What jobs require college education

On both sides of the Atlantic, experts predict that the employment opportunities of unskilled workers will continue to deteriorate and that there will be increasing bottlenecks, especially in the area of ​​medium-sized technical and commercial activities; on the other hand, the number of highly qualified people with a university degree will soon exceed the demand for relevant qualifications. Most of the governments of the leading industrial nations have recognized the educational challenges that this entails.

The dual system: model for the USA?

In the United States, there are no mandatory training standards or regulated initial vocational training below the college level. But the new administration under President Bill Clinton has announced initiatives to build a national system of apprenticeships based on the German model. In some states, trials are already underway at the local level.

At the same time, critical voices are increasing in the Federal Republic of Germany warning of a gradual drying up and erosion of the dual system, which is widely regarded as exemplary, in particular as a result of increasing university attendance (a comprehensive and nationally uniform legal basis for the dual system - in-company and school-based vocational training - was provided by the Vocational Training Act of Created August 14, 1969). In fact, in 1990 the number of students at German colleges and universities exceeded that of trainees in a company apprenticeship for the first time.

While the national average in 1985 was just under 1.4 applicants for a registered training position, in 1991 the ratio had turned into 1.7 positions per applicant. If there are no effective measures that make dual vocational training more attractive again in the opinion of young people and parents, there is reason to fear that the trend towards high school graduation with subsequent university studies and thus the development towards a college culture based on the American model will continue. The consequence would be that there is an increasing shortage of skilled workers and that the competitiveness of German companies suffers.

In the following we present the central results of a comparative study between the Federal Republic and the USA on the transition from school to work. Using representative longitudinal data based on the American “Panel Study of Income Dynamics” (PSID) and the comparable “Socio-Economic Panel” (SOEP), we examined the subsequent training and career paths of various school leavers cohorts over a period of twelve years for both countries . The SOEP (Spectrum of Science, May 1988, page 32), based at the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin, is a national, annually repeated survey and is funded by the German Research Foundation as an infrastructure facility for social and economic sciences.

Acquiring qualifications after leaving school

American and German young people leave general school on average at the age of 18. The age at school leaving school in the Federal Republic of Germany, with its three-tier school system, varies between 16 (secondary school students) and 19.5 years (high school graduates) depending on the type of school attended and the type of qualification. In the United States, all teenagers are supposed to go to (secondary) high school between the ages of 12 and 18, but around 20 percent give up prematurely. In Germany, the proportion of school leavers without a qualification in 1991 was just under 7 percent.

Around one year after leaving school, seven out of ten German school leavers are in school or company training, with almost half (45 percent) having started an apprenticeship; only a good 8 percent had already started a university degree at this point in time. In-company vocational training within the dual system, followed by full-time vocational schools, is still the most important bridge to working life. Only a comparatively small proportion of around 5 percent of German young people take up a job as unskilled or semi-skilled immediately after leaving school on.

For the USA, the results of the analyzes showed a completely different picture: The extensive lack of recognized professional training paths, such as those offered by full-time vocational schools or the dual system in Germany, means that a large number of young Americans are not completely without formal Want to prepare for work, inevitably take the path to college or university |: A good 40 percent are in further training either at one of the many predominantly job-oriented two-year community colleges (15 percent) with the goal of an associate's degree or in one four-year course at the university (27 percent) with the goal of a Bachelor's degree. However, that half of all school leavers who look for and find a job immediately after leaving or completing high school are dependent exclusively on learning by doing - the mostly informal qualification in their employing company - to acquire professional knowledge and skills.

The actual performance of the German system of initial vocational training with its strongly institutionalized bridges to working life, however, only becomes apparent over a longer period of time. Twelve years after leaving school, almost all school leavers in both countries have finished their training and made the transition to working life; only a small minority of around 5 percent is still or is back in the education system at this point in time. But while almost all of the young Germans then went through formal vocational training (84 percent) or a university degree (16 percent) and more than 80 percent obtained a generally recognized vocational training (69 percent) or university degree (13 percent), If the corresponding American cohort is formally poorly qualified to a considerable extent: Including graduate associates, less than a third of the high school graduates (and thus not even half of the German comparison group) obtained a non-academic, vocational qualification in the following twelve years. Almost a quarter of young Americans will then have a university degree, and almost as many of them as in Germany (9 percent) have a Master’s degree comparable to a diploma (7 percent); At the other end of the social spectrum, however, there are around a third of all school leavers who, at best, have been trained in a company without any formal basic qualification (Fig.).

Entry into employment and career progression

The formal qualification does not in itself say anything about the quality of the knowledge and skills acquired and the associated employment prospects and productivity potentials. An assessment of the various vocational training systems is therefore dependent on additional indicators.

One such indicator is the frequency with which young people become unemployed when transitioning from school to work. The country comparison shows that German school leavers are affected to a much lesser extent than their American peers over the entire following period of twelve years. In fact, the unemployment rate among 16 to 24 year olds in the USA is three to five times higher than in Germany - largely regardless of the respective macroeconomic situation. It can be concluded from this that, viewed as a whole, German young people spend their time more productively, i.e. with learning, work or both.

