Dual Vocational Training in Germany for Foreigners

Dual vocational training (‘duale Ausbildung’) or apprenticeship, is the most popular form of post-compulsory education in Germany as half of school-leavers find their way to dual vocational training programmes. As the word ‘dual’ suggests, it consists of two parts – theoretical instruction in the classroom and practical on-the-job work experience in the company providing the training. There are enough training programmes suitable also for girls so that they make up one third of trainees. But, the dual vocational system is not just liked by the young school-leavers. It is also very popular among employers as one third of German companies participate in dual vocational training programmes. They believe it is the most effective way of recruiting tailor-made employees for specialist positions.

Popularity of the dual vocational training scheme lies in its hands-on approach to learning the profession. Trainees typically spend two days a week at a vocational school and three days at work in the employing company where they promptly apply theoretical knowledge acquired at school in practice. In addition to mastering their profession, trainees also gain a very good understanding of the company’s processes and get to know its people. This all makes them ideal candidates for the job they have been trained for. The companies providing vocational training value their specific knowledge of the job and the environment and usually offer them a permanent well-paid position at the end of the training programme, knowing they are employing the right person.

Germany badly needs skilled foreign workforce to replace its retiring ‘baby boomer’ generation and so is relaxing its immigration rules for non EU/EFTA citizens. Since the last changes to the Skilled Immigration Act in March 2000, it is not just foreign academics from non EU/EFTA countries but also those with vocational qualifications who enjoy easier access to the German job market, especially if they have completed vocational training in Germany. The German government is actively promoting the German dual vocational training programmes abroad, encouraging young foreigners to move to Germany for training. Foreigners from non EU/EFTA countries who successfully complete a vocational training programme in Germany gain unrestricted access to the German labour market for the jobs they are qualified for.

Vocational Training within the German Education System

Vocational training is the most prevalent form of post-compulsory education in Germany as two-thirds of German school-leavers proceed to vocational schools. Traditionally, vocational schools used to supply the German industry with blue collar workers but today training courses for a variety of professions for all sectors of the economy can be found at vocational schools.

Children in Germany start attending the primary school (‘Grundschule’) at the age of six. After the fourth grade they proceed to the secondary school. This can be the ‘Hauptschule’ (grades 5-9 or 10), ‘Realschule’ (grades 5-10), ‘Gymnasium’ (grades 5-12 or 13) or the ‘Gesamtschule’ (also the grades 5-12 or 13). Please note that some differences exist among the federal states. Compulsory school attendance in Germany lasts 9-10 years, depending on the type of school an individual attends. Anybody who successfully completes any secondary school is eligible for vocational training in Germany. Furthermore, the ‘Gymnasium’ and for some students also the ‘Gesamtschule’ end with ‘Abitur’ and thus entitle the person to study at a university.

Vocational training is, as its name suggests, a form of practical, non-academic education that trains specialists for hundreds of non-academic professions. The majority of subjects taught at vocational schools are specialist subjects related to the profession with just a few general subjects included in the curriculum. The ‘Hauptschulen’ and ‘Realschulen’ provide the majority of trainees for vocational schools whereas the majority of ‘Gymnasium’ graduates pursue university studies. School leavers from ‘Gesamtschulen’ (found only in some federal states) may continue with an apprenticeship at a vocational school or go to university while some start their professional careers right after school.

The German term for vocational training is ‘Ausbildung’ or ‘Berufsausbildung’. The equivalent English term is apprenticeship. The trainees are called ‘Azubis’ (an abbreviated form of ‘Auszubildender’). They should not be confused with ‘Werkstudenten’ (students working part-time). The term ‘Azubi’ only refers to trainees from vocational schools.

Types of Vocational Training

There are two different vocational training schemes in Germany – the more practical ‘in-company vocational training’ and the more theoretically biased ‘school-based vocational training’.

