Vocational training – model Germany?

“Federal President Steinmeier and Elke Büdenbender travel around Germany for the week of vocational training”. This is the title of the press release of 28 March 2018 from the website of the Federal President. The background is the realization that the appreciation of one of our export hits does not take place properly. The form of education that is so highly recognized abroad is not sufficiently promoted, respected and recognized in one’s own country. Even in the land of dual vocational education, academic education has obviously been and will be more promoted and valued.

In recent years, I have done some tours in vocational schools in Germany for my Chinese friends and colleagues from China. Most of the feedback from these people was very reluctant, but after many requests I could hear that people are surprised that the equipment of the facilities does not correspond to what they are used to have in place in China. I know, equipment is not everything, quite the contrary, it is the least important. But it is also an outward sign of what those responsible people are investing in and how they value this form of education.

One can only hope that the present promotion tour of the Federal President and his wife will not just be a show event but will be followed by tangible actions. Germany needs to be the benchmark in vocational education and has to make this clear worldwide. Therefore is still some need for action.



Germany Recognition Act

Germany is depending on qualified professional workers from abroad. But how can certificates from other countries being recognized in Germany. The Germany Recognition Act gives forein professionals the possibility to be entitled by the authorities if their qualification is equivalent to the one in Germany. Experience has shown that the Recognition Act is a success.

Federal Ministry of Education and Research

Many companies, craft businesses, hospitals and care facilities depend on experts from abroad. This is why the Federal Government introduced the Recognition Act as a new instrument to secure the availability of skilled workers in Germany. The Act has proven effective: Nine out of ten skilled professionals with foreign vocational qualifications find gainful employment after a successful recognition procedure. This is the conclusion reached in a comprehensive impact analysis published by the Federal Government in June 2017.



What is authentic German Vocational Education?

German vocational education means a systematic concept that involves the entire educational process such as educational guiding ideology, curriculum model, teaching organization form, teaching method and didactics, as well as examination measures. The exact implementation of authentic German vocational education requires not only macro-institutional conditions such as legislation, political appreciation and social acknowledgement (which is relatively difficult to achieve in a country where there’s not historically strong vocational education roots.), but also means being planted in each part of the entire educational process, including educational guiding ideology, curriculum model, teaching organization form, teaching method and didactics, as well as examination measures.

By the comparison of various parts of the educational process between German vocational education and Chinese vocational education, a understanding of true German vocational education can be better achieved:

Educational guiding ideology

VET China

  • Shortened version of academic education logic: from abstract understanding to performance of specific tasks, from disconnected knowledge to holistic understanding, which results in an impossibility to transform knowledge to competence.

VET Germany

  • The law of vocational and developmental growth: from specific tasks to abstract understanding then to performance of specific tasks, which develops the comprehensive vocational competence and self-awareness.

Curriculum mode

VET China

  • Mostly followed the academic curriculum (traditional three sections “lao san duan”), although increasing the experimental part; or change to fake “learning areas”

VET Germany

  • Learning areas according to what tasks people need to perform in one profession (Action)

Teaching organization form

VET China

  • School-based education
  • Theoretical teaching still accounts more
  • Industry and education cannot be integrated without substantial cooperation between schools and enterprises

VET Germany

  • Dual system-based education
  • 30% theory, 70% practice
  • smooth cooperation between schools and enterprises

Pedagogic and didactic methods

VET China

  • Traditional face-to-face teaching
  • Indoctrinated
  • Improper use of action-oriented teaching

VET Germany

  • Action-oriented teaching
  • Heuristic
  • Inspire students to performs tasks independently

Examination measures

VET China

  • Written questions following the academic education logic

VET Germany

  • Practice assessment, work orders

As can be seen above, to achieve authentic German vocational education is not the issue of introducing original textbooks and learning documents, both of which involve only the curriculum and examination. The remaining aspects shall also be carefully designed and developed so that every part in the entire system can match each other and promote each other. Besides, another critical aspect of education shall not be – the faculty Eventually all kinds of education are implemented through teachers. Therefore, the success of German vocational education is inseparable from qualified teachers trained under German standards.

