Germany’s dual system of apprenticeship and vocational school training is known by many but not by all, including many immigrant entrepreneurs who don’t participate in the system. That’s now changing.
A tooth impression lies in front of Maike Skopin. The aspiring dental technician measures the size of the crown. She has just passed her final exam.
Skopin liked her training at a dental laboratory in Cologne. "I had to do not only the model, like all trainees, but everything," she says. "And I was also able to make contacts with dentists."
Her boss Aris Kododimos intends to hire. The young master dental technician of Greek origin likes to train people and also benefit from their training as well. He has meanwhile hired his third apprentice.
Low immigrant participation
But Kododimos belongs to a small minority of business people with this view. Less than 25 percent of all German companies offer vocational training today, according to the latest figures from the Federal Institute of Vocational Training. That's bad enough but the percentage is even lower - 14 percent - with companies run by immigrants.
The combination of apprenticeship and vocational school training is unknown in many countries. And for the most part, first-generation immigrants in Germany haven't grown through the system, according to Özgur Nalcacioglu. He is in charge of the coordination office for the KAUSA vocational training program for immigrants, which is part of the "Jobstarter" program funded by the Federal Ministry of Education.
KAUSA was established with the aim of winning over more companies with immigrant roots to offer training and more young people from immigrant families to pursue vocational training. Since its launch, the program has acquired nearly 9,000 training positions, the majority of them with businesses that have agreed to offer training for the first time.
In the past, KAUSA staff went door to door to drink tea with company owners and convince them of the benefits of having apprentices. Since October 2013, the program operates service offices in six large cities, with more on the way.
Companies that agree to accept apprentices but don't know exactly how to provide the training can receive advice and support at the service offices. The offices will also accompany businesses that need to meet with officials from the local chamber of trades and industry or chamber of commerce. Companies typically need first to pass a suitability examination to avoid making any arbitrary demands during the training. Special preparation courses are available.
According to the coordination office, about 800 immigrant entrepreneurs have passed the examination. One of them is Sinan Genc, a car dealer from Bremen. He doubts he would have ever passed the test without the support of his advisors, he says, because of the difficult material and German language.
"We have been able to raise the awareness of course providers for the special needs of the target group involving issues such as flexibility, German as a second language and intercultural understanding," says Nalcacioglu.
Broadening the scope
Kododimos acquired his professional qualification in Germany and was able to avoid the experience of many first-generation immigrants. But he still chose to take advantage of the KAUSA service. The Cologne office helped him find his first apprentice.
But things have changed: Initially, the training places were scarce, now the apprenticeship applicants are. "We have sufficient contacts to immigrant organizations, youth immigrant services and schools," says Nalcacioglu.
Demographic change has something good. Companies are now willing to consider applicants whom they otherwise would pass up, according to Nalcacioglu. "We need to see which company is prepared to accept a lower-performing young person," he says. "It is always an advantage when a company has training experience and can motivate young people and support them because social problems exist in many cases."
Offering a future
Large companies can cope with setbacks much easier than smaller ones. "Still, there are plenty of companies that have few employees but say they want to serve as a role model and give young people a future," Nalcacioglu explains.
Should immigrant apprentices only be trained in companies owned and run by immigrants? No, but sometimes it makes sense, according to Nalcacioglu. "The question is always: What is required?" Sometimes native language skills are necessary because the company has an ethnic market niche. "We also have companies that seek youth without an immigrant background because they supposedly have a better command of the German language. But that is up to our local colleagues to decide," he says.