The glittering success story of the German apprentice scheme is beginning to pale due to funding worries. Lucy Ward reports.
Cracks are appearing in a successful apprenticeship system which has already helped Germany outstrip Britain's national learning targets for the year 2000, a new report reveals.
German employers are cutting back on the training places they have traditionally provided at their own expense, claiming costs are too high at a time of recession.
The 12 per cent reduction in the number of places on offer in 1993-4 fuels concern for the future of the British Modern Apprenticeship scheme if current cash subsidies are reduced or phased out.
Inspectors from the Further Education Funding Council, who examined the German system of vocational education and training, found multinational companies in particular were reluctant to fund training when they knew other countries would contribute cash towards it.
In Britain, where money is offered to employers towards the cost of apprenticeships, early studies have shown firms even now have reservations about funding.
The Labour party has suggested the take-up of Modern Apprenticeships - totalling 4,000 so far in the first full year of the scheme - is far lower than the Government had hoped.
Despite cuts in training in Germany, the FEFC report still finds the country produces technicians and craftspeople who are both highly skilled and well-respected.
The report concludes that in comparison Britain has "some way to go in creating a vocationally well-qualified workforce". The study shows that Germany has maintained a training-orientated culture where firms are driven by a sense of social responsibility.
The inspection team focused primarily on the dual apprenticeship system where employer-provided training is combined with part-time education at vocational schools.
Young people, obliged in Germany to continue in full-time education or training until the age of 18, take up an apprenticeship in one of 300 occupations at the age of 16, and train for an average of three years.
Employers are not obliged to train and do so entirely at their own expense, but a fifth of the country's 2.5 million companies choose to offer apprenticeships.
Joe Stanier, an FEFC senior inspector and author of the report, stressed the prestige afforded to technicians and craftspeople in Germany. "A meister builder is respected in a way that someone who runs a British building firm is not."
The tradition of apprenticeship, dating back to the time of the medieval guilds in both countries, had been lost in Britain but sustained in Germany, spurred on in recent decades by the drive to recover economically after the Second World War, he added.
But all the report adds all is not rosy in the German construction industry where some companies have taken on cheaper, foreign labour, reducing demand for highly-trained but costly German workers.
Germany has already outstripped by a third Britain's millenium target of 60 per cent of young people achieving NVQ level 3 or equivalent by the age of 21.
However, the reduction in training places is coinciding with a rise in the number of German 16-year-olds, leading to a growth in the number of full-time students in vocational schools and beginning to shift the burden of training costs from employers to taxpayers.