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Recession triggers record training gap


Record numbers of school-leavers who have taken the vocational route are leaving school without an apprenticeship to go to.

The number of apprenticeships on offer is 6 per cent down on last year, leaving one in five school-leavers without a training place. The training gap calls into question the validity of Germany's acclaimed dual system of academic and vocational pathways during an economic downturn.

Teenagers are being forced on to the dole - a situation unprecedented in post-war Germany, with among the lowest levels of youth unemployment in the EU - or into already understaffed vocational schools which provide longer, more theoretical training without work experience.

The problem is particularly acute in the east where 12 youngsters are chasing every available apprenticeship. Just 730 training posts were available for more than 8,000 applicants in the six eastern states this year, causing mass flight to western Germany.

Despite the crisis, Germany's president Johannes Rau believes the dual system will survive. He called on firms to "fulfil their responsibility to society" by offering more training places. "Our problem is that there are too few apprenticeships and the number is being reduced even more," Dr Rau said.

However, some sectors say they are having difficulties filling training posts. Out of favour with young people are jobs that have often been done by immigrants in the past - butchery, railway track maintenance, agricultural and construction work.

Juergen Placzek, of the Association of Construction Industries in North Rhine Westphalia, says only half the 1,300 available apprenticeships have been filled. "Youngsters these days do not want to get their hands dirty," he said.

Least popular are apprenticeships in road repair and canal digging but less arduous jobs are also hard to fill. Dream jobs are in the cushier service industry - anything in media and information technology, office jobs and hairdressing.

School-leavers are shunning the more theoretical training courses and sectors that are in a slump. "You don't commit yourself to a skill which may not be needed in the future," said Hans-Peter Neumann, 17, from Berlin, who is still without a training place.

Politicians say companies must do more to make training attractive by providing trainees with opportunities for advancement in a changing job market.

The construction industry believes some engineering training would improve prospects, and give youngsters the opportunity to upgrade their qualifications and eventually become engineers.

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