  • In-company vocational training, perhaps better known as dual vocational training (‘duale Ausbildung’), is the most popular form of vocational training in Germany, accounting for ca 70% of all vocational training courses and about as many trainees. That means that about half of all German school-leavers attend dual vocational training programmes. The training takes place at two locations – the vocational school called ‘Berufsschule’ and the participating company providing the practical training, and lasts between 2-3.5 years. The time is divided between learning at school and working at the company at a ratio of 40:60. Trainees have a training contract with the company and are, therefore, employees rather than students. They receive a monthly wage and are entitled to about one month of holiday per year, which they can only take during school holidays. As a result, they also get paid during holidays. This type of vocational training scheme is of particular interest to foreigners from non EU/EFTA countries who wish to get a foothold in the highly competitive German labour market.
  • School-based vocational training takes place at fulltime vocational schools (i.e., either at the ‘Berufsfachschule’ or at the ‘Berufskolleg’) and usually lasts 1-3 years. At the end, trainees complete an extended internship in a company or a public institution but the share of the on-the-job training is much smaller than in in-company vocational training. Fulltime vocational schools offer ca 30% of all vocational training courses in Germany, especially in the health and social care and media fields. However, trainees do not receive any salary. This vocational training scheme is of little relevance to foreigners from outside of the European Economic Area and is mentioned here only for completeness.

Dual Vocational Training versus Dual Studies

At a glance, dual vocational training can be easily confused with dual study, especially the ‘vocational-training-integrated dual study programme‘. However, the ‘vocational-training-integrated dual study programme’ is an academic programme (Bachelor’s or even Master’s) that takes place simultaneously at an institution of higher education, at a vocational school and at a company. Graduates receive a vocational qualification alongside an academic degree. Nonetheless, many similarities exist between dual vocational training and dual study as both have strong practical focus and pay salaries. Therefore, both of these types of programmes are popular among foreigners who wish to enter the German labour market.

Occupations Trained For

At the moment there are about 350 recognized vocational occupations in Germany that require formal training. At this website you can find an alphabetical list of all vocational professions (‘Ausbildungsberufe’) in Germany and their detailed descriptions. Alternatively, check out the latest issue of the ‘Lexikon der Ausbildungsberufe‘ from the Federal Employment Agency for the list of recognized vocational occupations classified by professional fields. In the description of each individual profession you will find useful information about the programme, including trainees’ wages.

Every year there are about half a million trainee positions open with just as many interested applicants, while more than 60 thousand positions remain unfilled, especially in the area of nursing, IT and some skilled trades. These should be of particular interest to foreigners from non EU/EFTA countries.

Applicants from third countries (i.e., countries outside of the European Economic Area: EEA=EU+EFTA) can only be issued a visa for vocational training purposes in Germany if there are no suitable candidates for this position among the EEA citizens. This procedure by the Federal Employment Agency is known as ‘Vorrangprüfung’. Even those coming from countries with visa free entry to Germany (e.g., Australia, Canada, Japan or the USA) will need a clearance from the Federal Employment Agency so that they can be issued a residence title in Germany. Therefore, if you are a citizen of a third country, your chances of being accepted to the vocational training programme in Germany and having your visa approved are better when applying for positions that are less desirable among local candidates.

