Labor Disconnect

Hugging Close to Home, Firms and Apprentices Fail to Match Up

Young people in Germany have the option of training for a variety of careers, but mobility has been a problem.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Thousands of trainee positions go unfilled, and new data suggests that employers and workers need to be more flexible in their demands.

  • Facts


    • Only 12 percent of would-be apprentices applied for a program more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from home.
    • Last year 35,000 apprenticeships registered with the federal jobs agency went unfilled, while 21,000 seekers were unable to find a traineeship.
    • The total number of new apprenticeships declined by 20,000 last year to 530,000. Overall there were 1.4 million.
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Germany’s vocational training system is lauded abroad, but more and more apprenticeships in the country are remaining unfilled, as firms and applicants fail to look further afield.

Only 5 percent of small and medium-sized companies look beyond 100 kilometers (60 miles) for qualified candidates. Most companies (two-thirds) look no farther than 20 kilometers (12 miles).

That reality is completely at odds with what the companies themselves believe, according to a poll of businesses by the German Institute for Vocational Training. The poll’s results, obtained by Handelsblatt, show two-thirds of companies believe that recruiting apprentices from outside their region is important today. And about 80 percent believe that within five years, mobility will be an important determination in hiring qualified employees.

Germany’s apprenticeship model is renowned around the world for how it develops a skilled workforce and keeps unemployment down. In the United States, German companies such as BMW and Siemens are working with schools and local governments to create apprenticeship and career programs for young people. That way businesses help build a qualified workforce for well-paying technical jobs that might otherwise not be filled.

But many young Germans shy away from apprenticeships far from home. Only 12 percent of would-be apprentices applied to companies more than 100 kilometers away, according to the vocational training survey. Even among those who had not yet found an apprenticeship, the figure was only 16 percent.

The result is the so-called “matching problem.” One of the great challenges for Germany’s vaunted job-training system is unfilled apprentice positions, according to a report by the vocational training institute. In 2013, 33,500 apprenticeships that were registered through the federal job agency could not be filled, and about 40 percent of companies claimed that they couldn’t fill all their apprenticeship openings.

Many young Germans shy away from apprenticeships far from home.

But there were also 21,000 young applicants who could not find apprenticeships. Another 62,500 found alternatives, like going back to school, but were still seeking apprentice positions.

The bottom line: In 2013, the number of new apprenticeship contracts in Germany decreased by 20,000 to 530,000. Overall, there were about 1.4 million apprentices.

“Small and medium-sized companies have to take on board the idea of looking outside their region for apprentices,” said Hubert Esser, president of the Institute for Vocational Training. And young people have to be “encouraged more to apply for apprenticeship places away from home.” Attitudes about the growing need for mobility should be addressed in schools, he told Handelsblatt.

Providing more information about apprentice support systems already in place, like supervised youth residence programs and vocational training subsidies, would also help. Six out of 10 businesses in the vocational training poll claimed to know little or nothing about them. One-third of companies surveyed were aware of the subsidies, but never used them. “There are concepts in place,” said Mr. Esser. “But they have to be put into practice across the board.”

According to the German government, 80,000 apprentices received training subsidies in April of this year – in most cases because they were doing their training away from home. In recent times, the number of those taking advantage of such subsidies has continuously fallen.

Companies themselves, according to the vocational training poll, are prepared to offer flexible vacation times for trips home or personal assistance with problems at the company, school or of a personal nature. “Financial support – like a travelling allowance, rent subsidies or paying for moving costs – are given less consideration,” said Mr. Esser.

Barbara Gillmann is a Berlin correspondent for Handelsblatt covering education and family issues. She can be reached at

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