The goal of a dual vocational training programme is to help young people get started in a career. A BMBF project at the German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) is introducing this model to firms all over Europe.

My friends are always surprised at how often I go to the company ra­ther than spending all my time at school like they do,“ comments Kristīne Tišanova with a laugh. 19-year-old Kristīne is training as a materials requirements planner at logistics and transport firm Kühne + Nagel in Riga, which is a somewhat unusual choice for a young Latvian. While her friends spend every day in the classroom, working towards their vocational qualifications, she decided to take a dual education ­programme which involves intensive practical experience. In addition to spending three days a week at the vocational training college, she works at her firm on the other two days.

Perfectly common in Germany, this form of training is new in Latvia: Kristīne Tišanova is one of the first trainees who embarked on such a programme in the autumn of 2015. She is currently working in sales, dealing with management and logistics, and in direct contact with customers. “I am happy to be able to ask my colleagues so many questions and to be able to learn from their experience,” she explains. “And this allows me to find out much more quickly than I would in books whether this is really the career I wish to pursue.” Her vocational training is based on the VETnet project, which is short for “German Chambers worldwide network for cooperative, work-based Vocational Education and Training”. German Chambers of Commerce and Industry Abroad (AHKs) and Delegations of German Industry are working to set up this kind of vocational training in pilot projects – currently on two continents and in nine countries. In Europe, projects are under way not only in Latvia, but also in Slovakia, Portugal, Italy and Greece. VETnet is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

One of the initiative’s key objectives is to help reduce youth unemployment in Europe. In many European countries, young people often find their way into a particular career via a university or less specialised course of practical training. “Through the AHKs, we want to show that there is an alternative approach, namely dual vocational training, and thereby to help secure a long-term supply of skilled workers at the local level,” says Ramona Neuse, the VETnet project leader at the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK). Such skilled workers are needed more urgently than ever: Latvia for example is one of the main transport hubs in the Baltic region, so qualified staff with transport and logistics training are in high demand. Working closely with the Latvian education ministry, the VETnet pilot project was able to recruit the first young trainees like Kristīne Tišanova to work for international shipping companies. Right from the start, two vocational training colleges were involved, as was the state centre for educational content. “Our intention is not to implement a German-style dual education system in other countries on a one-to-one basis,” says Ramona Neuse. “This is not something that can be copied and pasted. The specific situation in the region and the actual requirements of the various partners need to be carefully analysed.”

So far, around 3,000 apprentices have embarked on successful careers with the help of VETnet – some in small firms with fewer than ten employees, others in medium and large companies. Both home-grown and international companies get involved – one of them is the Gabor shoe manufacturer in Banovce nad Bebravou in Slovakia, a subsidiary of the German company Gabor Shoes. Its general manager Juraj Vodička sees how difficult it is to persuade young people in Slovakia to choose a career in his industry – yet they are desper­ately needed in companies like his. “We have to do a lot of marketing to convince them that these jobs have a future.” Come the autumn, they will be launching a dual education programme here, too: lasting three years for shoemakers and four years for technicians. They will spend two weeks a month learning theory in the classroom, while the rest of the time they will receive practical training from two master crafts­women in the company. This will give them considerably more hands-on experience than is provided by previous training courses, where apprentices only work in school workshops and spend two to three weeks in a firm.

Once they have completed their training, Vodička can offer them a job in his company, which is worth a great deal in a country with a youth unemployment rate of 30%. Each graduate receives an international certificate that also promises job opportunities Europe-wide. The Slovakian government has now implemented a legal reform to support the dual vocational education system. Stefanos Agiasoglou, president of the Greek rail maintenance company EESSTY, hopes to see a similar development in his country. Many skilled workers at his company will soon be retiring: “We have some very experienced technicians and engineers, but their expertise will be lost if we are unable to pass it on to the younger generation now,” he explains. Although a dual vocational education system already exists in Greece, it is not yet widely used.

A new vocational education programme has now been developed for EESSTY by the German and Greek chambers of commerce in cooperation with OAED, a state-approved vocational training organ­isation in Greece, as well as in close consultation with German rail operator Deutsche Bahn. Stefanos Agiasoglou is still waiting to get the green light from the employment ministry so that the programme can be launched. He hopes that it will result in more than just new skilled workers for EESSTY. “It is not only a question of our own strategic planning,” he says. “This kind of pilot project could serve as a model for other heavy industries in Greece.” ▪