3. The continuing education and training landscape

The provision of continuing education and training is rarely organised in a systemic way across OECD countries, being neither cohesive, nor unified. Instead, CET structures may better be described as complex CET landscapes. These landscapes encompass a variety of provision with different objectives and for different target groups, often with limited overall coherence. As they occupy a space at the nexus of education, labour market and social policy, they are governed by a range of different policy frameworks and stakeholder interests. This complexity poses a challenge for the development of cohesive and unified CET systems that are high performing and ready to address current and future skill needs in the context of digitalisation and other megatrends.

In the German policy arena, it is often argued that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to good governance and provision of CET. While it is certainly true that each CET landscape is the unique result of a historical development process, research has identified some desirable features of advanced CET systems. These include: i) institutionalised stakeholder involvement; ii) high levels of co-ordination between key actors; iii) flexible and diverse provision that satisfies the needs of individuals and the labour market; and iv) linkages between different kinds of provision, which ensure the permeability of the system (Desjardins, 2017[1]; OECD, 2020[2]).

In Germany, companies, the social and economic partners, CET providers and the government at national and federal state level share responsibility for CET. The German CET landscape is complex and characterised by “pluralism, competition and self-responsibility” (Desjardins, 2017[1]). It is governed through a multi-level framework, funded by many different stakeholders, and encompasses a wide variety of education and training opportunities. These are delivered by more than 18 000 public and private providers, although this constitutes an estimate with the exact number being unknown (BIBB, 2020[3]; Christ et al., 2019[4]; Christ et al., 2020[5]).

This pluralism is both a great strength, as provision caters to the diverse needs of individuals, organisations and (regional) labour markets, and a weakness, as it comes with increased co-ordination and co-operation needs. The 2019 National Skills Strategy (Nationale Weiterbildungsstrategie, NWS) recognised the need to co-ordinate activities in this area and to foster a new culture of co-operation between key stakeholders.

This chapter analyses the CET landscape in Germany and its key challenges. It first describes the key actors, strategies and legal frameworks governing the landscape. Then it sketches the structure of CET provision and associated providers. Based on this analysis it presents an assessment and policy directions for future action in this area.

A key defining feature of the CET landscape in Germany is its high degree of decentralisation. This places strong responsibility on individuals and enterprises for the take-up and provision of training. Its multi-level governance involves companies, the social and economic partners, CET providers and the government at national and federal state level. This decentralised setup is widely recognised for achieving training provision that is relevant and accountable to regional context. At the same time, the resulting wide distribution of responsibilities requires a high degree of co-ordination and co-operation, which remains a challenge for all stakeholders involved. The process of developing and implementing a National Skills Strategy (NWS) aims to strengthen governance in the German CET landscape.

German education policy is shaped by strong federalism and the cultural sovereignty of the federal states (Kulturhoheit der Länder). Länder have the primary responsibility for legislation and administration of education policy, including General CET (Art 72 GG) and adult liberal education (allgemeine Weiterbildung). Power is shared between different Länder ministries, typically education, labour and social affairs, and economic affairs, but the set-up varies between different federal states. Amongst themselves, the Länder co-ordinate their activities in the area of CET through Conferences of Ministers (see Box 3.1). Under certain conditions, the federation can take over legislative responsibilities, notably to ensure equal living conditions across the territory or to preserve legal and economic unity in the national interest (Art 72 GG Abs. 2, competing legislation – konkurrierende Gesetzgebung1).

The federalism reform of 2006 attempted to disentangle the responsibilities of the federal states from those of the federation. It further limited the federation’s scope for intervention in the cultural sovereignty of the Länder. Competing legislation continues to exist, both for vocational education outside of schools and for financial incentives for CET (Krug and Nuissl, 2017[6]). Since 2019, the federal government can provide financial assistance to the federal states and municipalities in order to improve the performance of municipal education infrastructure (Art 104c GG). The first case of use of this constitutional change is the digital pact for schools (Digitalpakt Schule, see Chapter 5).

In the area of CET, the federal government retains responsibility for national labour market policy, regulation of Vocational CET outside the school sector, financial assistance in the field of non-school-based Vocational CET, some aspects of Basic CET (e.g. Alphabetisierung und Grundbildung) and CET in Higher Education (wissenschaftliche Weiterbildung), research and statistics in CET and international co-operation. Different ministries share the responsibilities for CET at federal level and are supported by a range of associated agencies (see Box 3.2):

  • The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF, Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung) has some responsibilities for general, civic and job-related CET. This includes the regulation of Vocational CET outside of schools, financial incentives to support take-up of Vocational CET and issues related to the recognition and validation of skills for professions regulated by federal law. The ministry funds educational research and generates national CET statistics, including the regular Adult Education Survey (AES). The ministry is also involved in the NWS and funds projects related to digitalisation, as well as General CET, including literacy education, CET in Higher Education and liberal CET, namely civic education.