In short, vocational education in Germany is a systematic concept, and the resultant product and service must also be comprehensive, which is also a difficult and painful point in developing an educational product that characterizes German vocational education. The use of German curriculum and learning documents  only can cut a small edge not the lines and entire surface. To change the system is not easy. This is also the reason why still so many schools do not performed authentic German vocational education as they claimed.

Implementation of German Vocational Education is rather a system than a content challenge. And a system can only be sustainably working when it is deeply integrated into the mind of all relevant players in the game. To copy content from another system seems to be easy but it is breaking apart after a time because of the missing fundament of mindset. To build such a system is a painful process but leads to a truly successful system which is not just a tool but a part of your soul and vision to have a better Vocational Education and your own system which you can proud of at the end.

Vocational Education and Professional Training

Having been worked in both areas for decades, vocational education and professional training, I might tell the differences and the requirements of both. What are the responsibilities, the expectations and the requirements of involved partners and how should they work together and support each other?

Vocational education offers mainly an institutionalized approach to cultivate young people for the requirements of life and work. This has a long history and is based on the ideas of people like Georg Kerschensteiner who was developing a reform which was adjusting the way of learning from an accumulation of knowledge to shaping skills and competence which prepare people for stepping in there next phase of living and working in a society, an important major part of which is a preparation for a future job usually in a company. Here is the interface where we handover the young graduates to their next phase – the working phase.

It is very clear and logical that the receiver, the companies expect the best possible human resources for their production or service tasks. But how good can vocational schools prepare for the companies and what is actually “good” or “not good”? This is for based on two factors, while I know there are more complicated theories regarding competences in the academic world:

Personal competencies – these factors are changing according to the culture development

  • Motivation
  • Creativity
  • Personal responsibility
  • Independency
  • etc.

Professional competences – these factors changing according to the technologies and processes

  • Professional knowledge
  • Professional skills

The better vocational schools can prepare people in these areas the less energy companies have to invested in human capital. But there is a limitation that can be achieved. The limitation is rooted in the diversity of company culture and variation of technology. That means vocational schools have to prepare people to be able to adapt in the easiest possible way to the specific requirements of the companies. The final development must be done by the companies. These are:

  • Personal competences – branding and internal processes
  • Professional competences – brand-specific knowledge and skills

How can schools better prepare?

When we are going the way of teaching more and more company-specific content we overload students with knowledge which is mainly not important for their job later on. Students have to learn how to learn. Students have to learn how to work in teams with colleagues and clients. They have to learn how to solve problems and take challenges. A better preparation can be achieved by making things more general. General means, we have to teach similarities and differences. We have to teach less but good. We have to teach basics to make the people understand. If I know how to check a fuse, in general, I can check it on every system and on every car. I can link my knowledge to other cases, new upcoming problems and this is what we need. People have to prepared for the future because the future is different to what we can see today and the future is changing faster than it is changing now.

In opposite, the industry has to give especially vocational schools more support in terms of cooperation and information. The industry must be aware of its role and responsibility to support vocational schools because these schools are preparing the future resources for the industry and securing the success of their business. A positive example is the commitment of all car producers in Europe to offer many courses and course material to vocational schools in Germany annually. I hope this can also be a blueprint for the Chinese market to strengthen the knowledge transfer and the cooperation between industry and vocational schools. A symbiosis of a successful partnership.

Handicraft makes People Happy

Today I was surfing the internet and found a funny advertisement video about vocational education. It shows how satisfied one can be in doing something with his hands. At the end the video is asking:

“and, did you make something today?”.

It is very interesting to me and reminds me of the early years of my career in which I did a lot with my hands. In this video is some fun but also a deeper message. The message is “working with your hand can be very satisfying”. And I agree. In handicraft work is more complete and not divided into parts and feedback is more direct and not abstract.

