At the end of April, when my learning mobility as a job shadow at the Alois Senefelder Vocational Education Centre in Munich started, the snow suddenly came down there; and almost all the cherry and grape blossoms froze.
I work at Tartu Art School as the coordinator of information and traineeships. During the learning mobility, I wanted to learn to know the dual vocational training system of Germany, to visit lessons and companies. I wanted to find out how the cooperation between the school and the companies takes place; what the students, the teachers, and the companies think of the dual system; and how the public relations of such a big school are managed. I wanted to have a closer look at and to experience how the German education system copes with the refugees. I wanted to know how people live and what they think about.
I was a job shadow for Dirk Hund, who works as a photography teacher and coordinator of European relations at the Senefelder school. The Senefelder Vocational Education Centre in Munich comprises a vocational secondary school and its next level – the master school. At the vocational school, it is possible to receive training to become a printing machine operator, a photographer, or a media designer; and students are only admitted there if they already have a job as an apprentice at a company. Studies at the master school can be started after graduating from the (vocational) secondary school; and one can study to become a photographer, a bookbinder, or a packaging designer. As of April, there were 1,200 students at the vocational education centre. Just like in Estonia, the number of students is decreasing. During the past 10 years, the number of students has dropped by 300 people, give or take.
How fast-paced that week as a job shadow would be was something I realised already at the Munich airport, where Dirk Hund came to meet me. A warm handshake – and off he rushed ahead of me. It was a good thing that he was wearing an orange coat – that way, I did not lose him in the crowd. No idea how I got from the airport to the place where I stayed the night – my eyes were on the back of the coat the whole time; and I tried my best to keep up. The whole week proceeded at the same pace. In the lessons, the pace was a bit calmer; but, on the other hand, the greater mental intensity made up for that. Every minute was used up efficiently. The German punctuality, orderliness, and efficient use of time are not just myths. Once the lesson started, Dirk paid no attention to me anymore. During working hours, people work; and the job shadow has to keep in mind that they will get answers to their questions afterwards.
It was extremely enjoyable to observe the cooperation of Dirk and his students. No one was late; no one was absent from school; state-of-the-art technology and professional studios were at the students’ disposal. Only a student having an apprenticeship contract is admitted to the school. The contract is signed between the chamber of commerce and industry, the company, and the student. With that contract, it is ensured that the student will go to school two days a week in order to receive theoretical training and will learn the practical work skills at the company on three days a week.
The breaks between lessons were short. I barely managed to get my coffee in the teachers’ lounge and to start talking with someone when it was already time to break off the conversation. It was in the street or in the corridor, heading from one place to another, or over lunch that I was able to talk to the staff members. I inquired how the teacher is supported if there are more than 30 students in a classroom and quite a few problematic ones among them. No support whatsoever. The teacher must learn to teach. The teachers are at a crossroads: the old ways no longer work. The old tools no longer work; and the teachers do not know how to teach in a new way yet. The employers argue that how come the students can manage on their own at work, but at your school they can’t for some reason!?
If there are fewer than 21 students in a lesson, the classes will be combined. In the near future, half of the students will be refugees; and the other half will be of the local origin. The teachers are at the forefront – they are the ones who have to accomplish the integration work. Language skills are the biggest problem area. For example, while a photographer does not have to know the local language very well, a care worker does, as their work is so intimate. The issue of language learning is the most burning issue for certain vocational education specialities in Germany.
With the students, I chatted after lessons, on our way to the tram stop. Then the benefits of the German dual system, as seen from the perspective of students, were revealed – in addition to the fact that the dual vocational training is a support pillar of the economy of Germany. In the students’ opinion, it is great to go to school, because other young people are there! Learning helps you get out of a rut. Is it harder at school or at work? At work, of course. In addition, the students who worked outside Munich were glad that they could come to the city for a few days.
The companies and the school do not communicate much with each other. The curriculum of vocational secondary education has been determined by the chamber of commerce and industry. The school and the company look at it and observe meticulously if the things that are supposed to be done have been done and how much has got done.
For a company visit, I chose to go to the photo studio. According to the employer, supervising a young person saves you from a rut! Often, there is a sense of mission involved; and a position of an Azubi or an apprentice is offered by those employers who have completed such a training themselves. In addition, it is beneficial for a company to hire an apprentice, because it means cheap labour for them. During the first year, the company has to pay the student a minimum of 200 euros; the second year – 200-300; and the third year – 300-400 euros. Nevertheless, an apprentice is hired by those who have customers – because they have money and are able to pay. An interesting dilemma between money and speciality emerged – often, the speciality is chosen based on the salary paid to the apprentice. If the salary offered is the minimum – 200 euros – then people do not apply for the jobs within that speciality. However, if the salary of an apprentice within a speciality or, for example, in big companies, is 600-700 euros, then those are the companies that the students will apply to – they get the contract and come to school. A German youth has to be hired as an apprentice, or else they will not be admitted to a vocational school!
The companies have realised that the students are their future. If a company offers proper training, the company itself will end up being successful. The newspapers and the social media are full of job advertisements targeted at apprentices; listing the work and vacation time, the number of days to be worked per week, what the salary is like, how many supervisors / contact persons the Azubi will have. It is strongly emphasised that they will be there for the apprentice, by their side! Hmm, for a moment I stopped to think about the teacher who has more than 30 students per class...
One company visit failed; and thanks to that, I was able to sit down with Dirk for an hour at a café. Dirk studies social work at university; and he no longer has much time to devote to the work of the coordinator of European relations. His younger colleagues do not wish to take it over, because there is too much work involved. It is incomprehensible to Dirk – after all, they are young and full of energy! We talked about older and younger teachers – why the young teachers are not willing to work as hard as the older ones these days. Dirk feels that there is no one he could pass his work on to – specifically the volunteer work.
Since managing public relations constitutes part of my job, in addition to coordinating traineeships, I familiarised myself more in-depth with the information and outreach activities of the Senefelder school. The website of their school has a unique setup. It has been divided into two parts. The subpage dedicated to vocational secondary education is matter-of-fact and grey – they do not deal with finding students; a student who has an apprenticeship contract finds them. The subpage of the master school, which can be entered on the basis of secondary education, promotes itself, is inviting and colourful – they have to find their learners themselves. The two subpages are completely different, depending on whether they have to be attractive or not.
Thanks to my learning mobility, I got a very good overview of the German dual vocational training system from the perspectives of the company, the student, and the teacher. Germans (and also Austrians and the Swiss) are proud of the dual vocational training. And with good reason – the economy is thriving; and the system regulates itself. If the young person has a job, they will also receive training at school. If they do not have a job, they will not be admitted to school either. Simple. If some speciality is not able to attract any customers and the company is not able to pay proper apprentice salary, that speciality will go extinct. A simple need-based process.
Apart from simplicity and Ordnung, the learning mobility taught me that it is the people and the human relations that matter most. Especially as a job shadow. If you do not reach the person, observing their work will also remain a superficial activity. It depends on relationships whether different aspects related to education, refugees, the young and the old, training and economic activity will reveal themselves to you. A learning mobility is also a little bit like looking into the future, at least for someone from the periphery of Europe. The processes that are active in the core will reach us as well. Even to the point of a snowfall at the end of April increasing the price of wine in the following years. You also learn new things. In the portrait photo lesson, I learnt how to get a butterfly-shaped shadow under the nose in the photos, the way Marlene Dietrich has in her glamour photographs.
Many thanks to Ave Leek, who manages the learning mobilities at Tartu Art School!
Piret Paluteder is a Placement Coordinator at the Tartu Art School