Another indicator of the allocative efficiency of different training systems is the degree of correspondence between acquired qualifications and qualification requirements in the workplace. Here, too, the German system, which includes companies, so to speak, as producers and later buyers of professional qualifications, and attaches great importance to generally recognized, standardized training certificates, does relatively well. In the Federal Republic of Germany, around a year after completing their training, 80 percent of the former apprentices are employed in their trained occupation, most of them in their training company.

A similarly high, albeit lower, degree of agreement can be seen among university graduates: a good two thirds (69 percent) of them pursue the profession they have learned. The fact that at least one third of university graduates do not work adequately, but have mostly taken on jobs that require non-academic vocational training, suggests a less good match between acquired and demanded qualifications in this area and a growing oversupply of highly qualified people on the labor market .

An assessment of the corresponding situation in the USA is much more difficult because of the much lower degree of institutionalization of training courses and qualification levels. Five years later, two-thirds (69 percent) of all American high school graduates are employed in jobs that do not require any formal professional training and in many cases (28 percent) only a brief induction period of less than six months. For German school leavers, both proportions are considerably lower (30 and 17 percent, respectively). Even those American adolescents who have taken part in formal training programs below a Bachelor’s degree find themselves mostly in activities that only require informal on-the-job training. Only in the case of American college graduates who have completed a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree can a similarly high degree of correspondence between the formal training level and the required level of the professional activity be ascertained as is the case with German university graduates.

The disadvantages of the highly institutionalized and strongly stratified German training system with its clear allocation can be seen in the medium-term wage and salary development of young professionals at different training levels. If one compares the starting wages of school leavers without a university degree in both countries with the average salaries of academics between the ages of 35 and 38, there are initially hardly any differences: Germans and American young professionals earn on average almost half of the typical across all qualification levels below the university degree Academic salary. However, while in the USA the gap between academic salaries and the wages of young workers without a university degree has narrowed significantly as a result of professional advancement to more demanding jobs, in Germany the gap between young skilled workers and academics continues unabated - even twelve years after leaving school, young people earn Employees with an apprenticeship or other vocational qualification on average only 50 percent of the salary that university graduates receive. German school leavers without a vocational qualification even have to accept a deterioration in their relative earnings position to a good third of the academic salary.

On the one hand, this explains the strong incentive for young people in Germany to learn a profession in the first place after leaving school. On the other hand, the persistence of the differences in earnings between skilled workers and academics makes it understandable why more and more parents and young people are giving preference to the Abitur with subsequent university studies over vocational intermediate training paths.

Challenges to education policy

Education policymakers in the United States are faced with the enormous task of building a vocational education system that brings the skills of the American workforce into line with the education and training levels of the major competitive countries. The focal points of such a reform program must be to improve and standardize the level of performance in American high schools and to create a vocational training system for those 35 to 45 percent of all American youth who do not go to university after high school, but who largely rely on them to acquire qualifications usually unsystematic, informal job training by the companies.

It is questionable, however, to what extent the German dual system of apprenticeship training, which is often viewed as a model worth emulating, could be transferred to other countries with historically different institutional structures. For the USA, therefore, reform proposals that build on America's more school-oriented training tradition and aim, for example, at a further expansion of job-oriented training courses at the community colleges that exist everywhere, with voluntary cooperation of local companies, seem more promising.

The educational policy challenges in the Federal Republic are not of a fundamental nature, but also require decisive action if the internationally good reputation of the training system and at the same time Germany's most important location factor is to be maintained in the future. On the one hand, it is important to limit the mass rush to the universities and counteract the associated deterioration in the quality of higher education; on the other hand, the dual system must become more attractive as a practical, yet broadly based alternative to university studies. Both are closely linked: If the number of high school graduates increases, if the influx to universities is to be slowed down without restrictive measures such as university admission quotas and entrance exams that invalidate the Abitur, all that remains is to upgrade alternative training paths.

A reform proposal that seems paradoxical at first glance, but is by no means new, but is now even supported by employers' associations and chambers, advocates the general opening of universities to all those who have acquired a vocational qualification, regardless of the formal higher education entrance qualification with the Abitur. This would - so the hope - overcome the cul-de-sac in terms of education and employment in non-academic training paths; Secondary school graduates would also be able to later transition to university and thus advance to academic career orientations. However, with such an approach there is a risk that the current run on universities would be intensified.

Therefore, reform proposals appear to be more promising, which amount to a stronger professionalization of medium-sized training paths and a further opening of career-related further training opportunities in the medium-sized qualification area. This could reduce the status and wage discrepancies between academically and non-academically trained people.

Approaches in this direction have been implemented in new training courses that combine practice-oriented learning in companies with the imparting of theoretical knowledge at vocational academies and universities of applied sciences and enable new higher-level qualifications in the technical and commercial areas. In addition, while maintaining the three-tier school system, which is superior in many respects to the American high schools, with its differentiated educational offerings for various talent profiles, the so-called second and third educational pathways, including corresponding scholarships, must be further expanded in order to facilitate access to further education courses and higher professional positions for those who are willing to advance. As a result, the German education and employment system could gain a higher degree of openness and permeability, as is the case in the USA. At the same time, the negative consequences of an increasing American-style college culture and the associated devaluation of practice-oriented, company-related courses and qualifications could be avoided.

From: Spektrum der Wissenschaft 12/1993, page 122
© Spektrum der Wissenschaft Verlagsgesellschaft mbH

This article is contained in Spectrum of Science 12/1993