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Most students in Germany complete their high school degrees between the ages of 15 and 19, depending on what type of school they attended. Then they have the option to specialize. Some go to university while others apply to a company for a trainee position and pursue what is known as a dual vocational training programme which combines classroom and hands-on learning at a company.

The dual vocational training programme usually lasts between 2 to 3 ½ years and pairs hands-on learning in a paid trainee position with classroom learning.

Classroom learning involves one or two days a week or blocks of several weeks at a vocational school. About two thirds of the classroom learning specifically focuses on subjects directly applicable to the occupation of training, the remaining one third focuses on German, English and Social Studies. Vocational schools are usually state-run schools, however, there are also private state-approved vocational schools. The responsibility for the curriculum for vocational schools lies with the school authorities in every federal state.

The time the trainees work at the company they apply the newly acquired classroom knowledge as they learn their trade by following the examples of co-workers, perform tasks according to their increasing abilities, and keep detailed weekly journals outlining the new skills they have acquired. The company is responsible for ensuring that trainees get the required quantity and quality of training.

Trainees are responsible for meeting the classroom requirements and company based learning throughout the dual vocational programme. They must pass two major exams over the course of their training. In the middle of their programme trainees take a test to evaluate their progress and to highlight any knowledge. At the end of their training a final exam precedes entry to their field of work. Exams include written and/or oral elements as well as practical exercises. These exams are usually known as ‘journeypersons’ tests.

Since this system of education combines training in a company and education at a vocational school it is called the ‘dual education system’. However, there is also a third element. The third element consists of practical workshops run by either the guilds or the chambers of commerce as appropriate to their programme. This ensures that all trainees acquire the same required skills regardless of company placement. The time spent at such workshops is approximately three weeks per year.