Keywords Apprenticeship training . Transfer of VET . In-company training . Mexico .
India . China
Dual training models are often discussed as a way of tackling both the skills shortage many countries face and youth unemployment (Zimmermann et al. 2013). In Germany and countries including Austria and Switzerland, such approaches are well established and have evolved over time, giving rise to the question of whether dual training models can also be transferred to other countries.
* Matthias Pilz matthias.pilz@uni–koeln.de Kristina Wiemann firstname.lastname@example.org
University of Cologne, Herbert-Lewin-Str. 2, 50931 Köln, Germany
Vocations and Learning (2021) 14:95–114
/Published online: 30 July 2020
Many projects in different countries have sought to establish dual approaches to training, but a number of studies indicate that it has proved almost impossible to find examples of long-term successful transfer of dual models (Gonon 2014; Valiente and Scandurra 2017). However, there are no detailed academic findings on transfer (see below). Stockmann and Silvestrini (2012) explore the outcomes of international tech- nical vocational education and training (TVET) projects as part of a meta-evaluation by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). They conclude that most projects are modest pilot projects and are not sustainable but are based mostly on bilateral or multilateral cooperation arrangements and focus on state cooperation to tackle challenges including high youth unemployment and stagnating growth.
The study is based on the conceptual and theoretical assumption that transfer of dual training activities is most likely in the case of German companies and that dual training is part of the “baggage” that accompanies these activities when they are exported (Pilz and Li 2014). Most German companies have detailed knowledge of the organisation and advantages of the dual TVET model, and it is reasonable to assume that they are keen to establish it in their plants abroad too. Path dependency can therefore be assumed (Thelen 2004) and conceptualised through the link with the German parent company, facilitating orientation to the German model. However, the influence of the local environment is also important (Gessler 2017; Pilz and Li 2014) and may be central in orienting training activities more to the local context.
This process recognises different interests and puts the emphasis on transfer of the dual model of training per se rather than on analysis of its advantages and disad- vantages. This is in no way to deny the existence of other valid forms of vocational education and training in other countries or, indeed, of weaknesses in the dual system in Germany. The focus on the dual system in the context of the transfer debate therefore particularly reflects the fact that over recent years, the debate surrounding this model of TVET has been particularly intense (Valiente and Scandurra 2017).
The Research Question: Current Research and the Theoretical Basis
Subsidiaries of German multinationals find themselves pulled in different directions, and the focus of this study is to investigate influences and outcomes. By contrast with other comparative TVET studies, this article will not take a top-down approach that foregrounds the state’s role (Gonon 2014; Lewis 2007) but, rather, a bottom-up approach, foregrounding companies’ training practice. Our approach to the research question is therefore an exploratory one, underpinned by the theoretical models needed to develop an analytical model. This approach is typical of areas that have so far not been extensively researched and cannot therefore easily be applied to the preparatory work for the study.
The article will consider the following research questions:
Which models of initial and continuing technical training can be identified in the foreign subsidiaries of German manufacturing companies? a. Are these oriented mainly to the German model or the local context? b. What other local solutions are there?
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This article therefore draws on the debate around international comparative TVET research into the transferability of (German) dual training structures (Davoine and Deitmer 2020; Gessler et al., 2019; Stockmann and Silvestrini 2012; Wiemann and Fuchs 2018). It aims to help broaden understanding of company training activities outside Germany and, more broadly, of development cooperation and TVET cooper- ation. The aim is not to take a normative approach that assumes that the ideal is maximum orientation to the German model or invests it with the nature of a role model but rather to use the German system as a role model to underpin a systematic comparison with local variants in the research regions identified in practice.
Studies by Aring (2014), Gessler (2017), Li et al. (2019), Pilz (2016b), Pilz and Li (2014) and Wiemann and Pilz (2020) take a similar approach, focusing on individual company stakeholders rather than the national level. These studies explore the extent to which German multinationals pursue dual training in their foreign subsidiaries and interpret the findings against the background of transferability to other countries of German TVET models. Their findings also demonstrate the significant influence of local environments. In a case study for the International Labour Organization (ILO), however, Aring (2014) notes a substantial German influence at Volkswagen, BMW and Siemens subsidiaries in North America, albeit with significant local adaptation. In a study on training at Mercedes Benz in Alabama, Gessler (2017) identifies successful transfer activities but notes that the local context produces significant deviations in implementation within individual plants. This may therefore, Gessler argues, be a case of transformation rather than transfer.
