Learning from Germany’s Apprenticeship Model

For Maine businesses struggling to attract employees in a challenging labor market, lessons from Germany could offer a road map for success with a stronger focus on apprenticeships.

Through the Eastern Trade Council (ETC), MITC organized a mission to Germany in 2019 focused on the German apprenticeship model as a workforce development tool.

 “A key component of Germany’s economic model is their dual system for vocational education and training, and we wanted to see that program up close to learn whether parts of it might work for Maine,” said Zeynep Turk, MITC Senior Trade Specialist and ETC Board Chair, who led the mission.

In Germany, students are introduced to work opportunities in elementary school. In high school, they choose between a college track and one focused on apprenticeship that combines education and on-the-job training.

Denise Garland, Deputy Commissioner at Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, and Joan Dolan, Director of Apprenticeship & Strategic Partnerships at the Maine Department of Labor, represented Maine on the mission.

“They start introducing kids to work opportunities in third grade,” said Dolan. “Everybody goes out and does a job shadow at a workplace, and the employers clamber over themselves to attract the kids.” 

This early emphasis on career creates a mindset where German students are thinking about their future in the workforce much earlier than in the United States. By 10th grade, students in Germany choose whether to pursue higher education or enter the Dual VET (Vocational Education and Training) program where they are paid to work and continue their studies. Over 50 percent of Germans enter Dual VET, choosing from over 300 professional trades, as a route into employment.

“After their apprenticeship program, many go directly into the labor market and some stay with the companies where they apprenticed,” Dolan explained. “The companies pay the training allowance. While less than what they pay an entry-level worker, it is still an investment, and companies must pay into the apprenticeship system.” 

German companies see those costs as the price of entry to attract workers, according to Garland, who was particularly impressed by apprentices they met working in the hotel industry.

“Some were working in event management, others were in accounting or the offices, and they were proud to be on that path,” noted Garland.

Tourism is Maine’s top economic driver, and Garland said moving apprenticeship beyond traditional trades and into the hospitality industry, as well as other growing sectors like healthcare and information technology, are important next steps for workforce development in the state.

Dolan agreed, noting that while apprenticeship opportunities are growing in Maine, the average age of an apprentice is 30.

“We’re starting too late to engage people in productive work in the workforce,” added Dolan. “We need to value the trades as much as we value the college degree.”

MITC board member Adrian Kendall has served as Honorary Consul of The Federal Republic of Germany since 2007.

“At the end of the day, the German model is founded on collaboration,” said Kendall. “Collaboration between employers, educational institutions, and government – if all of those work together you can have an extremely successful model, creating a pathway for students who want to join the workforce and have access to good jobs and salaries.”

According to Dolan, the process for Maine employers to pursue apprenticeship programs has been streamlined. Her office is working with industry associations with direct links to companies like the Associated Builders and Contractors of Maine and hopes to expand those partnerships to encourage more companies to consider apprenticeship.

Maine Apprenticeship Facts

  • 119 active sponsors of apprenticeship
  • 190 employers providing on-the-job learning
  • 1,116 apprentices
  • 30.04 average age of active apprentices in Maine
  • $17.47 average starting wage

Apprenticeship programs in Maine range from 2,000 hours (1 year) to 10,000 hours (5 years) with an average of 6,000 hours or 3 years. In addition to the mentored, on-the-job learning, apprentices must complete at least 144 hours of classroom training for each year of their apprenticeship program.

Source: Maine Department of Labor – 9/30/21




Eileen Miazga
Apprenticeship Program Specialist, Maine Department of Labor