Executive summary

A decade of robust economic and employment growth in Germany was brought to an abrupt end by the COVID-19 pandemic. Already in a state of flux due to digitalisation, population ageing and the transition to a low-carbon economy, the labour market is likely to undergo further changes at an accelerating rate. Now more than ever, policymakers must support future-ready continuing education and training systems that allow individuals and enterprises to adapt to these changes, and ensure that Germany’s strong economic performance endures, and continues to support its high standards of living and well-being.

Germany has a strong skill development system. The country’s 15-year-old students performed above the OECD average in the last (2018) edition of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), continuing a trend of significant improvement since PISA’s first edition in 2000. Its adult population between the ages of 15 and 65 also has above-average literacy and numeracy skills, according to the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC). A strong and well-respected vocational education and training system is seen as one of the success factors behind these achievements. However, participation in learning beyond initial education lags behind other high-performing OECD countries and varies considerably across different groups of the population. This is problematic in a rapidly changing labour market, where participation in continuing education and training is a precondition for individuals, enterprises and economies to harness the benefits of these changes.

This report assesses the current state of the German continuing education and training (CET) system. It examines how effectively and efficiently the system prepares people and enterprises for the changes occurring in the world of work, and identifies what changes are necessary to make the CET system more future-ready. The report makes recommendations for the further development of the CET system based on international good practice.

Two findings recur across the different themes considered in this report:

  • Germany has one of the most complex governance structures of CET across the OECD. It is characterised by decentralisation, federalism, pluralism, competition between providers and self-responsibility. Responsibility for CET is shared by companies, the social and economic partners, CET providers and the government at national and federal state level. This is both a great strength, as provision can cater to the diverse needs of individuals, organisations and labour markets, and a weakness, as it creates challenges with regard to co-ordination and co-operation. From a user perspective, this complexity makes the German CET landscape challenging to navigate, whether in finding high-quality CET opportunities or in identifying suitable financial support options.

  • Germany has made great progress identifying and working on key issues to improve the future-readiness of its CET system. In line with international good practice, this includes developing approaches for the validation of prior learning, establishing partial qualifications in some areas and advancing CET opportunities at higher education institutions. However, having developed along historical path dependencies and within the constraints of the existing institutional context, these reforms have often taken place without an overarching systematic approach. They are sometimes implemented in a piecemeal fashion and on a project-specific basis. Structural integration of these projects into the CET system happens only slowly, if at all. Greater effectivenessand equity of the German CET system will only be achieved through fundamentally restructuring key aspects of the system and significantly reducing its complexity.

Launched in June 2019, the National Skills Strategy (Nationale Weiterbildungsstrategie, NWS), aims to address some of these historical challenges. In bringing together federal ministries, federal states, the Federal Employment Agency, the social partners (trade unions and employer organisations) and the economic partners (chambers of commerce and trade, chambers of skilled crafts), it is an important step towards greater co-ordination and collaboration in this policy area. By taking a joint-up approach along 10 overarching objectives, it moves towards more coherent and strategic policy-making on CET. This report is intended to support the implementation of the National Skills Strategy.

The report consists of six chapters. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the assessment and recommendations made in the report. Chapter 2 sets out the changing skill needs of the German labour market and discusses patterns of participation in CET. Chapter 3 describes the key features of the German CET landscape, investigating its governance, the structure of provision and the providers. Chapter 4 reviews the current state of guidance, validation and partial qualifications in Germany. Chapter 5 looks at the funding of CET in Germany, as well as the landscape of financial incentives available to individuals and enterprises. Finally, Chapter 6 investigates the learning participation of low-skilled adults, the CET opportunities available to them, and the barriers that may prevent them from engaging in learning. The report highlights key challenges and develops recommendations based on international evidence.


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