Looking across borders: The great comparison of vocational high schools in Germany and France #Futur2

Lots of practice in the company, attractive remuneration and good career opportunities after training: A matter of course at a German vocational school. But in France, things look quite different.

German vocational training takes place largely in a dual system, in which trainees are employed in a company and complete the practical part of their training there. At the same time, they attend the vocational school, where the theoretical part of the training takes place. The dual system is an essential pillar for covering the shortage of skilled labor in Germany and is chosen by more than half of the age group as an entry into a skilled professional and gainful employment.

Duration of training and conditions

In Germany, vocational training in the dual system lasts between two and three and a half years, depending on the occupation chosen. There are no formal entry requirements and training is generally open to all. Nevertheless, at the beginning of their training, most trainees have a secondary school diploma or even a university entrance qualification.

Why dual? – Two places of learning

Dual vocational training takes place in two learning locations – 70% in the company and 30% in the vocational school. Its aim is to equip trainees with the skills and qualifications they need for a skilled job in a changing world of work and to provide them with the necessary professional experience. In the company, structured training takes place under real working conditions. Moreover, the trainees in Germany are involved in specific operational processes, which prepares them perfectly for the job. Upon successful completion, trainees can work as qualified professionals in one of some 330 recognized training occupations.

Structure of training

In the dual system of German vocational high school, training companies conclude a vocational training contract with trainees. The young people receive training for three to four days a week in the company and up to two days in the vocational school. Firms cover the costs of in-company training and pay trainees a training allowance. The remuneration increases with each year of training and corresponds to about one third of the initial salary of a trained professional. During their training, trainees are usually required to attend the vocational school and are exempted from the company for this purpose. Attendance at the vocational school is free of charge for trainees.

Training allowance

The training allowance is paid to the trainee monthly by the training company and depends on three factors: industry, year of training and age. In addition, according to the Vocational Education and Training Act (§17), training support must increase annually. In the first year of training, the training allowance is often between 700 and 1,000 euros. According to the Federal Institute for Vocational Training, collectively agreed training allowances averaged 1,028 euros across in Germany in 2022, exceeding 1,000 euros per month for the first time.

At the end of the training, trainees take a final examination. If they have successfully completed these courses, they will receive a state-recognized training certificate. 74% of all trainees are taken over directly by the company. The smooth transition from school to working life, a high level of acceptance and the excellent employability of the graduates are essential factors for the success of dual training, which also receive great attention internationally.

Monika Hösel-Klug, a teacher at the ,,Fachschule für Sozialpädagogik Stuttgart”, talks in an interview about her work as a vocational school teacher and discusses why the German vocational school system is so unique.

What does your work with the students look like? Do you have any teaching methods?

Monika Hösel-Klug: The work with the students is very practice-oriented. That is the big advantage. You always work with the students in a very practice-oriented way. You are a role model yourself as an educator because you are supposed to teach the students how they can and should work with the children. I have the great privilege that my teaching methods are quite practical, that is, quite action oriented. Everything I do in class has a practical relevance. We do a lot of group work, but also individual work, because the students first must learn to stand in front of a group and become active. But also, projects where the students must learn how to set something up in a self-organized learning process. So, you always have this dual role. As a vocational schoolteacher, you always have this role model function. What I do with them, they can learn from for their own practice. That’s incredibly valuable. I don’t just stand in front of them and tell them things, but ultimately, they must participate actively and in a self-organized way. You’re very closely involved in the implementation with the students, and that’s the best thing about this job.

What is your opinion of the German vocational school system?

Monika Hösel-Klug: What I find fascinating about the German vocational school system is that you have so many options. We have so many branches. Even with a secondary school diploma, you still have so many options. Work experience, internships are also recognized. There’s nothing you can’t do. You have so many opportunities to get a good, solid education. And at every vocational school you have so many counseling opportunities. Of course, the chances of advancement are not as high as with a university degree. But as far as the quality of vocational schools in Germany is concerned, it’s really good. The real professional life already takes place at the vocational schools.