Given their case study design, the findings of Gessler (2017) and Aring (2014) are of limited general applicability, however. They are also based solely on multinational global players, which enjoy generous resources and often function as beacons and interesting case studies but are unlikely to be models for other companies, as Stockmann and Silvestrini (2012) note. The restricted database limits applicability of the findings, however, making it difficult to identify country- or sector-specific influ- ences. Consideration of more companies with differing profiles could usefully supple- ment these findings.
Studies by Pilz (2016b) and Pilz and Li (2014) represent a good starting point, on which this study builds. They consider the training activities of German subsidiaries in China, India, Japan and the US in the context of the parent companies’ globalisation strategies. The authors identify a marked orientation to the local context, except in Japan, but the limited sample size restricts the conclusions that can be drawn. The authors also take a national approach that does not consider in-country differences. The current study considers in detail German companies’ differing training strategies at their foreign production plants.
For the purposes of this study, the complexity of Germany’s vocational training system requires a detailed definition of a “dual” training model. Discussing the transferability of dual approaches, Gonon (2014) identifies seven criteria, including companies’ fundamental willingness to provide training and the existence of vocational schools as a second learning location. However, these two criteria must be accompa- nied by other defining characteristics, argues Gonon (2014): a statutory framework for state-recognised qualifications that are embedded in the broader training and employ- ment system; involvement of specialist expertise alongside experience-based learning; joint organisation of TVET by the state, the private sector, employers and unions; a
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holistic view of occupational profiles; and recognition of TVET as relevant to individ- uals’ careers.
To reflect adequately the complexity and level of detail of the findings, the study makes use of a three-level model (Table 1). Three components underpin this model and the study of the complex individual dimensions of skills training within companies.
First, targeted consideration of specific teaching and learning activities takes place at the micro-level, using the approach proposed by Billett (2001). Second, embedding in contextual factors and their influence is an important explanatory parameter (embedding in the national education system, Pilz 2016a) and using the socio- cultural importance and regulations of the world of work as a framework for organising work at company level (Wolf 2017). Third, consideration is given to the particularity of managing a multinational company (Dowling, Festing and Engle 2008). The analysis focuses on the potential influence of the German parent company or local decision- making by the subsidiary.
The starting point for the study is the exploration of specific teaching and learning activities. It is based on the findings of Billett (e.g. 2001) on workplace learning, which serve as a focus for implementing teaching and learning activities. This focus enables actual local practice to be studied and, subsequently, compared with the ideal repre- sented by the German model. To enable features to be analysed systematically, in- company training is broken down into key research categories (training objectives, content, methodological/pedagogical implementation, materials, and learning environment).
To enable us to investigate not just local training but also the framework within which it happens, we also consider how vocational training is managed in the focus regions. The concept of skills formation systems (Busemeyer and Trampusch 2012; Pilz 2016a, 2017) considers the political and socioeconomic institutions and other stakeholders involved in TVET and explores how training is organised and socially
Table 1 Multi-level concept with research categories
Level Research category
Institutional structures and economic, social and political framework
Responsibility for training Characteristics of local labour market Connections with local (vocational) training system Respect for TVET (socioculturally-determined)
Organisational and regulatory design of TVET Decision making and strategy development in multinational companies Production-oriented training needs Recruitment Financing Examinations/certification Initial and continuing training staff Content sequencing
Specific teaching/learning activities
Training objectives Content Methodological/pedagogical implementation Materials Learning environment
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managed in a country. This approach investigates the influence of differing stake- holders on training policy, direct financing, and financial participation. An initial distinction may be drawn between models in which the state has a major influence (state model) and in which companies are most influential (segmental model). When both state and companies have substantial influence, this constitutes a third (collective) model, while a liberal model is in place where both state and companies have only limited influence. This idealised model had been much criticised in the past, not least because of its rather simplistic assumptions (Ryan 2012; Lauder, Brown and Ashton 2017), but it can offer an initial approximation to specific structures and influencing factors.
In the context of implementing dual models of training, this gives rise to the question of the extent to which companies have any responsibility for training and are willing to pay for it. Companies are very sensitive to the costs involved in training, particularly in countries with no dual tradition: if expensively-trained employees subsequently leave the company or are ‘poached’ by other employers, this is a loss to the training company (Mohrenweiser, Zwick and Backes-Gellner 2019; Muehlemann and Wolter 2011).
Financing of training is, therefore, a relevant research dimension.
