|At a Technical Education School in Bremen.|
The German dual-track system is full of mystery for Americans. We take our time when Googling information, but apparently not all information on the internet is reliable. Some in America view the system as oppressive, a rigid system that provides little to no flexibility to meet the needs of the individual. The perception is that the system is built solely on the needs of the state and the people are mere cogs in the machine. Part of this belief is true, but the question is to determine if it is possible to meet the needs of society without sacrificing the individual.
Throughout the week, my understanding of the German system has vacillated significantly. The system seems incredibly structured and carries students into their early twenties, yet there is permeability in the system (one that confuses Americans with their linear view of education) that allows for significant choice. The visits at the schools and conversations with students had convinced me that little was etched in stone, that students were free to jump from school to school within the system.
|At the Bremen Chamber of Commerce.|
The answer to the question above is a resounding NO. We have met many people with varied backgrounds in our studies here. One professor went through the apprenticeship program. One teacher began as a lawyer. One HR manager started as a mechanic. The flexibility is there (but please don’t ask me to explain it in its entirety).
The important issue is that students find training. They learn how to do something. This is not insignificant. This initial level of success introduces them to work and convinces them of their ability to operate within society. Many likely continue along the line of their initial training. Others discover a new avenue for further exploration. Somehow it works.
Of course, it may seem obvious that there is flexibility within the system. In the German vocational system, there are 331 vocations. Surely this is not enough to catalog the extent of work that must be done in such an advanced society. Some flexibility must be inherent.
|A training supervisor and an apprentice sharing how the|
apprenticeship system works at the J Muller company.
There is still much for me to learn about the German system, but the concept that the needs of the businesses must come first is not something I feel I need help in understanding. The people of Germany are taught how to function. They are given opportunities to succeed. They are not locked into a career they pick as a teenager, as so many fear. The system works because society’s needs are met, because businesses’ needs are met. Individuals can meet their needs because of the success of the businesses and the vocational education and training system.
Zachary Riffell is Project Manager of Advanced Career at the Southern Regional Education Board in Atlanta, GA.
He is also a doctoral student in career and workforce education at the University of South Florida.