Do you see any disadvantages in the German vocational training system?

Monika Hösel-Klug: A big disadvantage in Germany could be that if you are unlucky, you end up in a company where you are either not trained well or no one cares about you. You are then only seen as a cheap labor force.

France takes the German vocational school system as a model. Why do you think that is?

Monika Hösel-Klug: I think because youth unemployment is higher in France and because apprenticeships in Germany are a good way to integrate young people directly into companies. And of course, the dual system is a role model for many countries because of the high practical content and the good integration into the world of work later.

The training system in France, unlike the German training system, is not very popular. Only seven percent of the under-25s start an apprenticeship. The reason: Hardly any career opportunities after the training. But the lack of practice in the company also contributes to the poor image of the French vocational school.

In France there are two types of vocational high school: The ,,lycée professionels” and the ,,centre de formation des apprentis”.

Lycée professionels in France

Trainees of the ,,lycée professionels » only spend 12-16 weeks during their two-year training in a company, where they complete the practical part of the training. They spend the rest at vocational schools, where they complete the theoretical part.

Centre de formation des apprentis in France

Training in the ,,centre de formation des apprentis” is more comparable to the German « dual system ». But here too, only one third of the entire training is completed in a company.

The main problem of the French vocational high school is the lack of practical training for the profession. Another major problem is that only 40% of students find a job within 6 months of graduation. The lack of trained professionals and training companies is also a major problem for vocational schools in France.

But now, the planned reform of vocational school and vocational training is expected to fundamentally change the system.

What is the matter of the French reform?

The reform of vocational education and training is intended to fundamentally change the system. Up to now, the regions, as the competent administrative level, have been able to play a large part in deciding where and how a vocational school is to be set up. Vocational schools should now become possible wherever companies see a need – without special state permission. It is no longer up to the regions, but to the employers’ associations, to decide on the bulk of the funds to be allocated. Furthermore, companies will be able to hire trainees at any time, regardless of the school year. The free opening of new vocational high schools stands at the heart of the reform.

Main goals of the reform

The French President Emmanuel Macron wants to pursue many goals with the planned reform. His main goal is to offer more apprenticeships when needed (supply and demand). With a lot of measures that come with the reform, he also wants to improve the bad image of vocational high school and attract more young people.

Some of the Measures that come with the reform

To attract more young people and improve the image of vocational high school, Macron first guarantees a 100% integration into the world of work, which would be very important to the french trainees. But also a subsidy of 500€ for their driving license in the future and a higher salary for the 16-to-20-year old’s are measures that are pursued. With the reform, the age limit for an apprenticeship will be raised to 30 years and working time regulations will be made more flexible depending on the sector. Another thing that brings the reform is that trainees may continue to attend vocational school for six months after they drop out of their training. This affects 25% of all trainees in France.

All in all, these are great conditions for the trainees. Especially the 100% guarantee of integration into work life and more offered apprenticeships by the companies are great goals that are aimed at with the reform.

Why is it still a controversial topic?

Even if the reform guarantees great things to the trainees, many people are calling the reform into question. According to Hervé Morin, the president of the Association of French Regions, there will be no more training in the countryside due to the aimed training according to supply and demand. Rural areas and difficult suburbs would be neglected, and,, everything would become more difficult than before”. For Sigrid Gérardin, responsible of SNUEP-FSU (one of the main teachers union), ,,Emmanuel Macron is only searching for affordable staff ”.

The argument about it continues. But one thing is certain: If the reform and the associated measures really come into force, this would be a major step in the right direction for the french vocational high school.

by Elena Gillet, Chiara Lacona and Adrien-Guillaume Padovan



This article is a product of the project „Futur2 – French German Journalism“ by students of BA Journalism, KU Eichstätt-Ingolstadt and M1 Journalism, CELSA Sorbonne University. It was funded by Deutsch-Französische Hochschule | Université franco-allemande: „Élysée-Vertrag – Zusammen den Blick in die Zukunft richten“ in 2023.

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