“Made in Germany” and how Quality is embedded in the Vocational Training System

For many people all over the world, “Made in Germany” stands for high efficiency work leading to safe, precision-made, high-tech, reliable, and long-lasting, but also expensive and not-always-customer-focused products.

We owe the slogan to the British who, at the end of the 19th century, forced foreign producers to label their products with the country of origin. The idea was to make the Brits “buy British.” The campaign backfired and the label “Made in Germany” ultimately developed into a sign of superior quality (Deutsche Welle 2012). Many also associate this tagline with loyalty and trustworthiness, although we will see how the recent scandals involving major players in the banking and automotive industries—the Diesel emissions scandal, including unethical emissions tests—will harm the “hitherto good” (some might also say: sometimes overrated) image of German products in the long run.

How come German products are (overall) of superior quality? In task-oriented Germany, expertise is greatly valued, and many, without even reflecting on it, strive for (or suffer from) perfectionism. When you deal with a German, expect to be speaking to an expert in his or her field. According to the data published by the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit 2018a) as of September 2017, about 62 percent of all people in an employment relationship subject to social insurance contribution had a professional qualification (mit anerkanntem Berufsabschluss) and approximately 16 percent were academics (mit akademischem Berufsabschluss).

“Handwerk hat goldenen Boden” (A trade in hand finds gold in every land).

And, how do people typically become experts in their fields? A very common start to a German’s career path, especially when you like to work in trade, is to undertake a dual vocational education and training (Duale Berufsausbildung). Depending on the recognized trade you want to pursue (anerkannter Ausbildungsberuf), the standard training duration is two to three years. Currently, you can choose between 326 trades (Statista GmbH 2018a), such as Shop Assistant (Verkäufer/-in), Management Assistant in Wholesale and Foreign Trade (Kaufmann/-frau für Groß- und Außenhandel), Metal Cutting Mechanic (Zerspanungsmechaniker/-in), Alterations Tailor (Änderungsschneider/-in), or Plant Mechanic for HVAC and Sanitary Engineering (Anlagenmechaniker/-in für Sanitär-, Heizungs- und Klimatechnik). In some trades, trainees also need to choose between various specializations (e.g., the aforementioned mechanic would need to pursue a career in air-conditioning, heating, or renewable energies).

The minimum entry qualification for any apprenticeship is the degree that you get when you have successfully completed nine years of schooling at a so-called Mittelschule (which could be translated as middle school). For some trades, employers prefer to hire teenagers who completed 10 years of schooling, and in some cases, even Abitur (which you can reach after 12–13 years of schooling at a secondary school) is the required entry ticket for pursuing your dream job. Depending on which of the 16 federal states you live in, school attendance is compulsory for up to 12 years (including trade school as described next) (Bax n.d.). The literacy rate in Germany is commonly said to have been 99 percent for years; however, a study conducted by the University of Hamburg in 2011 claimed that around 7.5 million people in Germany could not read and write properly (they are considered functional illiterates), while 2.3 million people between the ages of 18 and 64 years were completely illiterate. According to the university’s findings, they can write their names and individual words, but can neither read nor understand whole sentences (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung n.d.).

For the theoretical part of the education, the trainees need to attend Berufsschule.

Every company that takes on trainees needs to appoint at least one certified in-house education officer/mentor (Ausbildungsbeauftragte/-r) who is not only a subject-matter expert, but is also pedagogically trained and well-versed with the German Youth Employment Protection Act. This person needs to ensure that the training is organized in accordance with the criteria catalog of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (there is one catalog for each of the specific trades), and that, for the theoretical part of the education, the trainees (Auszubildende, short: Azubis) are enrolled at the nearest trade school (Berufsschule) that offers specialized programs for the specific trade. I, for example, spent about 12 weeks a year at a trade school in Nuremberg. The final exams consisted of a highly standardized written test (multiple-choice questions) and a colloquium conducted by, if I remember correctly, two industry experts and one representative of the Chamber. The committee also went through the record book that I, like every apprentice in Germany, had to maintain for the duration of my apprenticeship. Trainees need to follow the daily protocol of noting down what they have done on each day of their apprenticeship.

If you want to launch a business, for many professions, a so-called Master Craftsman or Master Tradesman Certificate (Meisterbrief) is mandatory (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie 2018b). For example, pastry chefs, butchers, and carpenters need to enroll in one of the more than 3,000 German master schools, where they are to enhance their theoretical and practical knowledge and also need to attend courses in business administration, law, and teaching methods and theory (so that they can train apprentices). The cost for such schooling varies from 4,000 to 9,000 euros (depending on the craft or trade) and on top of additional expenses like travel costs, about 750 euros are to be borne for examination fees as well. The pay-off can normally be enjoyed after four or five years (Deutsche Handwerks Zeitung 2016). I doff my hat to my hairdresser who invested this kind of time and money to be allowed to operate her salon. I have followed her career and enjoyed her craftsmanship for some 15 years now.

How may I help you?

You want to develop your business in Germany? Then you may also face some very common pitfalls; the good news is that they can be quite easily avoided! You should hire me if you want to gain a better understanding of your opportunities, and you value a local’s help in finding buyers and potential business partners. Learn more about some past projects and what I can do for you: You’ll make it in Germany!

You are (only) interested in learning more about Germany?

The focus of the book is to help readers understand how certain concepts and values influence the way Germans like to do business.
Doing Business in Germany: A Concise Guide to Understanding Germans and Their Business Practices

Above are snippets from my new book. You want to learn more about Germany? Then try to grab a copy of Doing Business in Germany : A Concise Guide to Understanding Germans and Their Business Practices. Either ask your bookseller to order a copy for you (might take a few days, though), or look out for it on amazon.