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With Clock Ticking, Industry Extends Olive Branch

Industry promises to invite each and every school leaver in search of an apprenticeship for an interview. Companies may have pay up if they don't satisfy demand.


One of the lucky: 35,000 high school graduates are still on the hunt for a traineeship

Tens of thousands of high school graduates face a shaky future in Germany because they have been unable to find vocational training programs to give them the foundations they need to embark on careers in skilled labor.

Representatives from the government, industry and trade unions squared off on Thursday to find solutions for the 35,000 young adults in search of vocational training. The result was a short reprieve for employers, while they scramble to find positions for the waiting thousands by the end of the year. Otherwise, companies may be fined for not offering enough apprenticeships. At least 20,200 traineeships are needed to meet the demand.

“It’s the proclaimed aim of our government to ensure that every school leaver gets an apprenticeship," Education Minister Edelgard Buhlman said after the meeting. "German industry has to react swiftly now. We’ve decided that it will be given another period of grace. But if we don’t see any tangible results in the weeks ahead, we’ll have to have some legislation to punish those who are not willing to offer apprenticeships. This is exactly what Chancellor Gerhard Schröder announced in his government declaration in March, and we’re prepared to push this through, should we not see an improvement soon.”

Industry representatives agreed in the talks to invite "every individual" among the 35,000 high school graduates seeking apprenticeships for an interview. But they insisted they were already doing their part to improve the situation. Only 20 to 40 percent of the young people who had been offered an interview previously had signaled interested, Hans-Eberhard Schleyer of the German Confederation of Skilled Crafts said.

Inflexible youth

The president of the Confederation of German Employers' Association, Dieter Hundt, who refused to take part in the talks, has criticized young people for being too inflexible. He pointed out that nearly 15,000 positions were currently available, and said young people apparently didn't want those jobs. Metal working, textiles and the insurance business still had many vacancies for vocational training, he added. Young people should also be willing to move to another part of the country to get a traineeship, he said.

While it's true that 95 percent of school leavers have found a position over the past year, only 47 percent got an apprenticeship within a company. Though another one-fifth enrolled in training courses, the majority got a job to bridge the time until they could find an apprenticeship.

Companies often complain that apprenticeships are too expensive, particularly given the sluggish German economy. They also blame the educational system for producing school leavers who they say can hardly read or write and are difficult to properly train.

Time for action

German Trade Union Federation head Michael Sommer expressed little sympathy for industry's complaints. But he said he was unhappy with the government, too. "I expect that something will be done now," he said and called on the government to impose fines on companies that don't provide apprenticeships.

Industry has until the end of the year to try to find positions for the school leavers seeking them. Then the issue of financial punishment could become a reality for firms that don't offer traineeships.

“I’m not saying that every firm should be forced to offer apprenticeships," apprentice-in-waiting Jens Rothenberg told Deutsche Welle. "I realize that in the current economic situation it will be extremely hard for very small firms to do this. But the bigger ones should not be left off the hook. And if they don’t want to go the extra mile, they should be fined.”

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