Germany’s apprenticeship system has long been touted as a global success story and a view held by many in the UK is the UK should try hard to copy it. The data appears to back that up. According to figures released by Germany’s Federal Statistical Office, more than half a million people completed an apprenticeship contract in 2018, an increase of just over 1% on the previous year. It supports the view that apprenticeships will underpin the future success of the German manufacturing industry and that the UK could use the German model to help close the skills gap. The reality, however, is quite different according to Munich-based lawyer Kathrin Brugger. Commenting in Outlaw she says in Germany manufacturers are finding it increasingly difficult to attract and retain apprentices, and young people find apprenticeships a less attractive career option compared with other options available to them. She says the UK should take note – the talent is there but businesses need to work hard to attract and retain it.
Her comments are supported by the findings of a survey conducted by Pinsent Masons earlier this year which put questions to both manufacturers in Germany and the young talent they are hoping to attract. The results show attitudes towards apprenticeships are shifting significantly – the apprenticeship route is becoming less attractive and employers are missing out. To understand why that is I phoned Lara Willems, also from the Munich office. I started by asking her about that survey and how it came about:
Lara Willems: “We decided to ask with our colleagues in the UK together 100 employers in Germany, in industry, about their daily challenges and recent trends in the industry. As well, we asked them about their talent management and recruiting strategies, and at the same time we asked 100 young people, school leavers, what their plans are after school, do they want to go to university or do an apprenticeship or a gap year or something else, in which field do they want to work and what is important for them when they look for an employer? One key topic we found is the apprenticeship. So before we did a survey, our assumption was that in Germany, compared to other countries, for example, to the UK or to the US, there are traditionally a large number of apprenticeships, which is good for the economy. But after the survey, we found out that, surprisingly, also for German industry, it's a challenge to find people who want to do an apprenticeship and so the question is, of course, why? When we have a look at the answer from the young people, from school leavers, we see that many of them find it more attractive to go to university. The answer is they prefer to have a good work life balance and to have flexible working hours. So we had a look at the answers and found out that and there are also other topics which they find really important. So the question is, of course, how can German companies, German employers, sell their benefits and one important topic which the young people, school leavers, mentioned is diversity and inclusion. So this seems to be really important for them. Young people one day, have a look for employer, and therefore it may be relevant for German employers to focus on this topic. Another interesting point is that young people have a different approach when they look for a new job. So the traditional way of finding a job, doing an internship or going to an Open Day is still attractive for them but, in addition, they are really looking for the employer on social media. So this maybe another piece of good advice for the employer if they want to attract young people.”
Lara is referring there chiefly to the Generation Z – those born between the late 1990s through to the early 2010s. The oldest of that generation are now graduating and taking their first steps into the world of work so attracting them is the goal. Lara and Kathrin look at ways of doing that in their Outlaw piece on addressing their career expectations. That includes a series of actions HR to consider – so do take a look at that.