Germany’s ZDH small trades association said on Thursday a lagging economy and hard business conditions meant companies would likely hire fewer apprentices this year. Only 78,000 apprenticeships has been signed through July of this year, down 12 percent from a year early, the ZDH said according to Bloomberg News. “These are difficult economic times; we won't manage to close the gap on last year,'' Dieter Philipp, head of the ZDH association, told reporters at a press conference in Berlin. German Economy and Labor Minister Wolfgang Clement said last month about 58,000 high school graduates may lack an apprenticeship this autumn. The government has threatened companies with compulsory trainee programs if the business community failed to provide more apprenticeships.