Participation in Continuing Education and Training in Germany: An Analysis
Labour market researcher Dr Thomas Kruppe’s current study1 examines the relationships between qualifications, skills and personality traits. In this interview, he emphasizes that continuing education and training activities, in particular those leading to recognized qualifications, can improve a person’s chance of employment and higher incomes in the long term.
Mr Kruppe, you are an expert in the field of employment and its promotion. What role does the topic of continuing education and training (CET) play in this context and what does it mean to you?
Kruppe: In my research I am mainly concerned with the effects of active labour market policies on employment and unemployment. The focus is on those persons receiving support from unemployment insurance. For example, I am looking at whether it is worthwhile for unemployed people to participate in measures funded by the employment agency. This can be in the form of a placement voucher, but also continuing education and training. Education and training play a central role in the German labour market. Vocational qualifications were an important element for successful integration into the labour market. And since some of what people learn loses relevance over time and people want to develop professionally, continuing education and training – especially continuing vocational training – plays an important role. An example would be short computer courses to refresh office skills, language courses or a complete training course to become a specialist in care for the elderly.
One of your latest publications deals with participation in continuing education and training in Germany. What was the occasion for this study?
Kruppe: People’s biographies are shaped by a large number of decisions. Individual educational and CET decisions play a particularly important role in the world of work today. Educational decisions lay the foundation at an early age and strongly influence the future course of people’s lives. In Germany, school children (or their parents, teachers etc. for or with them) have to decide on a type of secondary school at the end of primary school. A few years later, they decide either to go into training, higher education or directly into the labour market. After initial education and training comes continuing education and training. This is because investment and decisions on education and training are also made in middle age and old age. Part of this is supported by active labour market policies, especially in the case of unemployment. But that is only part of the story. And in order to understand this part better, we have mapped an overview of CET-participation in Germany. We were also able to analyse correlations between qualifications, competencies and personality traits. This was possible because the data source – the starting cohort six of the National Education Panel Study (NEPS) – also contains information on these aspects.
In your study you distinguish between formal, non-formal and informal CET. Is there a clear trend with these forms regarding the number of participants or in terms of personal characteristics?
Kruppe: Formal CET includes all investment in education and training after the end of initial training with the aim of obtaining formal qualifications or certified, generally recognised qualifications. This includes vocational training, courses of study leading to vocational qualifications and the subsequent acquisition of school leaving certificates. Since such continuing education and training courses take a correspondingly long period of time to complete, participation rates are relatively low and decrease with age. While eight per cent of the group of people up to 34 years of age stated that they received formal CET last year, for people over 55 years of age this form is no longer that relevant, with only two per cent having done so. Overall, women participate slightly more often than men.
Non-formal CET takes place in courses or training courses: there is a certain degree of organisation. However, unlike formal CET, they do not lead to generally recognised degrees or qualifications. On average, 40 per cent per year participate in at least one such continuing education and training course. Again, the participation of women is slightly higher than that of men, but age hardly has an effect here. And if you look at a seven-year period, almost everyone (97 per cent) has actually had at least one non-formal training course.
Informal CET includes all further education activities that do not take place in organised courses and do not lead to a certificate, e.g. attending congresses and lectures or reading specialist literature. The proportion of those who use informal channels for continuing education and training is almost two-thirds per year. In contrast to formal and non-formal CET, more men than women make use of this form of continuing education and training. Here, too, participation decreases only slightly with increasing age.
Not every type of continuing education and training is equally relevant for every person or group of people. For example, formal CET is inappropriate for a person who wants to acquire new knowledge but not a completely new profession. Is there a form of continuing education and training which you think should receive particular support or which has a prominent role in promoting employment?
Kruppe: Continuing education and training in and of itself is especially important in the labour market. The labour market is becoming more technology driven, for example through the use of digital technologies. Individual activities, but also entire job profiles are being transformed. Continuing education and training is indispensable. Especially unemployed people and those threatened by unemployment whose qualifications are no longer in demand on the labour market need support from labour market policy. However, what exactly this involves in each individual case can only be decided in each individual case. That is why providing advice plays an important role.
In your study, you pay particular attention to the low-skilled. Why does this group of people deserve special attention in the field of continuing education and training?
Kruppe: Formal education and training, i.e. a vocational qualification or university degree, is very important in the German labour market. People without such qualifications, those with low formal qualifications, have a particularly difficult time in the labour market. This is where the subsequent acquisition of recognised vocational qualifications within the framework of continuing education and training can help. If you compare the subsequent employment history of unemployed people who have taken part in continuing education and training with that of other unemployed people who differ from the former only in that they have not taken part in continuing education and training, clear effects are apparent. In particular, continuing education and training leading to the acquisition of qualifications in an occupation requiring recognised training increases the chances of both employment and higher income in the long term. At the same time, however, it is also important that there is a good fit between the person and the continuing education and training; in this case the desired occupation. That is why continuing education and training advice also plays an important role.
„Especially unemployed people and those threatened by unemployment whose qualifications are no longer in demand on the labour market need support from labour market policy.“
Is there another group of people who should be the particular focus of continuing education and training measures?
Kruppe: There is a clear difference between the employed and the non-employed in participation in continuing education and training. The reasons for this include the fact that doing courses, training courses and informal CET is often linked to a person’s actual job. For this reason, continuing education and training is often also financed by employers. However, we also know that part-time employees participate in continuing education and training much less frequently. There are several reasons for this. Among other things, it is less profitable for a company to invest in the continuing education and training of employees whose increased productivity is only used a few hours a day. Care responsibilities, as in the case of school-age children or people in need of care in the household, can also make it difficult to participate in continuing education and training. Support should therefore focus in particular on those groups with below-average participation in continuing education and training. The support should also cover expenses such as childcare.
In the above-mentioned publication, you not only look at participation in continuing education and training in general, in this context you deal in particular with the question of how this is related to competencies, formal qualifications and personality traits. What is the difference between competencies and qualifications and why is this distinction important in the context of participation in continuing education and training?
Kruppe: In the National Education Panel Study that we looked at, the competencies of respondents were recorded in the areas of reading, mathematics, science, information technology and communication technology. We analysed how these are distributed among different groups of people, taking into account, among other things, whether or not they had vocational qualifications. Simply put, one might assume that a lack of competencies is the reason why people do not have qualifications. It has been shown that those with low formal qualifications differ significantly from those with formal qualifications in terms of their competencies. Interestingly, however, it also shows that a rather significant proportion of people who do not have vocational qualifications have average, high or even the highest levels of basic competencies. At the same time, about one-third of those with formal qualifications have low or even the lowest levels in basic competencies. This is important for participation in continuing education and training in two ways. On the one hand, there is a significant proportion of people who have sufficient competencies to successfully complete continuing education and training. On the other hand, we have to recognise that a lack of competencies may be a barrier to participation in continuing education and training. Increased support to acquire basic competencies could lower this hurdle.
„In particular, continuing education and training leading to the acquisition of qualifications in an occupation requiring recognised training increases the chances of both employment and higher income in the long term.“