Advantages of Dual Vocational Training

  • The chief advantage of dual vocational training in comparison with other forms of non-academic education in Germany is its large practical component which makes the trainees well acquainted and perfectly qualified for the job they have trained for. As a result, young professionals with vocational skills and experience are highly sought after in the German labour market.
  • Because of the lack of skilled personnel in many areas, the German government encourages young people from all over the world to complete vocational training in Germany so that they can help fill the gaps in the German labour market. Vocational training programmes are free of charge to all foreigners.
  • Trainees in a dual vocational training programme get paid a regular monthly wage for their work in the employing company. They even get paid during the summer break at school because they are on a paid vacation rather than on a school holiday. Their wage may cover a major part or all of their living costs. This is particularly important for young people from non EU/EFTA countries since they can use this income to show they have enough financial resources to cover their cost of living in Germany which is a requirement when applying for a trainee’s visa (for more detailed information read the ‘visa section’ below).
  • After successful completion of the dual vocational training programme, trainees receive an occupational certificate issued by the respective chamber of industry and commerce or the chamber of skilled crafts and trades that is recognized throughout Germany. The holders of such certificate can, therefore, pursue employment opportunities anywhere in Germany while freeing themselves of restrictions imposed on foreign labour from third countries.
  • Most companies that offer dual vocational training view it as an effective form of personnel recruitment and will offer their trainees a permanent job upon successful completion of the programme. Therefore, a dual vocational training programme in Germany can serve as a door-opener to young, ambitious foreigners from non EU/EFTA countries, wishing to get a foothold in the competitive German labour market.
  • Apprentices not only learn their profession but they also establish important contacts in the company they have trained in and become familiar with its work processes. As a result, the company that knows them well usually makes them a more attractive job offer than it would do to an outsider.
  • Trainees from third countries who are not offered a permanent position after completing the dual vocational training programme in Germany (or do not like the offer) can stay in the country for additional 12 months to find a job that is adequate to their qualifications. During their job search they are allowed to take up any paid work to finance their stay in Germany.
  • Professionals with vocational skills have great career prospects in Germany, especially if they are willing to advance their knowledge and skills further and earn additional qualifications. Depending on the type of profession, there typically are opportunities for further training, for example, to become a master craftsman or a certified engineer and even to pursue higher education at a vocational academy, leading to a state-recognized Bachelor’s degree.

Trainees’ Wages

For most professions and training programmes, the trainees’ average gross monthly wages range between 800 and 1,200 euros. Wages are generally increasing over time during the programme. At the moment, the average monthly wage of a German trainee in a dual vocational programme is just below 1,000 euros gross (that is ca 800 euros of net income for a single person with no kids).

An overview of the trainees’ gross monthly wages can be found in the table below (these numbers do not include any overtime pay or potential additional benefits such as bonuses and allowances that trainees may receive):

Profession Trainee’s monthly wage * (euros) Fulltime employee’s wage (euros)
Barber 580 – 790 1,710
Bricklayer 870 – 1,370 3,320
Butcher 750 – 1,010 2,410
Caregiver 1,170 – 1,330 3,810
Carpenter 870 – 1,370 3,280
Concretor 870 – 1,370 3,080
Construction equipment operator 870 – 1,370 3,530
Construction mechanic 890 – 1,090 3,150
Cook 850 – 1,120 2,310
Dental assistant 840 – 940 2,270
Dental technician 650 – 850 2,740
Drywall fitter 870 – 1,370 2,750
Electrical fitter 1,010 – 1,150 4,140
Electronics technician 780 – 1,010 3,900
Facade fitter 870 – 1,370 2,820
Gardener 640 – 780 2,540
Hospitality management specialist 850 – 980 1,950
Hotel specialist 850 – 1,120 2,200
Industrial electrician 1,010 – 1,070 3,860
IT specialist 890 – 1,040 4,150
Joiner 650 – 880 2,880
Mechatronics engineer 890 – 1,080 3,410
Medical assistant 900 – 1,040 2,660
Optician 620 – 820 2,500
Painter decorator 710 – 950 2,890
Plasterer 870 – 1,370 3,020
Precast concrete laborer 870 – 1,400 3,450
Precision machine tool mechanic 770 – 970 3,850
Production mechanic 1,010 – 1,150 3,340
Professional driver 850 – 960 2,650
Railwayman 1,020 – 1,160 3,220
Road builder 870 – 1,370 3,560
Roofer 780 – 1,110 3,210
Screed installer 870 – 1,370 3,020
Shop assistant 790 – 1,010 2,040
Skilled farmworker 700 – 820 2,330
Specialist for warehouse logistics 890 – 1,020 2,870
Stockman 1,040 – 1,140 2,540
Stonemason 850 – 1,100 2,930
Tiler/Paver 870 – 1,370 3,150
Vehicle mechanic 930 – 1,120 3,130
Vehicle mechatronics technician 930 – 1,120 3,530
Warehouse operator 890 – 950 2,870
Source: The Federal Employment Agency (‘Lexikon der Ausbildungsberufe 2022/23’ and ‘EntgeltAtlas’)

