What is Germany getting right?

(cross posted from my Gartner blog)
Andrew McAfee recently posted on the dire state of graduate employment in the US. His work on the impact of technology on employment is well worth a read, I reviewed his book here.

Here in little old Germany, the graduate job market is rather different.

Unemployment among graduates in Germany one year after leaving their institution is at 4% and below, compared with a seasonally adjusted national unemployment rate of 5.9%, according to a survey by HIS-HF, a higher education statistics agency.

So what is Germany doing right? Despite Euro doom and gloom talk, the German economic fundamentals are in relatively good shape. Exports are up again, and domestic spending is less anemic than before. But the answer isn’t just in the short term economy.

There is a broader HR and societal issue at play too. As a foreigner living in Germany, I have been stuck by the strength of the apprentence culture here, and not just in the traditional trades. It seems to me that the universities and industry work more closely together than in many other countries to produce the sort of graduates that the labour market requires, while still giving space for studying those things that make you a better human being. It is as if there is some sort of social contract between corporations, academia and society. Most organizations have strong graduate recruitment and development programmes. Interns are paid a reasonable cost of living sum, and intern work is aligned with university study. When I worked for that large German software company I co-supervised a masters student, who worked part-time in my department. We then hired her, and she is now a very successful consultant. This model is common throughout German industry, with an especially strong tradition in manufacturing. Have a look at Porsche, for instance.

Building a sustainable workforce requires corporations to focus on the long term development of the workforce, and not merely short termist hiring. German companies often have someone with the job title HR Marketing, and their role is to build a long term employment brand to attract candidates early. Check out the work of Armin Trost for more about this.

It also requires universities to develop programmes that align with the longer term needs of business and society. While US universities dominate the rankings, I’m not sure that they have everything right, if the recent reports from Florida are anything to go by.


5 thoughts on “What is Germany getting right?”

  1. Hi Thomas,

    I totally agree with what you say about the social contract “glue”. There is a certain pressure on every business leader to educate and do his/her bit with regards to apprenticeships or placements. One group that should probably also be mentioned as an important partner are the Chambers of Commerce in each region (Industrie- und Handelskammer)

    Over here in the UK (where I live now), it makes me sad to read reports about so-called apprenticeships and the havoc that supermarket chains play with it. Read this, for example: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/oct/27/jobs-rebranded-apprenticeships-government-report

    Back in 1990, the international media company in Germany that employed me as “Datenverarbeitungskaufmann” (literally meaning “data processing sales clerk”, but actually more like an IT programmer) also employed mechanics and engineers from different schooling background and academic levels of ability. This plant with its 2000 employees took on about 10-15 apprentices every year. About half of them were given the chance to stay on after the course had finished. Although I moved on to uni after my 3 years, it was good to have a completed apprenticeship to fall back on in case I would be a failure at academia (I wasn’t).

    Going all the way back to the guilds of the medieval ages, I think Germany has done well to keep its pride in craftsmanship alive. At the same time, over the centuries it has successfully managed to extend the reach into modern trades such as engineering, banking, insurance and IT.

    Thanks for this post!


  2. for one of the “Ivy League” universities like Harvard or Yale. Although the Americans have no academic restrictions like the German “numerus clauses” on certain fields, there are in its place financial obstacles. The cost of education itself acts as a filter, excluding those who cannot afford it. Whilst parents and students can obtain financial aid itself, economics often determines whether higher education is an option after high-school or not.

  3. Awesome blog! Do you have any helpful hints for aspiring writers?
    I’m planning to start my own blog soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
    Would you recommend starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option?
    There are so many choices out there that I’m completely overwhelmed .. Any suggestions? Kudos!

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