  • The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS, Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales) is responsible for labour market policy according to the Social Security Codes II and III (Sozialgesetzbuch II und III), which it implements through the Federal Employment Agency (BA, Bundesagentur für Arbeit). This includes job-related CET and guidance for the unemployed and, increasingly, for the employed. The BMAS also plays an important role in designing broader strategies to strengthen CET nationwide, such as the NWS, and laws that expand the opportunities for people to take part in CET, e.g. the 2019 Skills Development Opportunities Act (see below).

  • The Federal Ministry of Economy and Energy (BMWI, Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie) has some responsibility for the regulation of Vocational CET, as well as for supporting enterprises in offering CET opportunities. One example is the investment in inter-company vocational training centres (überbetriebliche Berufsbildungsstätten), which are co-financed by the Länder.

Additionally, the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ, Bundesministeriums für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend) and the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI, Bundesministerium des Inneren) carry responsibility for aspects of liberal CET.

Municipalities have the main responsibility for Community Adult Education Centres (Volkshochschulen, VHS), which make up 16% of CET providers, according to data from the WB monitor (BIBB, 2020[3]). In co-operation with the BA, municipalities are also responsible for the integration of individuals into employment (e.g. counselling and placement, qualifications, job opportunities) through municipal employment agencies (Jobcenters).

Germany’s approach to governance in CET can be described as corporatist. Social partners (trade unions and employer organisations) and economic partners (Chambers of Commerce and Trade, Chambers of Skilled Crafts) play a key role in the CET landscape. This role includes:

  • Consulting in commissions and legislative processes at the federal and federal state level; involvement in agenda setting;

  • involvement in the regulation of certain aspects of the CET landscape, primarily formal Vocational CET and ALMPs;

  • negotiating collective and company agreements with effect on CET;

  • providing CET through associated education and training institutions.

In their consultative role, social and economic partners provide inputs in advisory councils, committees and legislative processes in the area of CET, such as setting agendas and priorities. Their involvement takes place both at federal and federal state level. For example, social partners are involved in the Monitoring Committees of the European Social Fund (ESF). All co-ordination efforts in the area of CET in recent years, including the NWS, have built on strong involvement from the social and economic partners (see next sub-section on the NWS).

Regulatory responsibilities primarily encompass ALMPs and formal Vocational CET. In the area of ALMPs, social partners play a key role. The Federal Public Employment Services are a tripartite agency, where employers’ associations and the trade unions each represent a third of the governing board. This provides social partners with considerable influence over the choice of new CET initiatives, the distribution of finances and the involvement at regional and local level, among other aspects of CET policy. Social partners are also involved in the Accreditation and Licensing Regulation Board for Employment Promotion (AZAV), which formulates recommendations for the accreditation and licensing of CET providers and programmes in the context of ALMPs. In the area of formal Vocational CET, social and economic partners are key actors in the regulatory activity for initial and vocational upskilling qualifications. This includes the development of content, framework curricula and examination requirements of such qualifications. Examination boards are composed of representatives of employer organisations, trade unions and education institutions. Additionally, social and economic partners make up half of the Members of the Board of the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB).

Social and economic partners negotiate collective and company agreements in relation to CET, which take into account sector-specific needs for education and training. Collective agreements that regulate financial incentives and educational leave for CET exist in several sectors. For instance, workers in companies in the metal and electrical industry bound by collective agreement have the right to take part- and full-time educational leave of up to seven years. The collective agreement also introduced educational accounts (Bildungskonten), which allow individuals to accumulate entitlements towards paid educational leave (IG Metall, 2016[8]). Other collective agreements, for example in the chemical industry, include provisions to build capacity for personnel planning and career guidance in enterprises. As trade union coverage and bargaining power varies across different sectors, not all workers benefit from these collective and company agreements. This concerns low qualified and low-wage workers in particular.

Additionally, social and economic partners are involved in the provision of CET and implementation of specific programmes in the area of CET. All partners have associated education and training centres, which operate both at the federal and federal state level. Chambers of Commerce and Trade, as well as Chambers of Skilled Crafts, offer a range of CET opportunities including preparatory courses towards examination as Master craftsperson (Meister).

