Overall, it can be stated that in March 2004, nearly half of those completing lower secondary school were still being guided by the traditional sequence of compulsory schooling followed by vocational training. However, only a minority were actually still able to follow this sequence of steps. For a proportion of the young people, continuing to attend school following the compulsory schooling period is a response to a lack of opportunities for vocational training in an apprenticeship. However, for others it is a preferred option from the very start. Common to both groups is a strategy of ‘optimizing one’s chances’: by obtaining better general education certificates, they hope to improve their chances of obtaining access to vocational training, whether in school or in an apprenticeship.
The great majority appear to succeed in basically holding to their educational and training goals. What price the young people pay for the flexibility associated with abandoning specific career goals remains an open question. The high proportion of young people who come to terms with the unpopular alternative of entering vocational preparation schemes is a sign of their willingness to adapt to circumstances – the hope being that it will improve their prospects of obtaining an apprenticeship position or that they will at least have ‘something’ for the time being. In some groups of young people (e.g., those of Turkish origin not born in Germany), the proportion of those who are unemployed and will probably remain so for extended periods following a vocational preparation scheme is disturbingly large.
Finally, a group of young persons emerges who are no longer reached by the school and vocational preparation facilities offered. It can be expected here that this group will grow even larger when young people, after two periods in vocational preparation schemes, have still not obtained access to vocational training and then stop trying.
The data suggest that graduates from the German lower secondary school (Hauptschule) represent a highly heterogeneous group as far as aspirations and potential are concerned. Most of them hope to obtain general education and/or vocational training following the compulsory schooling period. Only very few plan to enter unskilled labour immediately after leaving school.
The initial conclusion of the study is that the tripartite educational system and the apprenticeship system do not provide fast access to vocational training and skilled employment, but rather force young people to go through a period of difficult decision-making, with uncertain outcomes, in an intermediate system that is located between compulsory secondary schooling and vocational training.
The second conclusion is that this intermediate system clearly lacks transparency and reliability. The consequence is that particularly those youngsters who have obtained only a low level of general education, who come from immigrant families (particularly those who were not born in Germany) have to master extremely complex trajectories within the intermediate system if they want to find their way into vocational training. And these are the ones who have the highest risk of losing their way in the intermediate system – of losing their way and losing confidence in their ability to achieve. In a labour market in which completing an apprenticeship lasting two or three years is considered the minimum requirement for employment, they have a high risk of becoming marginalized.


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