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Sarah Anson-Cartwright with Dr. Treier of the German Chamber of Commerce and Minister Kenney in Berlin, Germany.

Sarah Anson-Cartwright, our Skills Director, is just back from a mission in the U.K. and Germany with the Hon. Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development. Below are her thoughts on how Germany’s dual training system could be a good model for Canada.

No doubt about it: we envy Germany for having the lowest youth unemployment rate and the strongest labour market in Europe. Moreover, the skilled trades and apprenticeships are valued there, unlike in Canada. But what can Canadians learn from the Germans’ dual training system as we struggle to close our skills gap and improve job prospects for youth and the unemployed?

Thanks to the leadership of the Hon. Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development, delegates from the Canadian Chamber and other stakeholders joined the Minister’s study tour to Germany and the U.K. last week. In this post, I'll share the lessons for Canada when looking at Germany. In an upcoming post, I will add views from the U.K. where they are tackling issues more similar and familiar to ours.

Germans’ advice to the Canadian mission was to take elements of their system, but not try to copy it in total. As we were often reminded, the German system can only be understood from centuries of history.

Here are a few of the differences between the German and Canadian apprenticeship systems:

  • Average age of starting apprentices is much younger in Germany, about 19 years of age in Germany, compared to about 27 in Canada.
  • Apprentices in Germany typically stay with one company for their entire apprenticeship and often are offered a position with that company after passing their exam. This is in marked contrast to Canada where an apprentice may be hired and then laid off more than once during their apprenticeship period with no expectation of being hired on after certification.
  • Many more occupations are apprentice-able in Germany than in Canada: 350 in total.
  • Qualifications are recognized throughout Germany, based on country-wide exams, whereas Canada’s system is provincially regulated but offers a national Red Seal designation covering about 80% of skilled trades.

The benefits of Germany’s dual training system include:

For the company: targeted recruitment; developing their own experts within the company; transfer of know-how; and, a short settling-in period for apprentices who become employees after the completion of their exams.

For the student: financial independence, resulting from free tuition and wages earned as an apprentice; up-to-date knowledge; excellent employment opportunities; and, scope for international internships (either within multinational firms or as a result of European programs).

What can Canada do to replicate even a fraction of what Germany has achieved? A first step could be to make dual training a national goal within our post-secondary system and raise the profile of skills training generally. We need national buy-in to respect the skilled trades and the value of combining theory and practice in our educational system. The Germans offer examples to build upon the co-op approach within Canadian universities, for example.

Secondly, Canada could arrange consortia for its smaller employers, who train about three-quarters of our apprentices. This could counter lay-offs of apprentices. Alternatively, the government could incent and support small employers' ongoing (rather than cyclical) employment of apprentices.

If there is one lesson we should take from Germany, it is that government, employers and educators are working toward shared goals based on a system that is structured to achieve them. Vocational education leads to employment, and employment includes the opportunity for further training and upskilling. Innovation within companies and by individuals is not a by-product, but an aspiration.

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