In contrast to social and economic partners, other providers of education and training have less institutionalised channels of engagement with the policy-making process. There exist several interest groups of CET providers, including the association of Adult Education Centres (Deutscher Volkshochschul-Verband e.V., DVV), the Federal Association of Vocational Education and Training Providers (Bundesverband der Träger beruflicher Bildung, BBB) and the Wuppertaler Kreis e.V., an umbrella organisation of leading providers of CET in the German economy. These groups act as lobby organisations, representing the interests of their members in the policy-making process. They may be involved in expert commissions and strategy formulation processes, as well as in commenting on draft bills prepared by civil servants or being invited to consultations of parliamentary groups or committees.

As described above, the governance of the German CET system has evolved to create a complex network of shared responsibilities with a strong need for co-ordination. The National Skills Strategy (Nationale Weiterbildungsstrategie, NWS), adopted in 2019, is an ambitious step for greater coordination in this policy area. The first strategy of its kind, it brings together the federation and federal states, the Federal Employment Agency, and the social and economic partners to develop a common strategy on CET (BMAS et al., 2019[9]). The expressed aims of the strategy are to co-ordinate CET policies, increase transparency, improve access to CET opportunities and financial support, and work towards a new culture of CET in Germany. The strategy is focussed on job-related CET, although stakeholders acknowledge that the distinction between job-related and general CET is not clear-cut.

The NWS is an important step towards greater co-ordination and co-operation between key actors in the area of CET policy. The function of the NWS as a platform for exchange and joint development of the CET system is widely appreciated by the involved partners. Over time, similar co-ordination processes have been attempted, but they were either focused on narrow sub-aspects of the CET landscape or did not engage the wide range of stakeholders involved in the NWS (see Box 3.4). The NWS is the first strategy process that has been led jointly by the BMAS, BMBF and included the BMWI, social and economic partners (trade unions, employer organisations, Chambers of Commerce and Trade, Chambers of Skilled Crafts), federal states (representatives of ASMK, KMK and WMK) and the Federal Employment Agency. Other actors, such as education providers and academic/industry experts, provided inputs in the development process.

The resulting paper of the NWS sets out a joint approach to respond to structural changes in the labour market brought about by digitalisation and automation. It outlines 10 overarching objectives, which each contain a series of commitments made by strategy partners (Box 3.3).

Progress towards these commitments is monitored in the ongoing implementation phase. Thematic laboratories (Themenlabore) focus on some of the key themes of the strategy, deepen collaboration between actors, drive policy development further and disseminate the content of the NWS. An implementation report is planned for June 2021, which will also set out plans for the continuation of the NWS process.

The particular objectives chosen testify to the challenging task of finding consensus between stakeholders. They are designed to tackle specific problematic areas, but remain a rather limited blueprint of a coherent common vision. The types of commitments made vary widely. Some are made by individual strategy partners, while others are collective commitments from a sub-set of partners. A few are very concrete, for example the pledge of the BA to develop a new online self-assessment tool for career guidance, however, the majority are kept very general. A range of commitments concern assessments of the feasibility of certain actions, instead of the action itself (Prüfauftrag). All commitments are qualitative, rather than tied to quantitative targets.

Overall, the broad engagement of stakeholders and the inclusion of varied perspectives is a key success factor of the NWS. At the same time, the number of actors involved also constituted a challenge when trying to keep processes workable, as well as in the consensual formulation of objective and concrete commitments. Many stakeholders are now keen for the strategy to produce concrete results, in the form of new initiatives or legislative changes. The NWS should be institutionalised as a platform for exchange in the future and adjusted to avoid some of its shortcomings (see also recommendations), in order to address future policy challenges in the area of CET.

There is no single law regulating CET in Germany. Instead, the CET landscape is regulated by a complex net of laws at different levels of government relating to specific sub-aspects of CET. An overview of all laws relating to CET is provided in Figure 3.1.

At the federal level, the most regulated sub-sectors of CET are Vocational CET and CET in the context of ALMPs. The Vocational Training Act (Berufsbildungsgesetz) regulates preparation for vocational training, in-company vocational training, vocational retraining and continuing vocational education and training. The Crafts Code (Handwerksordnung) regulates initial and continuing vocational training, as well as retraining in the crafts sector. Access and financial support for training for job seekers in the context of ALMPs is regulated in the Social Security Codes II and III (Sozialgesetzbücher II & III).

