentices were the first cohort of workers to break the strike ban in England – Paul Ryan wrote about this. However, today’s apprentices are unlikely to be conscious of the forces acting against them, or politically motivated enough to do anything about it.

  2. Striking header!
    But you do provide a necessary reminder of what apprenticeships once did and can involve rather than what they have become in the UK. The dual system in Germany attracted attention from foreign visitors from the late 19th century in particular the British. As practiced also in Austria, it can provide a real and meaningful alternative route to good jobs rather than the current emphasis on higher education in the UK. Can you confirm that a lower % of the age cohort go to higher education in Germany and Austria?

      • Some statistics would add to the robustness of the analysis.
        With German participation HE around 35%, most non-German observers regard this negatively compared to other OECD/EU countries and start to look to barriers to access. Perhaps this is not the approach needed. How does Germany come out on top as the most competitive economy when it has lower participation in HE? Is the dual system an explanation?

      • I’ve certainly heard German colleagues express views on this. Quite often, people say that what matters is a strong transition system which gives everyone a broad education to 18, with high quality vocational education and training, and high quality universities and Fachhochschulen. I’m not sure that most Germans believe that higher education in the high participation countries is either appropriate for many of the students, or indeed of a consistently high quality.

      • This could be the start of a comparative study which you have raised elsewhere on your pages, although that was concerned with adult education. However, the opportunities available in different countries during the transition to post-school education are not unrelated to the opportunities available to return to learning in later life. A comparative project could address these structures of opportunity in terms of their distribution throughout the life courses of individuals. Which opportunities are available at 18/19; 28/29; 38/39…..68/69….etc.
        A recent study by the Inspectors of Education in the Netherlands concluded that the structures of opportunity have already been reduced at the age of 11/12 by allowing the advice of primary school teachers to determine the form of secondary education appropriate for individuals. The structure of the Dutch system suggests that there are no realistic trajectories for returning to education in later life. How is this in Germany, France, Sweden……? Does the dual system have any influence on learning trajectories in later life? Does the dual system contribute in any way to establishing a culture of learning throughout life?

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