* Average monthly wages at the beginning and the end of vocational training

Employment prospects for young people with vocational qualifications are very good in Germany as are the wages. The average starting salaries in full-time employment are between 2,400 euros and 3,500 euros a month, depending on the profession and federal state. In some vocational professions it is not uncommon to earn more than 4,000 euros a month gross with just 5-10 years of work experience, especially in the southern federal states.

Duration of Dual Vocational Training

Most dual vocational training programmes last between 2 and 3.5 years. Those looking for shorter courses than 2 years can find them among the school-based vocational training programmes.

How Much It Costs to Train for a Vocation in Germany

The only cost of a dual vocational training programme in Germany is the cost of living there, while the rent is usually its single biggest component. Dual vocational training itself is free of charge to everyone, no matter which country they come from. The employing company may help the trainees reduce some costs by providing cheap accommodation or allowances for rent and commuting expenses. The average cost of living of a foreigner in Germany is estimated at 934 euros a month (as of 2022/23). However, for a trainee in a dual vocational training programme it is about 100 euros less due to allowances they receive. For more information on the cost of living in Germany read this article.

Financing Your Dual Vocational Training in Germany

As mentioned above, living expenses are the only cost of dual vocational training in Germany. In many cases the salary and allowances the trainees receive are just enough to finance their cost of living. If that alone does not fully cover their cost of living, they may find a part-time job. However, the trainees from third countries (i.e., outside of the EU and EFTA) are restricted to working a maximum of 10 hours per week in the job unrelated to their training. If that is still not enough, there is an option to apply for a vocational training subsidy (‘Berufsausbildungsbeihilfe’) from the Federal Employment Agency.

How to Find a Suitable Dual Vocational Training Programme

When looking for a suitable trainee position in a dual vocational training programme in Germany you have two basic options. You can use one of the job portals that list trainee positions or check directly the websites of companies you would like to work for. There is a third option for those living in Germany called career fairs and especially the vocational training fairs (‘Ausbildungsmessen’) – more information can be found here. Listed below are the best online resources where to start your search:

Admission Requirements for Dual Vocational Training

There are just a few conditions you must meet to become eligible for a dual vocational training programme in Germany. Most importantly, you should speak German at level B1 according to the CEFR (this is a general consensus as there is no official language proficiency requirement). But, for vocational training in nursing and sales the level B2 is normally required. There is no specific guidance as for who is authorized to issue the German language proficiency certificates for them to be official. Therefore, most programmes will accept any B1 certificate (or higher) from a foreign language school as long as you can communicate in decent German.

When it comes to school-leaving certificates that applicants must show, there is no official standard requirement either. That is, qualification criteria are fully at the discretion of the employing company providing the programme. In most cases a school-leaving certificate from a foreign school equivalent to the ‘Hauptschulabschluss’ (after 9th grade) or ‘Realschulabschluss’ (after 10th grade) is a sufficient qualification. Furthermore, it helps if you have good grades in subjects related to your chosen programme. Other than that, you should be at least 16 years old and have a clean criminal record.

Age Limit for Dual Vocational Training

There is no official age limit for a trainee in a dual vocational training programme, though most trainees are between the ages of 16 and 25. 25 years also happens to be the age limit when applying for a visa for the purpose of searching for an apprenticeship (a special type of visa that allows you to come to Germany to search for a trainee position). However, you will find trainees who are over 30 years old and in some programmes (e.g., nursing) even in their early 40s. So, in general, one can say that dual vocational training in Germany is suitable for foreigners over 16 and up to 30 years old.