Several laws regulate the financial incentives available for individuals and companies engaging in CET. The Upgrading Training Assistance Act (Aufstiegsfortbildungsförderungsgesetz) sets out financial support for those taking part in formal vocational upskilling.2 Its equivalent for initial education and training in schools and higher education institutions is the Federal Training Assistance Act (Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz, BAföG). The federal government recently adopted two new laws aimed at increasing the take-up of CET:

  • The 2019 Skills Development Opportunities Act (Qualifizierungschancengesetz, QCG) expanded the possibilities of the BA to financially support CET in enterprises, with a view to help individuals and enterprises adapt to digitalisation and structural change;

  • The 2020 Act on the Promotion of Job-related CET in the Context of Structural Change and the Further Development of Training Assistance (Gesetz zur Förderung der beruflichen Weiterbildung im Strukturwandel und zur Weiterentwicklung der Ausbildungsförderung, „Arbeit von Morgen Gesetz“, AVMG) expanded those provisions and aims to promote Vocational CET in times of structural change.

    Both the QCG and the AVMG are laws amending Social Security Codes II and III.

There are other federal laws related to CET: the Distance Learning Protection Act (Fernunterrichtsschutzgesetz), which regulates distance learning courses; the Higher Education Framework Act (Hochschulrahmengesetz), which sets out that CET in Higher Education is a responsibility of higher education institutions; the Act on the Residence, Economic Activity and Integration of Foreigners in the Federal Territory – Residence Act (Aufenthaltsgesetz, AufenthG), that regulates (among other things) integration courses for immigrants.

The federation also legislates in the area of recognition of prior learning. The Act to Improve the Assessment and Recognition of Professional and Vocational Qualifications Acquired Abroad – Federal Recognition Act, (Gesetz zur Verbesserung der Feststellung und Anerkennung im Ausland erworbener Berufsqualifikationen, Bundesanerkennungsgesetz) sets out legal rights and processes to verify the equivalence of foreign with domestic vocational qualifications. An important part of the Federal Recognition Act is the Professional Qualifications Assessment Act (Berufsqualifikationsfeststellungsgesetz, BQFG), which contains standardised regulations and criteria for recognition and applies to around 330 non-regulated training occupations in the dual vocational system. The recognition of foreign vocational qualifications of around 30 professions lies within the responsibility of the Länder, which they regulate in their respective Professional Qualifications Assessment Acts (Berufsqualifikationsfeststellungsgesetze der Länder, BQFG) at federal state level.

All federal states either have their own Further Education Acts (Weiterbildungsgesetz/ Erwachsenen-bildungsgesetz) or other frameworks to regulate parts of the CET sector. They ensure the quality of CET, for example through rules on the curricula, required qualifications for teaching staff and access for different community groups (EAEA, 2011[15]). Furthermore, all federal states have their own Higher Education Acts which regulate CET as responsibility of higher education institutions. They are supplemented by other specific laws or ordinances on educational leave. Most Länder have educational leave laws (Bildungsfreistellungsgesetz/ Bildungurlaubsgesetz), which entitle employees to get paid time off work for the purpose of professional or political further training (for more detail, see Chapter 5).

CET is further regulated through civil law, company agreements and collective bargaining agreements.

The German CET landscape is characterised by “pluralism, competition and self-responsibility” (Desjardins, 2017[1]). It features a diversity of education and training opportunities, a large number of funding agencies and more than 18 000 estimated providers (BIBB, 2020[3]). This is both a great strength, as the provision caters to the diverse needs of individuals, organisations and (regional) labour markets; and also a weakness, as the landscape is difficult to navigate for individuals and companies looking for learning opportunities, increasing the need for advice and guidance (see Chapter 4).

The complexity of the CET landscape makes structuring and categorising the existing provision challenging. For the purposes of international comparison, this report uses the typology of adult learning provision developed by Desjardins (2017[1]). The typology groups all existing formal and non-formal learning opportunities into five types of learning provision: Basic CET, General CET, Vocational CET, CET in Higher Education and Adult Liberal Education. Each type of provision shares some key characteristics, such as the type of providers, contents and mode of learning. It should be noted that this typology does not reflect a judgment on the hierarchy of different kinds of provision. Both Vocational and CET in Higher Education, for example, contain provision at level 6 and 7 of the German Qualification Framework (DQR):3

  • Basic CET refers to literacy and other basic skills courses, which are non-formal.

  • General CET refers to second-chance education for adults. These are formal education opportunities that lead to different school leaving certifications, including Secondary School Leaving Certification (Nachholen des Hauptschulabschluss), Intermediate School Leaving Certification (Nachholen des Realschulabschluss) and the Certification for Entrance into Higher Education (Nachholen des Abitur/ der Hochschulzugangsberechtigung).