Possible parallels with Germany’s dual model of TVET of particular importance to the study are the scope for cooperation with vocational schools and the role such schools play in preparing trainees for the world of work: they partner with companies only where their provision is considered to be of adequate quality and supports skills development enabling trainees to be deployed within companies. From the company’s perspective, major differences in quality and inadequate transparency result from a lack of standardisation in such areas as curricula, the design of final examinations, certifi- cation processes and the training of instructors (Pilz 2016a, 2017). This may give rise to a mismatch between companies and vocational schools, creating a structural obstacle to the implementation of dual approaches.
Alongside the framework created by the interaction between state management, the involvement of companies and the scope for cooperation with vocational schools, the role young people and their parents play in TVET is also relevant. Society’s image of vocational training also affects the transferability of dual approaches: differentiation and separation between general and vocational training and the potential presence of a hierarchy of career paths mean that many countries without a culture of dual training attach low status to TVET (Pilz 2012, 2017). This kind of stratification (Allmendinger 1989) results in young people opting for academic training instead, making it difficult for companies to recruit and retain suitable candidates for demanding positions in production making dual training less attractive. If vocational training attracts only those school-leavers with no prospect of ‘better’ academic options, this serves as a brake on high-quality training and the necessary investment by companies unable to recruit suitable staff. This study therefore also includes both the macro-level sociocultural status of vocational training and the scope of companies to recruit.
Alongside these structural factors, other factors relevant to potential transfer activ- ities within companies are what Wolf (2017) calls the “employment culture background to vocational training” – the interdependencies between the cultural importance and regulation of work that govern the success of any transfer. Wolf builds on the findings of 1960s industrial sociology to argue that production regimes in different countries develop differently and are not (primarily) driven by technological factors. For
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example, a company’s degree of technological development and the way in which it organises work closely correlate with the skills needed by production workers and, therefore, also with training requirements. Technological development and work orga- nisation are reflected in, inter alia, automation technology and digitally-networked production, the extent to which work processes are broken down in a Taylorite or holistic organisation, the presence of hierarchies, the allocation of roles and responsi- bilities, and the related shaping of cooperation and communication between employees.
However, production methods abroad may also differ fundamentally from those in the parent company, so production-oriented requirements are an important part of this study. These differences do not necessarily mean a lower level of technological development but may have strategic origins. The current study, for example, takes a differential view of the value attached to subsidiaries in the overall company structure: they may be autonomous innovation locations with high demands of their production workers or they may be spin-offs whose role is to save money and bring down labour costs for predominantly manual activities as part of an ‘extended workbench’. Wide- ranging dual training activities can actually over-qualify workers for this kind of strategy.
As well as this framework, which influences every company, multinational compa- nies are also in a particular situation: the study assumes that a multinational represents a conflictual relationship between standardisation and localisation. By contrast with the concept for national TVET models set out above, standardisation in this context can be understood as equivalent influence on transfer options. Significant standardisation means global approaches to consistent Human Resources (HR) strategies, guidelines and instruments throughout the company. Limited standardisation, by contrast, fore- grounds local development and implementation of such strategies and practices and is consistent with the local environment (Bartlett and Ghoshal 1989; Dickmann, Müller- Carmen and Kelliher 2008). Festing and Eidems’ (2011) model based on Dowling et al. (2008) and Festing, Eidems and Royer (2007) provides important input into the theoretical and conceptual framework of this study: the authors foreground internal factors, adding significantly to the models already outlined in this section. Trends towards standardisation emanate from the multinational itself, while trends towards localisation are primarily local. This means that management of and cooperation in training decisions across a multinational company are relevant to the nature of the training it offers. The literature also demonstrates that the influence of local factors may vary considerable from country to country and is therefore difficult to define in any standard way.
The theoretical approaches outlined here were condensed into a multi-level concept and translated into the following research categories for the empirical study (Table 1).
The focus was on analysing specific teaching/learning activities and the framework governing them.
The study is based on a qualitative study in Greater Shanghai (China), the industrial triangle of Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore (India), and the industrial belt in the central highlands of Mexico (Guadalajara, Querétaro, Estado de México, Mexico City and
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Puebla). These urban centres attract direct investment by German companies and have long been home to manufacturing operations. The selection of these countries from among those in which Germany most frequently makes direct investment was based on the ‘most different approach’ model (Przeworski and Teune 1970; Seawright and Gerring 2008). The regions contrast in many ways, including their colonial past, their state planning systems and economic liberalisation strategy, their teaching/learning practices, and other sociocultural aspects. Their vocational training systems are also based on different ‘skills formation systems’ (Pilz 2017) or ‘training cultures’ (Pilz 2009). For example, TVET structures in the three countries represent different ‘skill formation systems’ (Busemeyer and Trampusch 2012): the Chinese system is largely state-dominated, whereas India and Mexico have individualised management mecha- nisms with little influence from either the state or business. There are marked socio- cultural differences between the latter two countries, and the Mexican government has put its own model of dual TVET in place with the aim of integrating business more closely in responsibility for training (for further detail, see Pilz 2017).
Data was collected in 86 manufacturing companies. Many companies were contacted locally, but only some were willing to be interviewed, so the sample reflected willingness to participate. As well as major multinational companies (global players), the sample also included smaller multinationals. In sectoral terms, the main focus was on mechanical and plant engineering, the automotive and supply sector, electronics and chemicals; it is in these sectors that the level of German investment abroad is highest (Deutsche Bundesbank 2019), making them particularly relevant. To ensure potential German influence, only companies wholly or substantially in German ownership were included. Most companies manufacture for both the domestic and the international market, and their products and production processes comply with the quality standards of the German parent company. Our sampling was unable to reflect the extent to which subsidiaries were independent of the group HQ in Germany in setting their training strategy: this was determined only during the survey itself and so represents one of the findings.
The main data collection method was the expert interview (Meuser and Nagel 2009).
This qualitative method was chosen to elicit in-depth explanations of the implementa- tion, purpose and results of in-company initial and continuing training activities. 149 interviews were conducted, in particular with HR managers, heads of training and plant managers in the subsidiaries of German manufacturing companies. The researchers also visited training institutions and analysed documents, e.g. training materials. In all three countries, interviews were also conducted with experts from public and private sector TVET institutions to enable the broader context to be assessed.
Using the theoretical approach (Table 1), a system of categories was devised to form the basis for the interview guidelines. The individual categories were systematically translated into questions and compiled into a coherent guiding framework. Some of the questions were fleshed out with specific examples and practice-related follow-up questions to ensure sufficient contextualisation for the survey. All interviews were recorded, transcribed and triangulated using content analysis methods and cross- referenced (Kuckartz 2014).
As part of data collection and evaluation, the researchers devised country-specific models of skills training, compared them with the German dual model, and compared the models with each other. In line with a ‘problem approach’ (Holmes 1958), they
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consciously avoided a wide-ranging descriptive macro-comparison of individual TVET systems, focusing instead on specific problem aspects derived from the findings. The creation of a typology (Kuckartz 2014, pp. 103ff.) was an inductive process based on the material. On the basis of summaries, clusters were derived and criteria devised for allocation to groups.
All three countries have significant demand for specialists trained for complex roles, which local labour markets and existing training mechanisms cannot meet. Dual training approaches are therefore relevant to resolving this problem. Transfer activities could be identified in all three countries, but so too could locally-oriented training activities. There was also evidence of various hybrid solutions strongly influenced by the local circumstances. As explained above, local characteristics and influences vary from country to country. Space constraints rule out a detailed description here of the local training and employment situation in the three countries, but individual local aspects are integrated into the discussion. For detailed information about the specific situation in each country, see for example, Li et al. 2019, Wessels and Pilz 2018, and Wiemann 2020a; 2020b).
The models identified here have been grouped together and are presented below and illustrated with quotes from interviewees. The two ends of the spectrum (solely local orientation and close alignment with the German dual model) are broadly similar across regions, so no regional distinction is made. Particularly interesting are the hybrid models, which differ substantially between countries.
Models Oriented to the Local Training Framework
In all three countries, the study identified training models based closely on the local training framework. As explained above, it was not possible to describe in detail the full set of local influences on and characteristics of training in all three countries. Instead, the study discusses the extent and degree of deviation from the German model and provides an integrative analysis of local alternatives. Although the training models based closely on the local training framework demonstrate regional characteristics, in particular in the extent to which they are based on national TVET systems, they all also demonstrate separation between activity profiles with low and high levels of complexity.
For activity profiles with a low level of complexity (‘operator’ or ‘worker’), very restricted and occupation-specific initial training is provided. This is confined to individual stages in work processes and geared directly to workplace requirements.
The workplace is the only learning location. There is virtually no formal provision; instead, content and time are structured on an ad hoc basis, reflecting the needs of the manufacturing process. Methodological and pedagogical design tends not to be coor- dinated and is overseen by a more experienced employee. Employees receiving this initial training start by observing processes, which they then carry out themselves. In some cases, to assist learning, greater emphasis is placed on verbalising processes, and individual activities have detailed, but easily-understandable process descriptions,
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which function as learning materials. It cannot be assumed that the workers carrying out these activities have good literacy, so materials are based mostly on photos and graphics, particularly for assembly activities. The HR representative of an automotive supply company summarised the process:
“Just show them how to do this and then let them try. If it is not correct, then correct them. We just follow work in WI or ‘Work Instructions’.” (Interview C28)1
For specialist activities in, for example, maintenance/repairs or quality control, workers are often ‘poached’ by other companies once they have several years’ relevant experience and, in some cases, an academic qualification. In such cases, following the general initial training, they also undergo specific ‘on-the-job training’ (OJT) in tandem with experienced col- leagues. The focus of OJT is on specific positions and activity profiles, and these activities are often topped-up with external modular training provision when the need for initial training cannot be met within the company or particular certification is required (e.g. for welding). In particular for activities in maintenance and repairs, machine manufacturers normally tailor their training provision closely to their customers, and companies make use of this. Skills matrices chart the demands of individual roles and how far each employee has been trained, enabling them to be allocated to a position, as well as demonstrating what support they need and whether they can provide training to other workers.
Overall, these two models based on local training are largely unrelated to the German dual training model. Rather, they are similar to local training practice, as shown in relevant comparative studies of local companies in China (Li et al. 2019), India (Pilz 2016c) and Mexico (Wiemann 2018). Initial and continuing training activities are not geared to comprehensive, practical skills enabling the individual to acquire expert status: they focus instead on the company’s own skills needs. Most production processes are geared to manual or low-skilled activities. Rapid familiarisation is a low-cost way for companies to meet short-term staffing needs.
Learning processes are embedded in working processes but are not based on an alternating model of workplace and school learning. Because there are no standards, either for training or for instruction, learning processes are opportunistic and focus on securing benefit as rapidly as possible. The process can be shortened if experienced workers can be recruited for higher-level roles. Certificates are not awarded because there is no cooperation between company and state or other stakeholders.
Training Models Oriented to the German Dual Model
In all three countries, the study identified a training model with clear similarities to the German dual TVET model. In terms of content, this is reflected, for example, in adaptation of German curricula, arrangements for training instructors and certification. The focus is on employability in a training occupation and not, therefore, restricted to individual companies’ requirements. The focus on wide-ranging and non-fragmented work processes gives the trainee a holistic overview of the individual components of production. During training phases in the teaching workshops, which are often available, trainees initially acquire basic
The coding indicates country (C = China, I = India, M = Mexico)
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skills, such as filing, grinding and turning. They then work increasingly independently, making the trainer a kind of tutor. Following basic training, trainees acquire the necessary support skills to prepare, complete and check their work.
Considerable emphasis is placed on developing self- and social competences, as this representative of a Chinese company explained:
“The other way is, like we say, ‘open eyes’ – how to work with others, how to work with Westerners, how to work with precision, how to gather experience – life experience, work experience, being with people experience.” (Interview C7)
Many of the companies surveyed regard wide-ranging and complex training as a major investment. The training manager in a major Indian automotive company explained that his company used complex training to remedy the narrowly-focused vocational focus of India’s school and university system:
“After completing three years, they have been through all the departments and they know each and every thing. They know the entire product cycle and they have a better idea than anyone else. They have a whole view – a helicopter view.
It is very easy for them to suggest solutions for any problems or issues. They can identify the root cause of any problem easily.” (Interview I10)
However, some companies do not run their own training activities but cooperate instead with training providers, such as major German companies running their own training centres, or buy training run by German Chambers of Commerce Abroad.
Most companies, though, need only a small proportion of their total workforce to have complex specialist training requiring a dual approach. Such dual approaches are therefore the norm especially in large companies and those having special production- related requirements for technical specialists. Training practice includes a wide range of initial and continuing training activities oriented to individual groups of activities.
All interviewees also noted that it is neither desirable nor possible to replicate Germany’s dual specialist training model. Chinese framework curricula, for example, require adaptation, and many Indian companies prefer to provide training themselves rather than cooperate with low-quality schools. Largely unstandardized training in companies is, therefore, a key area of difference from the German TVET model, particularly in terms of companies’ training plans and training for trainers/instructors.
Training Hybrids in the Three Countries
Companies that develop their own approaches rather than following the local context or the German parent company’s model are particularly interesting. These companies base their training strategies closely on their own needs and make use of the specifics of the local framework, giving rise to a strong local character and widely-differing practices.
This article therefore considers these hybrids on a country basis.2
Further hybrids were identified, some of which were similar to those described here. In presenting the findings, we shall therefore present just one hybrid per country.