How to Apply for Dual Vocational Training

You can apply for more than just one dual vocational training programme in the same school year to increase your chances of being accepted. However, make sure you do not apply for more than one programme at the same company or at the same school. Most programmes accept e-mail applications around the same time of year, that is, in early spring. All applications must include the following documents:

  • Cover letter
  • Curriculum vitae
  • Copy of the school-leaving certificate (translated and notarized) that shows you have passed certain relevant subjects
  • Proof of German language proficiency of level B1 or B2, depending on the programme

After initial selection, successful applicants will be invited to an online interview. Here are a few useful tips on how to write cover letters and CVs and how to best prepare for a job interview.

Arranging a Visa for Germany

Once accepted into a dual vocational training programme, you will sign a trainee contract with the employing company and will have just a couple of months left to arrange a visa (if coming from a non EU/EFTA country) to move to Germany in time. Citizens of third countries, irrespective of whether they need a tourist visa for Germany or not, need a visa for vocational training purposes so that they can be issued a residence title when they enter Germany. Without a residence title they cannot start vocational training. (It goes without saying that citizens of EU/EFTA countries do not need any visa.) Contact the nearest embassy or consulate to obtain detailed information on current visa requirements and procedures. For quick reference you can use the visa navigator.

Requirements for a Visa for Vocational Training Purposes

  • Copy of the trainee contract with the employing company
  • Proof of German language proficiency corresponding at least to level B1 in accordance with the CEFR. This is only required if the provider of vocational training has not yet tested your language skills or you have to first attend a preparatory German language course before starting an apprenticeship.
  • Proof of own funds covering the cost of your entire stay in Germany (836 euros a month as of 2022). It can include your trainee salary (if it is over 909 euros a month gross you are fully covered). The requirement for a blocked account is usually waived for individuals accepted to a dual vocational training programme even if their wage does not seem to fully cover the estimated cost of living. This is because it is assumed that allowances they receive will eventually help them make ends meet.

While you are waiting for your visa, the Federal Employment Agency will conduct a ‘Vorrangprüfung’ to check whether there aren’t any German or EU/EFTA citizens applying for your position and whether you are going to be employed on the same terms as German or EU/EFTA trainees. This is an internal procedure that doesn’t require any work from you but it may slightly delay your application, so you should factor this into your time plan.

Some people may find it more productive and natural to find an apprenticeship in Germany when staying in the country. For those there is a possibility to come to Germany for the purpose of finding a suitable position in a dual vocational training programme. If you are a citizen of a third country who does not have a visa-free entry to Germany, you will need a traineeship seeking visa that is valid for six months. You can use this time to find and to apply for a dual vocational training programme, to attend interviews and to do a test internship. You will be even allowed to work up to ten hours a week. This is also a great opportunity to improve your German language communication skills.

Requirements for a Traineeship Seeking Visa

  • Age max. 25 years
  • Motivation letter
  • School-leaving certificate from a German school abroad or one from a foreign secondary school that qualifies you to attend an institution of higher education (this is not by error, you are actually expected to be a little overqualified to be allowed to apply for an apprenticeship seeking visa).
  • Proof of German language proficiency at B2 level according to CEFR
  • Proof of financial resources covering your stay in Germany (836 euros per month as of 2022)
  • Travel health insurance for Germany
  • Proof of accommodation in Germany

Should you not be able to find a suitable vocational training position within your 6-month stay in Germany, you will have to leave for home. Then you must wait for at least six months till you can apply for the new traineeship seeking visa.

Conclusion

Germany has a chronic shortage of specialists with vocational qualifications in certain occupations and is, therefore, inviting young people from all over the world to come to Germany to complete dual vocational training in one of its companies. The training is offered completely free of charge while trainees get paid a monthly salary. This is a unique opportunity especially for young ambitious individuals from third countries who can move to Germany at a young age at little to no cost and earn a vocational qualification that will give them unrestricted access to the German job market. If you speak German at least at B1 level and love to learn new things, but academic career is not exactly your cup of tea, why not use this little-known back-door opportunity.