Election Promise

Getting Paid to Get Training

Weiterbildung für Senioren
No budding entrepreneur left behind. Source: Jens Wolf/DPA.

The Social Democratic Party’s “opportunity account” is the perhaps best way to secure Germany’s long-term economic success and more social equality. It’s a way to strengthen companies’ innovation, ensure an adequate level of skilled labor and provide more equal opportunities.

The opportunity account is an account with a virtual balance, financed by the government, that every citizen will receive upon entering the labor force and that they can use for training, education or to set up their own company. It’s a way for a person to bridge stretches with little or no income due to training or education, and to cover additional costs.

It’s a way to create more freedom and self-determination, and more equality through better opportunities for education and entrepreneurship. And better skill development is the foundation for our economic success.

Our labor market is changing. Today’s jobs might disappear tomorrow, and new positions will be created. Companies can’t rely on employees with the latest skills just showing up. The pace of change in today’s digital economy is just too rapid for that. And because our society is aging, fewer youngsters are entering the labor market.

The opportunity account would also support a student who wants to found a start-up fresh out of college.

It’s only through qualified workers and innovative founders that we can maintain our economic prosperity in future. The opportunity account is the right answer to these changes in the labor market. It provides opportunities for additional training throughout a person’s whole life, creates space for innovation and entrepreneurship and ensures skilled laborers for our economic success.

At the same time, it gives people more freedom and choice. Today, it’s usually an executive’s decision how much training and qualification an employee receives. But additional training on the job is important, and we’ll need more commitment from employers for that in the future. With an opportunity account, on the other hand, each person decides for themselves what kind of training they’ll get.

The opportunity account encourages people to try something new. It offers the financial freedom and security to try out new things, to develop, to change, and ideally to climb up the ladder. Everyone gets a chance to do what they couldn’t do before for financial reasons. For example a kindergarten teacher can use government support to go to college and become a school teacher. Or a 50-year-old tiler, for whom the physical burden of the job becomes too much, can co-finance their training to become an educator.

It would also support a student who wants to found a startup fresh out of college and can’t get funding from his or her parents. That way, the opportunity account evens out differences in opportunities. People from poorer and less educated homes have less financial leeway throughout their lives to receive education, skill development or make professional changes – especially when they’re low-income workers.

We want to change that. We want to make it easier for people to advance. The opportunity account is something like a “social inheritance,” which is particularly valuable for those who won’t actually inherit much. We’ll create more equality of opportunity and more justice.

But the opportunity account is also a good investment for economic growth. To master digitization, we need a long-term training and qualification strategy. The opportunity account is one of the building blocks.

People shouldn’t only receive training once they lose their jobs, but whenever it fit into their professional or personal life. Employees should get consultations early on to ensure they stay qualified enough for their jobs.

As always, naysayers retort, “We can’t afford this!” But I say: What would be much more expensive for all of us – taxpayers and companies – is not to invest in qualifications.

Because then we will fail in the Industry 4.0.

Our money is put to much better use in an opportunity account than being spent on a universal basic income, which is championed by some as the supposed solution. The basic income is just a subsidy. The opportunity account, on the other hand, creates actual opportunities for individuals, for companies, and for our society.


This article was originally published by WirtschaftWoche, a sister publication of Handelsblatt. To contact the author: redaktion@wiwo.de.

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