This can make people happy 🙂

School Industry Cooperation in China

Recently, six departments such as the Ministry of Education jointly issued the Measures for Promotion of School-enterprise Cooperation in Vocational Schools (hereinafter referred to as “the Measures”). By clarifying the target principles for the cooperation between schools and enterprises in vocational schools, implementing the main body, forms of cooperation, promotion measures and supervision and inspection, a basic institutional framework for cooperation between schools and enterprises shall be established.

According to Ministry of Education, the integration of industry and education (“Chan jiao rong he”) and the cooperation between school and enterprises (“xiao qi he zuo”) are the basic mode of running a vocational education and the key to running a vocational education well.

The cooperation between schools and enterprises in the Measures refers to the cooperative activities implemented by middle and higher vocational schools and enterprises in the process of implementing vocational education through such measures as common education, cooperative research, co-establishment of institutions and sharing of resources. A cooperation mechanism that is led by schools and enterprises, promoted by the government, guided by the industry, and implemented by schools and enterprises.

The cooperation between vocational schools and enterprises ranges from training students, technological innovation, employment and entrepreneurship, social services to cultural heritage. Specifically, the cooperation can involve such activities, like co-establishing a vocational school, research and develop professional standards, develop curriculum, teaching standards and teaching materials, teaching aids according to the needs of the job market. They may co-develop training programs for employees. Besides, the dual education by schools and enterprises in the forms of apprenticeship cooperation, joint recruitment of students, in accordance with the mode of combination of work and study “gong xue jie he”.

The next step will be to actively carry out the Pilot Project. According to the regional development strategy and industrial layout, about 10 provinces, 100 cities, and 1000 model vocational schools (Vocational Education Group) and enterprises are selected to join the pilot program. Enterprises, especially state-owned enterprises will be supported to run vocational schools and social capital is encouraged to participate in vocational education. “The best practices of cross-regional vocational education group are highly welcomed! “

Implementation of German Vocational Education

Since decades there are extensive educational partnerships, between many different schools, institutes and companies in China and Germany. As a rule, most of these partnerships couldn’t survive long after the projects end. When it comes to the regular education process and the project partners are not in place anymore, most projects are dying and all processes falling back to the status before. If these educational projects should be continued with long-lasting effect in high quality and with many students, quality assurance processes must be taken into account which allow the responsible persons to measure and control the quality and to be capable of taking suitable measures for the improvement.

During the past years the Chinese government spent more on the equipment of the schools, which is the easiest quality factor that can be achieved. This is in most schools in China at a very good level now. However, the improvement of software is still having long way to go.

With respect to the documents and media Germany, can play an important role. Here the German curriculum and the philosophy, how we understand vocational education, can be well applied. The special, the German dual professional education, lies not in a detail worked out documentation of the vocational education documents, but in its openness and in its focus on the essentials. This is the education of young people to be able to do the job. The German system encourages the students to work independently and responsibly and has a close link to the reality. This, on the other hand, is the biggest deficit of the schools in China.

From my view suitable faculty is the most important and critical factor for high-quality vocational education. In contrast to the equipment, suitable teachers cannot be just bought on the market. Teachers have to be developed to meet the requirements. The qualification of the teachers often does not meet the needs of the market. Missing working experience and outdated knowledge are bad preconditions for a high-quality training and a good preparation for the students. This becomes during the next years the probably biggest challenge for the vocational education. Here continuing education is not sufficient. Suitable regulations must give orientation to the teachers and supporting teaching quality. Evaluation criteria must be aligned with benchmark competences to develop competences instead of knowledge. This is not just a big step in vocational education but also a change in the culture of teaching and learning in the Chinese school system in general.

Many of the past vocational education projects gave an important contribution to a positive development. Nevertheless, to develop vocational education sustainable and scalable we must shift our focus away from developing more and more single lighthouse projects. We have to develop quality management systems which are focusing on the key factors in vocational education and have to follow-up strictly. Focusing on quality must be a benefit for the school, the teachers and finally for the students.