  • Vocational CET (CVET) refers to formal and non-formal learning opportunities that are vocational in nature and typically have a strong work-based learning component. They include opportunities for second-chance Initial Vocational Education and Training (Nachholen des Berufsabschlusses) and Vocational Retraining (Umschulung). They also include learning opportunities for experienced professionals to engage in Vocational Upskilling (höherqualifizierende Berufsbildung/ Aufstiegsfortbildung). Finally, CVET also encompasses many non-formal learning opportunities, including adjustment measures (Anpassungsqualifizierung).

  • CET in Higher Education (wissenschaftliche Weiterbildung) refers to learning opportunities provided by universities or higher education institutions. This includes academic courses at Bachelor and Master degree level, as well as specific non-formal courses for adults.

  • Adult Liberal Education, also known as popular education, includes non-formal basic or Vocational CET, alongside more citizenship-building and leisure-oriented provision.

It should be noted that the categories are not mutually exclusive and that informal learning opportunities, which make up a large share of all learning in adult age, are not reflected in this typology.

Basic CET includes a large number of non-formal learning opportunities for adults who lack basic skills including literacy, numeracy and IT. Many of these take place in Adult Education Centres (VHS), but private non-profit providers, e.g. educational institutions of churches, are also active in this sub-sector. Learning opportunities for adults who lack basic skills may or may not lead to a certificate. They are frequently preparatory for the pursuit of formal learning, e.g. the take-up of initial vocational education and training. Three quarters of provision of the Adult Education Centres in the area of literacy targets adults with migrant backgrounds and includes the integration courses funded by the Federal Agency for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) (Christ, Horn and Ambos, 2019[16]).

General CET gives adults the opportunity to obtain formal degrees, such as the Secondary School-leaving Certification (Hauptschulabschluss) or the Certification for Entrance into Higher Education (Hochschulzugangsberechtigung) in the form of second-chance education (zweiter Bildungsweg). Teaching is provided through a variety of public and private non-profit providers. It can take place in part-time evening schools (e.g. Abendhauptschule, Abendrealschule, Abendgymnasium) of full-time schools (e.g. Kollegs) and it typically takes multiple years to graduate. The obtained qualifications are referenced at Level 2-4 of the DQR (BMBF/KMK, 2020[19]).

Vocational CET, also Continuing Vocational Education and Training (CVET), is the cornerstone of the German adult learning system. It encompasses a wide range of learning provision at different levels of the German qualification framework ranging from basic vocational qualifications (DQR 3) over Master craftsperson (Meister) and Bachelor professional degrees (DQR 6) to certified business economists (DQR 7).4 CVET includes formal and non-formal learning opportunities.

For adults seeking to obtain vocational degrees at DQR level 3 and 4, two types of learning provision exist:

  • Initial vocational education and training (IVET, Berufsausbildung) in Germany typically takes place at the upper secondary level.5 More than half of each cohort of young people (55%) starts training in one of the 320 officially recognised initial vocational degrees of the dual vocational system (BIBB, 2020[3]). However, pursuing IVET is not limited to young people. In 2018, more than 65 000 adults aged 24 and older took up IVET, i.e. 13% of all new starters according to the German Statistical Office. While for some of these, IVET constitutes part of a prolonged initial education journey, others take up IVET after having spent some time in the labour market. IVET is predominately delivered through the dual system, which combines in-company and school-based training, with a smaller share of IVET being delivered in vocational schools (e.g. Berufsschulen, Berufsfachschulen, Berufskolleg).6 IVET is typically free of charge,7 with those in the dual system receiving an apprentice salary from their employing company.

  • Vocational retraining (Umschulung) is targeted at professionally experienced adults without formal vocational qualifications or individuals who hold an IVET degree, but can no longer pursue their original profession, for example due to health issues or obsolescence of their skillset. Vocational retraining enables individuals to take up a different profession and is equivalent to pursuing a second IVET degree at Level 4 of the DQR. Jobseekers and people in vocational rehabilitation have a legal entitlement to financial support for the retraining through the BA, Job Centres or public pension and accident insurance entities. Vocational retraining is provided by private non-profit or commercial education providers, as well as vocational schools (Berufsschule, Berufsfachschule).

For individuals seeking to update and further develop their vocational skills, the following learning opportunities exist:

  • Adjustment measures (Anpassungsqualifizierung/ -maßnahmen) are the most common type of vocational training for adults. The format, duration and content of adjustment measures are not universally regulated and are typically non-formal. Participation may lead to certification, but not to an officially recognised qualification. These measures are also used in the context of the recognition of foreign qualifications and their alignment with the German occupational system. Education providers, Chambers, professional associations and companies provide adjustment measures, an example being a short, certificated course on a new software programme.

  • Additionally, the Vocational Training Act makes a reference to adjustment training opportunities (Anpassungsfortbildung), which serve the purpose of maintaining, expanding or adjusting the vocational competence of an individual (§1 Abs. 4 Nr.1 BBiG), typically in the context of changing requirements in their workplace. To date no regulation for adjustment training exists in practice, but its implementation is planned for the future.

For experienced individuals seeking to extend their vocational capabilities at DQR level 5 to 7, the following learning opportunities exist:

  • Vocational upskilling (höherqualifizierende Berufsbildung/ Aufstiegsfortbildung) serves the purpose of extending the vocational capabilities of individuals and advancing their careers, according to the German Vocational Training Act (§1 Abs. 4 Nr. 2 BBiG). Typical examples of vocational upskilling are those leading to qualifications such as Master craftsperson (Meister) or Certified Business Economist (Geprüfter Betriebswirt) (Box 3.5).

CET in Higher Education (wissenschaftliche Weiterbildung) takes place at higher education and research institutions. This includes Bachelor’s and Master’s degree studies, formal courses for adults at Bachelor and Master level, as well as specialised non-formal CET offers such as certificate courses. CET in Higher Education was specified as one of the four core responsibilities of higher education institutions in the 1998 Higher Education Framework Act (Hochschulrahmengesetz) and the Higher Education Acts of the federal states regulate this issue further. Data on current provision and participants in CET in Higher Education are scarce. Estimates suggest that several thousand study programmes can be used for CET purposes (Konegen-Grenier, 2019[23]). Around 5% of adults aged 18-65 take part in CET in Higher Education in any given year, according to German AES data (BMBF, 2019[24]).

Nonetheless, CET in Higher Education in Germany lags behind many other OECD countries (Hanft and Knust, 2009[25]; Faulstich and Oswald, 2010[26]), with higher education institutions only slowly developing business models to cater for the needs of adults and businesses. To stimulate the development of CET in higher education, the BMBF funded the development of innovative, demand-driven and sustainable CET offers at higher education institutions between 2011 and 2020 through the Bund-Länder Competition Advancement Through Education: Open Universities (Bund-Länder Wettbewerb Aufstieg durch Bildung: offene Hochschulen).

Adult Liberal Education (Erwachsenenbildung) includes a wide variety of learning opportunities offered by Adult Education Centres (VHS), church groups, political foundations, trade unions, and commercial and non-profit private providers. Provision is traditionally oriented towards leisure, culture and democracy education, but also includes literacy and basic skills courses as well as vocational CET.

There are an estimated 18 000 CET providers in Germany, most of which provide a mix of job-related and general CET (BIBB, 2020[3]). Among these providers, there are a wide variety of private institutions, whether commercial or non-profit; public institutions, such as vocational schools or higher education institutions;8 CET institutions run by enterprises or groups of enterprises (through Chambers of Commerce and Trade, professional associations); CET institutions run by churches, parties, trade unions, foundations or other associations; and Adult Education Centres.

According to data from the WB-Monitor, private institutions make up the largest share of providers (40%) comprising both commercial (23%) and non-profit (17%) (Figure 3.2). This is followed by CET institutions run by social groupings, such as churches, trade unions, foundations or other associations (18%); Adult Education Centres (16%)9; and business-oriented institutions run by run by Chambers, professional organisations or individual businesses (13%). Public VET or higher education institutions make up a small share of providers overall (11%) (BIBB, 2020[3]).

As such, the provider structure for CET is complex and difficult to oversee. Its complexity is the result of a supply-driven historical bottom-up process, shaped by the competition between different providers with comparatively limited intervention of the state. While formal and distance-learning provision is governed and quality-assured through laws and regulations, non-formal learning provision and providers are subject to minimal public supervision or quality control. Providers that want to offer publicly funded training are an exception, requiring proof of quality-assurance mechanisms to receive accreditation and certification of their offer. This is the case for CET funded by the BA, for which providers must meet the criteria specified in the accreditation and licensing regulations for employment promotion (AZAV). Many non-formal providers, however, are free to decide if and how they ensure the quality of their provision. There are a number of industry initiatives, e.g. the certification agency CERTQUA initiated by the provider organisation Wuppertaler Kreis that aim to increase transparency with regards to the quality of providers and provision. (BIBB, 2019[27]). Eighty percent of CET providers use at least one of several quality assurance systems (BIBB, 2019[27]).

This diverse structure suits the needs and interests of different regions and target groups, i.e. individuals, companies and public sponsors such as the public employment services. However, the sheer number of largely unregulated providers makes the landscape difficult to navigate for individuals and companies seeking to access and judge the quality of CET provision, increasing the need for advice and guidance services (see Chapter 4).

