Over recent years, the partial or complete transfer of VET systems has become in- creasingly relevant in international and comparative vocational education and training research (Barabasch and Wolf, 2011; Phillips and Ochs, 2004).
This issue also has an increasingly important international training policy aspect. In the context of high youth unemployment in some industrialised countries on one hand and the widely acknowledged skills gap and labour shortage at intermediate skill level on the other, the question arises of which type of training is most appropriate.
Germany’s training system is increasingly cited in this context, and over the past year, a number of southern European countries have, for example, concluded formal agreements with Germany on importing its dual system of training in an attempt to reduce youth unemployment (BMBF, 2012). Meanwhile, the OECD has recommended that the USA take over aspects of the German system (OECD, 2012).
However, beyond this general debate, the specialist literature pays virtually no attention to the training practices of German companies abroad. While comparative international VET research considers the training systems of selected countries in depth (Rauner and Maclean, 2008; Marhuenda et al., 2015, inter alia) and discusses the pos- sibility of exporting the German dual system in general (Wagner, 2003), it too devotes only peripheral attention to how companies train their foreign workforces. And, finally, there are virtually no reliable empirical data on the transferability of Germany’s dual training system to other countries (Schippers, 2009). Stockmann’s (2013) meta-study of a series of training export projects on behalf of German development cooperation is, in fact, the only research to use recent empirical material and to offer findings relating to the challenges of transfer.
This paper therefore considers the potential for transferring Germany’s “dual” vocational training system to German subsidiaries abroad, specifically in China, India, Japan and the USA. Using the EPRG typology as a theoretical framework, the paper systematises the range of training strategies deployed by German subsidiaries. It analyses the findings of interviews with training officers and Directors of Human Resources in more than 40 German subsidiaries abroad. These interviews show clearly that local factors in the host country exert such a strong influence that it is not possible completely to transfer the German VET system to another country. What is more likely is that an accommodation is reached with local VET structures, local labour market conditions and other socio-cultural features. The findings suggest that policy borrowing in the area of VET is likely to be only partial and will be strongly influenced by the national characteristics of the host country.
German companies in the USA
The USA study involved ten interviews with representatives of German companies in the north-east of the country. These companies operate in sectors including the automotive industry, chemicals and materials processing.
The companies we surveyed do not operate a training model that is comparable with Germany’s initial training system but focus their activities primarily on enabling employees to acquire and update the skills required for specific workplace tasks the conventional concept of training in the USA (Lerman, 2013). This kind of performance-based skills acquisition illustrates clearly that it is impossible to separate initial VET and continuing training in a US context. Only one company (U3) offers discrete and comprehensive initial and continuing training programmes .
Generally, companies prefer to recruit workers who already have wide-ranging work experience or have at least completed full-time occupational training at a Community College. In this context, it should be borne in mind that virtually all US school-leavers have a high-school qualification and that around three quarters go on to continue their education at college (Zirkle and Martin, 2012). Young adults who do not go to college, or who drop out, often go to Community Colleges, which typically offer two-year training programmes. These programmes include no comprehensive workplace-based learning (Lerman, 2013, 113-119).
The responsibility for providing broader vocational education and training is, therefore, delegated to another provider that is funded either by the state or by the fees charged to participants. Task-specific training is then offered in all companies, though primarily as on-the-job training (OJT): So they get OJT, they will get placement at the end of it and they will have a job (Company U4).
The reasons for this model are task specificity and cost, which is regarded as particularly low in this model: It’s too expensive, although skilled workers or master craftsmen are dying out and there is a need of it OJT is faster, less expensive (Company U1). In relation to the funding of vocational training, it is striking that external providers do not generally fund broader skills development programmes, which are widely regarded as being the personal responsibility and at the personal expense of the employee. This, too, is in keeping with American attitudes (Smith and Barabasch, 2012). Several company representatives also added in this context that they tried to recruit workers who already had good qualifications, to keep down induction costs.
The exception to this pattern is the funding of academic study programmes that prepare future departmental heads and managers for their responsibilities. In such cases, the fees are at least partly borne by their company. However, in many cases, the employee is then contractually required to remain with the company for a specific period (e.g. Company U7).
The interview data clearly show a marked divide between companies and vocational schools. The broad theory-based training delivered by schools either precedes or, at the employee’s own initiative, is delivered in parallel with employment. In-company training, by contrast, is designed as practical OJT and not normally certified. There is no standard training for in-company trainers and, frequently, no formal provision at all for trainer training. Some of the companies surveyed (Companies U6 and U8) also reported that they commission external training providers to offer specialised in-house training.
The company meets the full cost of the programme and also develops the curricula for the College training input: the content is, therefore, geared largely to the company’s needs, although some general skills are also addressed. In summary, the US-based Ger- man companies surveyed shared their host country’s typical concern with cost. As a result, most companies offer largely unstructured, uncertified OJT geared solely to narrow, task-specific requirements, reflecting a polycentric strategy of the kind described above and representing a situation in which host-country cultural and institutional fac- tors impede the transfer of HR methods (Heenan and Perlmutter, 1979).