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Germany

Government-Industry Trainee Job Pact Draws Criticism

The ink has barely dried on the trainee job pact signed by German government and industry leaders, and already there's criticism that the agreement isn't all it's cracked up to be.

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Congratulatory handshakes sealed the pact on Wednesday

The atmosphere on Wednesday as industry and government representatives gathered to sign the pact aimed at redressing Germany's lack of trainee jobs for young graduates was celebratory.

"This is a good day for young people in Germany," Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said at the signing ceremony in Berlin.

"This pact is a wonderful example of what can be achieved when we replace bureaucracy with a relationship between partners," said Ludwig Georg Braun, president of the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce.

A wide cross-section of the German media likewise applauded the agreement as a victory for all sides concerned.

But amidst the shoulder patting, criticism could also be heard. The loudest belonged to the DGB Trade Union Association head, Michael Sommer, who said the solution was sorely inadequate.

"There are 100,000 young people looking for an apprenticeship or on the waiting list for one," he told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper. "And what does industry do? It talks about 30,000 apprenticeships, mixes in some offers to hire interns, and tries to talk the whole problem down." He said that introducing a law to regulate Germany's apprenticeship system was the only way to ensure that enough young people are receiving training for their future careers.

System admired abroad

Lehrling in Deutschland Ausbildung Abgabe

This graduate was fortunate to get an apprenticeship as an electrician.

Germany's apprenticeship system is often admired abroad for providing young people with a seamless transition from student life to the working world. In many industries, apprenticeships are mandatory before young people can enter the work force, and they are thus highly sought after by youth. But the system has been strained by three years of low economic growth, with companies cutting their trainee jobs in order to save costs. At the end of April, figures showed that some 331,600 people had applied for 149,500 spots in German companies.

For months, it looked as if the government would take the legal route to address the lack of trainee jobs for interested applicants. It proposed a controversial new law that would force companies that didn't hire enough trainees to pay a fine into a nationwide traineeship fund. The law passed the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, in May, and was due for a second vote in the upper house, the Bundesrat. But the government backed away from the law, in order to pursue the pact with industry associations.

Terms of the pact

The major points of the new government-industry pact are as follows:

* Industry promises to provide an additional 30,000 apprenticeships annually over the next three years.

* Industry also promises to offer a further 25,000 work experience opportunities, the costs of which will be absorbed by the federal labor office.

* The government will raise the number of traineeships in the federal civil service by 20 percent.

* Starting in September, the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce and the Labor Office plan to invite young people who fail to get an apprenticeship for a so-called "competency check" to see if a placement can be found.

Keeping promises

Criticism of the pact could also be heard from within government ranks. Members of the Social Democrats' left wing said it's questionable whether individual companies will stick to the agreement.

Seeking to assuage critics, Economics Minister Wolfgang Clement said the government would closely monitor the success of the agreement, and said that the legal route was still an option.

"We'll see by the fall of next year whether some adjustments are needed, or whether legal procedures are needed," he said. "The law has only been put on hold, and it'll stay that way as long as we have a successful cooperation."

The managing director of the German Employers' Association, Reinhard Göhner, admitted that there was some risk involved in trying to resolve the traineeship crisis with a pact that isn't legally binding.

"Of course we'll work hard to keep to what we've promised, but there are no guarantees," he told the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper.

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