Germany has one of the most complex governance structures of CET across the OECD. Decentralisation competition and federalism pose strong challenges for collaboration and coherence. The regulatory landscape of CET is fragmented, with various laws regulating specific sub-aspects of the CET system, but without an overall framework. This is both a great strength, as provision can cater to the diverse needs of individuals, organisations and (regional) labour markets, and a weakness, as it comes with increased challenges for co-ordination, co-operation and transparency from a user perspective. The National Skills Strategy (Nationale Weiterbildungsstrategie, NWS) is an important step towards greater collaboration in this policy area and the development of a more coherent and strategic approach to policy-making in CET.

Many OECD countries have CET laws that define rights and responsibilities of different actors in the CET landscape and ensure that CET policy is developed in a coherent manner. In Germany, a multitude of laws and other frameworks at federal and federal state level regulate the German CET landscape. Laws relate to specific sub-aspects of CET, lacking an overall framework. The absence of such a framework constitutes a challenge to the coherent and structural development of the German CET landscape, in particular in the context of digitalisation. It is also confusing for individuals and enterprises seeking to navigate CET and financial support opportunities.

There is no lack of CET provision in Germany, where an estimated 18 000 providers offer education and training opportunities at all levels from basic skill courses to Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes. This complexity is the result of a supply-driven historical development process, shaped by market mechanisms and limited state intervention. While formal and distance-learning provision is governed and quality-assured through laws and regulations, non-formal learning provision and providers are subject to minimal public supervision or quality control. Providers that offer publicly funded training are an exception, requiring proof of quality-assurance mechanisms to receive accreditation and certification of their offer. While this supply-driven approach accommodates diverse needs and can be considered a great strength of the German system, its complexity and lack of regulation makes it difficult to navigate for individuals and companies.

Recommendations deriving from this assessment are described in the remainder of this chapter.

The CET landscape in Germany is extremely diverse, heterogeneous and traditionally shaped by competition between the key players involved – CET providers, federal states, social partners and even government ministries. While this approach has led to appropriate learning opportunities for many individuals, organisations and labour markets, it lacks coherence and usability from the perspective of individuals and leads to a multitude of inefficiencies.

The 2019 National Skills Strategy (Nationale Weiterbildungsstrategie, NWS) was an ambitious step towards raising the profile of CET policy and greater co-ordination of activities between different stakeholders in Germany. The close collaboration of the participating stakeholders (federal ministries, federal states, social and economic partners and the Public Employment Service) was widely regarded as a success by those involved. That said, the final strategy document clearly signifies a political compromise with scope for more ambition and coherence.

To develop the NWS further, all participating stakeholders should commit to a continuation of the strategy after mid-2021 and thus beyond the current legislative period. The co-operation established in the context of the NWS should be permanently institutionalised and the strategy itself should be developed further. In this context, Germany should consider:

  • Introducing overarching objectives and quantitative indicators to aid the monitoring of the strategy: The NWS is currently a series of commitments from different strategy partners. While commitments are structured into 10 areas for action, they are largely standalone and disjointed. Each area for action lacks SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) objectives for monitoring and evaluation. The absence of overarching objectives and quantitative indicators makes the monitoring of the NWS difficult and lacks transparency from the perspective of citizens and non-involved organisations. This is also due to a lack of sufficient quantitative data on the CET landscape.

    Germany should consider developing i) a number of overarching objectives for the NWS; ii) clear objectives for each area of action in the NWS; and iii) a theory of change about how individual commitments can contribute to the desired objectives. Where possible, quantitative indicators should be introduced to monitor progress on these objectives, although not all areas will lend themselves to a quantitative approach. Qualitative indicators should be used alongside the quantitative measures. Examples of good practice setting indicators for CET strategies include the Lifelong Learning Strategies of Austria, launched in 2011, and Estonia, launched in 2015 (Box 3.6).

  • Systematically involving education and training providers in the further development of the NWS: The NWS brings together a wide and diverse range of stakeholders in the area of CET. Some of these stakeholders are formal partners in the strategy, namely government actors, social and economic partners. Others, such as academics and education providers, provided inputs in the development process in the form of workshops or written contributions. While a smaller number of partners might make the development process more efficient, it is desirable to involve education and training providers more systematically in the NWS process, as they will ultimately need to deliver many of its commitments. This should include representatives from providers of all CET subsectors from Basic CET to CET in Higher Education.

