In Germany many young people enter the labour market over the apprenticeship system. Over 500,000 new apprenticeship contracts are concluded every year. The system developed historically out of the medieval guild system. Its base is the concept of “occupation”.


The Federal Republic of Germany consists of 16 states [Länder]. They are responsible for legislation and administration in the areas of education, science and culture. The distribution of legislative competence between the Federal Government and the Länder is defined in the Basic Law, in that the Länder shall have the right to legislate insofar as the Basic Law does not confer legislative power on the Federal Government (Article 70). Educational and cultural legislation is therefore primarily the responsibility of the Länder.

The regulation of the in-company part of the dual apprenticeship training is the only direct competence area of the Federal Government within the field of education. Because of the importance of apprenticeships for the economy the German government puts a high emphasis on the promotion of the system. It addresses the challenges through initiatives and programmes. The core of the dual apprenticeship system is the institutionalized cooperation of the Federal Government, the Federal States and the social partners based on a principle of consensus. The offer of in-company training places is the decision of the company and subject to market conditions.


Historical roots of the in-company training go back to the Middle Ages. Individual craft and trade associations, the guilds, regulated apprenticeships for their enterprises. A systematic form of training in enterprise and school, the so-called master craftsmen training, developed out of those occupational regulations. As the process of industrialization began, the industries adopted the concept of craft training and adapted it to their needs. They regulated vocational training through the establishment of a mandatory catalogue of skills and knowledge and guidelines for the duration of the training.

Gradually, “national standards” were created for the qualification of skilled workers. But it was not until after the Second World War, in 1953, that vocational training in the crafts was regulated under the Crafts and Trade Code (Gesetz zur Ordnung des Handwerks –HwO). In 1969 the Vocational Training Act (BBiG) was adopted and amended in 2005.

Vocational schools also look back on a long tradition that can be traced back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Although compulsory vocational school instruction was not introduced until 1938, the public authorities could already oblige enterprises to send their apprentices to vocational school more than a hundred years ago.

Meaning of apprenticeship

In Germany apprenticeship in the dual system is (still) the main pathway into employment for young people. Depending on the occupation it is also a widely accepted option for young people with university entrance qualification. Many companies consider training as a social task and take pride in being a training company. The relatively smooth transition into employment and the resulting low youth unemployment are seen as important strengths of the system.

In the recent years the system started to get under pressure due to the trend towards academic studies. Traditionally youth entering the dual apprenticeship system outnumbered higher education entrants. In 2011 the numbers were even for the first time, and since then higher education enrolments dominate.

Core concept

The foundation of the system is the occupational concept. Apprentices are trained in a recognized training occupation according to nationally valid standards. The overall aim is to equip the individual with abilities, knowledge and skills – referred to as professional ability to act – necessary for the exercise of a qualified vocational activity in a changing working environment. This way the interests of the apprentices to gain a labour-market relevant qualification and of the companies to get a skilled labour force are intended to be balanced. The occupation also serves as resource for social integration and personal identification.


In 2017 the calculated share of the resident population starting an apprenticeship in the dual system was 52.9%. In total around 1,32 million persons were in an apprenticeship in 2017. From the apprentices starting in 2017, 42.3% had a general secondary education leaving certificate, 24.7% a secondary education leaving certificate and 29.2% were holding a university entrance qualification. The share of those holding a university entrance qualification is steadily increasing since 2009 (20.3%).

The number of newly-concluded apprenticeship contracts was 531,400 at 30. September 2018. Over one third of the contracts were concluded in the ten most frequent training occupations.

There were 1,552 part-time vocational schools in 2015. At the end of 2017, 427,227 companies participated in the apprenticeship system, that is 19.8% of all companies in Germany. In 2016, 68% of the apprenticeship graduates were taken on as employees, at very small companies (up to nine employees) 56% of the graduates were taken on. The ratio also varies according to the sector.

Links and Materials: