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06.1 Program for the Study of Germany and Europe

Skill formation in Britain and Germany: Recent developments in the context of traditional differences

2006 Steffen Hillmert


This paper proposes a comparison of skill formation in Germany and Britain over the last decades. Taking historical trends into account, the two cases can be regarded as representing different types of skill production regimes. Institu-tional features include a relatively low degree of standardization of training and a larger amount of on-the-job training in Britain. In Germany, post-compulsory training has been conducted predominantly within the dual system of vocational training, underlining the vocational specificity of a large part of the labor market. As a consequence, international differ-ences in individual skill investments, transitions from school to work and other life-course patterns can be observed. At least in Britain, however, the situation seems to have changed considerably during the 1990s. The paper argues that the divergence in more recent developments can still be understood as an expression of historical path-dependency given the traditional connections between the post-compulsory training system and the broader societal context in which it is embedded. These concern, in particular, links with the system of general and academic education as the basis for – and also a possible competitor with – vocational training; links with the labor market as they are indicated by specific skill requirements and returns to qualifications; and, links with the order of social stratification in the form of the selective acquisition and the social consequences of these qualifications. The links manifest themselves as typical individual-level consequences and decisions. Founded on the basis of these distinctions, the aim of this paper is to investigate the pre-ceding conditions for recent developments in the qualification systems of Britain and Germany, which have adapted to specific challenges during the last decades.