    This systematic involvement of education and training providers could take place in different ways, for example by i) formally including a number of their representative bodies as partners in the NWS; ii) ensuring that representatives of education and training providers are present in all workshops and working groups of the NWS, or by iii) establishing a consultative body to the NWS that is comprised of education and training providers. Many other OECD countries that have CET or lifelong learning strategies have involved education and training providers structurally in their governance. In Austria, for example, education and training providers (including higher education institutions) are included in a National Platform that oversees the implementation of the Austrian Lifelong Learning Strategy (BMUKK et al., 2011[30]).

  • Refining the distinction between general and job-related CET: Currently, the scope of the NWS includes job-related CET and some forms of Basic and General CET, such as second-chance education, basic skills and literacy courses. In practice however, the distinction between general and job-related CET is not easy to make: skills acquired in general CET may be put to use both in a private and work context; federal state laws on CET span both general and job-related CET; and many providers, notably Adult Education Centres deliver both general and job-related courses with little distinction for learners. It is understandable that the scope of the NWS must be focused in the face of the already considerable complexity of the German CET landscape. However, the next iteration of the NWS should clearly acknowledge the significant overlaps between both types of CET. This will provide an opening to increase the scope of the NWS at a later point, if deemed appropriate by the NWS partners.

In 2018, the authors of the biannual German Education Report raised the question ‘How long can Germany afford to maintain the fragile institutionalisation of CET?’ (Autorengruppe Bildungsberichterstattung, 2018[31]). Many OECD countries have CET laws that define the rights and responsibilities of different actors in the CET landscape and ensure that CET policy is developed in a coherent manner. As described earlier in this report, the German CET landscape currently lacks clear systematisation and common legal frameworks. The sector is governed by a wide range of specialised laws, regulations and collective agreements, making it challenging for users to navigate the system and for policy-makers to implement structural solutions. For example, each Länder law regulates CET providers differently, however digital training offers now facilitate access to such provision across Germany.

  • Germany should consider developing a CET law that ensures a common framework across the territory and sets minimum standards for provision and CET access across Germany. As a minimum, the law should i) define the responsibilities of different actors in the CET system; ii) uniformly regulate education leave across the German territory; iii) set minimum standards for the quality of providers and provision; iv) define a common framework for the validation and recognition of prior learning. Such a law would not only provide a framework for the existing legislation and close regulatory gaps, it would also establish and institutionalise CET as an independent sub-sector of Germany’s education and training system. It is essential that the law sets a strong framework for CET in Germany, but allows for flexibility to adapt CET provision to circumstances at federal state and municipal level.

    Austria and Switzerland are among the many OECD countries that regulate CET in a single law that sets out definitions, responsibilities, organisation and funding of CET. Their approaches are distinct and could both serve as an example for Germany (Box 3.7).

In Germany, there is currently a strong reliance on supply-driven CET provision with limited intervention of the state in key areas of the CET landscape, notably in many non-formal CET opportunities. The existence of a multitude of different quality assurance mechanisms, which are not evenly applied across types of provision, may require adjustments. Disadvantaged groups in particular find it difficult to find orientation in this system. More generally, there is a risk that adults spend time, money and motivation on uncertified and un-recognised learning opportunities that hold limited returns for them.

  • Germany should consider developing and introducing minimum quality standards for providers to increase transparency for individuals and companies in the German CET landscape. Standards should relate to i) organisational and management practices; ii) teaching staff; and iii) CET programmes. The introduction of standards must be accompanied by the development of structures and processes for certifying and evaluating providers. In doing so, Germany can draw on experiences from other OECD countries with similar education and training systems (Box 3.8).


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← 1. In the area of competing legislation, the Länder have the legislative responsibility as long as and to the extent that the Federation has not exercised its legislative competence by law.

← 2. In accordance with the regulations, 22% of the funding is provided the federal states.

← 3. Most formal qualifications that can be obtained through CET are assigned a competence level within the German Qualification Framework (DQR). For some formal qualifications, the assignment process to DQR levels is still ongoing.

← 4. The 2020 revision of the Vocational Training Act has opened the opportunity to also design Master professional qualifications at DQR level 7.

← 5. It should be noted that in the national context, IVET is understood as initial vocational education and training for young people. It does not include the acquisition of first vocational degrees for adults who have not acquired an IVET degree earlier in life. For the purpose of this report and international comparison, IVET is used to describe initial vocational degrees for young people and adults alike.

← 6. Additionally, individuals have the opportunity to gain initial vocational degrees through the External Students Examination (see also Chapter 4).

← 7. Exceptions are some health and care professions.

← 8. It should be noted that private and confessional higher education institutions also exist.

← 9. The institutional and financial setup of Adult Education Centres varies across federal states.

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