Access to apprenticeship follows the market principle. Young people have to find a training company. There is no formal entrance restriction, but companies decide upon the recruitment procedures and requirements they apply. There are also two options to recognize prior learning – one giving direct admission to the examinations and one to reduce the duration of the training. Vocational guidance has become a priority on the political agenda in the last years.


The training market includes on the one-side companies offering apprenticeship places and on the other side young people seeking dual vocational education and training. Access to an apprenticeship is formally not dependent on a particular school-leaving certificate; training is basically open to anyone. In practice though interested young people have to find a training company to start an apprenticeship, and at this point the school leaving certificate and the obtained grades actually tend to play an important role. In some rather demanding occupations of the dual system the university entrance qualification (“Abitur”) has basically become the unofficial entrance requirement.

To better integrate young people into training and support the successful completion of their training, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) and Federal Employment Agency (BA) consolidated and expanded certain funding measures in 2014. Especially relevant initiatives are the “Graduation and continuation – Educational chains up to the vocational training qualification” (“Abschluss und Anschluss - Bildungsketten bis zum Ausbildungsabschluss”) initiative, interlinking the measures of the Federal Goverment with the activities and instruments of the Federal States. This initiative is continued within the framework of the “Alliance for Initial and Further Training” (2019-2021). Another measure is the legislative initiative for “Assisted Vocational Training”.

Recognition of prior learning

With the “External Examination” (Externenprüfung) the Vocational Training Act provides an option for access to VET qualifications using recognition of prior learning. An individual, who did not undergo a training in a recognised training occupation can under certain pre­conditions register for the final examination at the premises of the relevant competent body. The applicant has to either prove professional practice of at least 1.5 times the duration of the required training for the occupation. Training in a related training occupation can be counted into this practice. Otherwise, the candidate has to prove that he has achieved comprehensive vocational competence for the training occupation in question in another way by bringing certificates from educational institutions, foreign certificates or professional practice abroad.

There is also the option to reduce the duration of the training. Before concluding the apprenticeship contract the future apprentice and the employer can agree on that. Accepted reasons are e.g. training in another occupation or work experience in the field of training. Also the university (of applied sciences) entrance certificate is accepted. Increasingly training occupations can be credited towards other courses of vocational training or other training occupations.

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research ran 2015 to 2018 the project "Validation of non-formal and informal acquired qualifications and competences" (ValiKom) to develop validation processes of non-formal and informal acquired learning outcomes towards formal professional qualification. Meanwhile the project results have been transferred to the competent bodies to develop centres for validation related to around 30 dual occupations.

Another way to get access to the labour market and/or VET system is to apply the recognition of a qualification acquired abroad. Legal base is the German Federal Recognition Act. Since it entered into force on 1 April 2012 140,703 applications for professions and occupations governed by federal law were registered. In 2018 52,5% of the applications were certified as being full equivalent and 35,5% as being partial equivalent (only non-regulated occupations) to the relevant German reference qualification. For non-regulated occupations, there is the option to complete an adaptation training to get the full equivalence whereas for the regulated profession a compensation measure is imposed, otherwise the person is not allowed to enter the labour market.

Guidance and counselling

Guidance and counselling on apprenticeship is offered by many different actors. The Federal Employment Agency has a legal responsibility for vocational guidance since the 1920s and remains nowadays the major service provider for guidance and counselling; although municipalities, non-profit organisations and private career counselling practitioners are also active.

In addition, different initiatives and offers are made by public and private actors. The “Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs” (KMK) has a formal cooperation agreement with the Federal Employment Agency on the cooperation of local employment agencies and schools for the guidance at schools. Career education is integrated in different subjects and it is normally supported by a career counsellor of the local employment agency. This includes visits to the Career Information Centres of the employment agency and to companies as well as compulsory practical work experience in companies from one to three weeks. In recent years vocational orientation became a growing policy priority. A large number of initiatives focused on vocational orientation were launched on local, regional, federal state and national level. One example is the Vocational Orientation Programme of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research with measures including potential analysis or workshop days. Specific guidance and counselling programmes address vocational guidance within inter-company or VET centres or refugees. The various instruments and activities of the Federal Government and the Federal States are interlocked by the initiative „Educational chains“.