What should be the role of the German educational partners? Beside qualification measures, the German educational institutes should be more focusing on establishment of quality standards, controlling and certification. Only with standards of both partner countries vocational education is comparable and everybody involved in the process to develop a benchmark vocational system in China can work in a quality framework. Decision makers at schools or politicians must be able to monitor and compare the outcome and finally take actions for improvement.

In particular in China scalability is a core factor which is not as critical in other countries. To have a real influence on the job market, many trainees must be developed in a short period of time. The job market needs these professional forces urgently. All processes must make sure that also with thousands of students, an increase of the quality is possible.

We of IVE have the aim to offer a system that German and Chinese partners can use as a platform for there strategical development of high quality professional vocational educational.

New Sino-German Dual Vocational Education Alliance

On 21 October 2017, organisations and enterprises of vocational education formally established a “Sino-German Alliance on Dual Vocational Education” in Nanjing. Different from already existing bilateral VET associations, the new alliance will, according to its Chinese name, focus on the cooperation between enterprises and schools, and thus focus on truly “dual” vocational education.

The alliance was founded at the “International Summit for Vocational Education”, which was part of Education Plus 2017, an exhibition organized by Messe Stuttgart Nanjing Ltd. During the constituting session, founding members adopted by-laws and unanimously elected their chairman, Simon Zhao, CEO of National Center for Open  & Distance Education in Beijing.

Mark Ma, Vice General Manager of Open Education, referred to a 2016 study which estimated the vocational education market volume of China at 600 billion RMB (about 78 billion Euro) and further growing.  “In this market, the new alliance aims at developing the cooperation of enterprises and schools in vocational education, supporting the implementation of the Sino-German vocational education strategy, and establishing a new and sustainable type of cooperation.”

The new alliance is a branch organisation of the “China External Cooperative Alliance of Vocational  Education” in Beijing.


Panjin Deans Visit Swiss VET Institute

A group of deans of the Panjin Vocational and Technical College (PVTC) under its vice principal Zhang Hongfu visited the Swiss Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (SFIVET) in Zollikofen near Bern on 7 July 2017. The event was part of a Sino-German Project on Dual Vocational Education in Panjin. Project Team Leader Zhang Yaowen also joined the visit at SFIVET.

The delegation was received by Eric Swars, Head of International Relations. He provided insights into the dual VET system of Switzerland and its differences to the German dual system, into the education of TVET teachers and masters, and into TVET research and vocational development, tasks his institution is in charge of. In May 2017, SFIVET already established a partnership with the China Education Association for International Exchange (CEAIE).

Panjin is a chemical and petroleum industry city in Northeast China. The Chinese government is encouraging the entire region to modify its economy. Panjin was selected by the National Development and Reform Commission as a pilot city for the introduction of a dual VET system similar to the German and Swiss systems. PVTC is at the core of the pilot project, initially focusing on the vocations of Chemical Technician, Mechatronics Fitter, and Geriatric Nurse.


Open Education Delegation

A delegation of the Chinese National Center for Open and Distance Education visited the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University (Dual University DHBW) in Stuttgart on 28 June 2017. The group was received by Prof. Harald Stuhler, head of vehicle systems engineering studies at DHBW.

With 3.5 million registered students, the National Center for Open and Distance Education is one of the largest education institutions worldwide. It is specialized on online education and is cooperating with all notable universities of China. The Center is a joint venture of the electronics giant TCL with the Chinese Ministry of Education. The Center has recently started to establish a vocational education programme similar to the German dual system through its subsidiary I-Vocedu.

Simon Zhao, CEO of Open Education, headed the delegation. Other members were Wu Shujun, Director of the Vocational Education Center, Mark Ma, Vice General Manager, and Tina Jin, Vice President of Shenzhen TCL Education Technology Co., Ltd.

The visit to Germany was organized by the former China Project Director of BMW AG, Kayjay Brix, who is now advisor of I-Vocedu in Shenzhen. Further participants were Oliver Schindler, CEO of ITW Schindler GmbH, and the former Programme Director of GIZ in China, Helmut Schoenleber.