Based on the specific situation in the dual system of Germany, I want to suggest a research methodology that might help to enlighten VET trainers particular interrelation with the organisational context in the company and lead to policy answers that are more deeply rooted in trainers’ actual practice.
Workplace trainers in the dual system of initial vocational education and training
My research addresses the situation of workplace trainers in a very specific context: company-based training of apprentices as part of the VET system in Germany (as well as Austria and Switzerland) is organised according to clear legal regulations.
In the course of the 20th century, practices of vocational training and education across different industrial sectors were brought together into a VET system – that is known as the “dual system” - and were codified in the respective national Vocational Training Acts. Due to this Act, initial training is specified by training regulations, thus ensuring that uniform standards of training are met throughout the country. Tailoring vocational training to recognised skilled occupations (Berufsprinzip) is the conceptual basis.
Within the dual system, state-run part-time vocational schools on the one side and companies (public and private) on the other share a joint educational responsibility. Trainees / apprentices spend one or two days a week in vocational school and three to four days in their company. The company-based element of vocational training in the dual system covers about 30 hours a week. It is workplace training in smaller firms on the one hand and training in workshops/departments as well as at the workplace in larger enterprises on the other.
Any company carrying out training and giving a contract to a trainee has at least one employee who is the designated responsible trainer (Ausbilder) and has proven his or her aptitude to take over this task by providing a formal trainer qualification. Certified trainers in the dual system – apart from being personally eligible and skilled / formally qualified in their occupation – have passed an examination as defined in the respective national trainer aptitude regulation3 or an examination for a master craftsman's diploma. The legally responsible trainers in craftsman's businesses must be master craftsmen. Outside the crafts, any skilled worker meeting the above mentioned criteria and holding the trainer certificate is acceptable. The employer registers this person in the chamber, and in small enterprises this is often the owner him- or herself.
In practice however, it rarely is the officially designated trainer that actually carries out the various tasks connected to training young people for an occupation. Usually a wider group of employees is involved, some holding a trainer certificate and many not. In 2006 roundly 756.000 trainers in Germany i.e. were officially registered by the chambers as respective contact person of the company (BIBB 2009, p. 186). It is generally estimated that about seven times as many employees are actually involved in activities of initial vocational education and training (Schmidt-Hackenberg et al. 1999, p. 12).
For the purpose of this paper “workplace trainer” is thus used as an umbrella term for all employees in companies asked to carry out training for apprentices on various levels – a very heterogeneous group from part-time to full-time trainers involved in initial vocational education and training.
Training as a function
3 In Germany this is the “Ausbildereignungsverordnung” (AEVO), in Austria and Switzerland similar regulations exist.