The starting point for VET is a contract entered into by the apprentice and the company providing training. The contract spells out what is expected of the company and the apprentice, over the life of the two- or three-year contract. Both the apprentice and the company can back out of the contract if they wish and initially perhaps 25% of trainees do so, although many re-enroll. Perhaps 15% of trainees eventually drop out.
Around the age of 13, reported Haugg, schools start to expose students to various occupations to help the students gauge their interest in different lines of work. Across the system, about 60% of VET participants are male and 40% female.
A final exam for the apprentice is organized by IHK’s (akin to U.S. Chambers of Commerce), employing a board made up of teachers, employers, and employees. The board developing the exam, which is modified annually, does not include instructors who trained the apprentice. Some 79 IHKs dot Germany.
Successful negotiation of the exam entitles the apprentice to a certificate in the occupation of choice, a highly valuable credential that is recognized throughout the nation and by the government.
The IHKs are one of the lynchpins of VET, setting up and overseeing apprenticeship programs for small- and medium-sized firms. They are, in effect, licensed by the government and handed some powers of the government, namely responsibility for developing the tests, registration of contracts, and a specific charge to support vocational education. Companies are required to be members of their regional IHK. Across Germany, 79 IHKs exist, with the Munich IHK, which the Roundtable will visit, being the largest, representing 350,000 companies.