Professional Perspectives for Young People - the "Berufspraxis Network" by Modul e.V.

Modul e.V. Berlin has since 2005 been operating the “Berufspraxis Network” model project as a cooperative effort between twelve Berlin skilled crafts guilds, 7000 trades companies, and their education centres. Via internships in companies and courses in the education centres, young people approaching school finishing receive basic knowledge in skilled craft professions, and are thus supported in their career choices. Participation in the project is voluntary, and it has been very successful. To date, 2500 young people have taken part yearly in it, and after participation in the project, approximately 30% of the young people have decided in favour of training in the skilled crafts, and 50% have gained a more specific idea of their career wishes, thanks to the practical experience.

Transitioning from school and starting a career is one of the most important steps in the life of a young adult. It plays a major and very personal role in defining one's future life and career path. This momentous step also has political, societal, and economic ramifications.

  • Youth unemployment – a major issue in many European countries
  • The associated pressures on social cohesion
  • And the already noticeable shortage of qualified workers against the backdrop of demographic change

These factors and the solutions to these problems are closely correlated with the career opportunities and future prospects of youths and young adults. The future prospects of youths and the success of their transition from school into the work force depend largely on two factors:

  • The quality of vocational training as well as the accessibility, permeability, and wealth of opportunities of the educational tracks
  • And the quality of career orientation programs. The foundation for this is structurally grounded and educationally well-developed career orientation programs.

Against this backdrop, career orientation takes on significant societal and political significance. The framework for implementation on the political level is the statewide plan “Career and Academic Orientation.” According to the plan, “career and academic orientation should be regarded as the task of all [school] teachers in all subjects, and collaborations with partners outside of the schools should be included as an integral component.” (http://bildungsserver.berlin-brandenburg.de/berufsorientierung.html). One such non-school actor that offers career orientation opportunities in cooperation with schools is Modul e.v.  As an organization, we work under the auspices of the Berlin Senate Administration for Education, Youth and Science and the career-counseling arm of the Federal Employment Agency.

We serve a variety of interests: young people need career opportunities – and the trades need fresh recruits. In the trades in particular, there is a marked lack of qualified labor and thus tremendous interest in nurturing and attracting new qualified workers. At the same time, the trades also offer great career opportunities. Thus the interests converge: career orientation means supporting the next generation of workers. This is also the aim of the “Trades Action Program of the Berlin Senate” – and the work of the Berufspraxis network. The Berufspraxis network is an association of 27 Berlin secondary schools and 16 Berlin trade guilds formed in 2006.

The Modul e. V. organization and the Berufspraxis network accompany school students along their path to a career. The purpose and goal of our work is to nurture their career orientation and development into independent, responsible, and involved individuals and members of society.

The objective of career orientation is to enable youths to independently find a career path that is right for them. The most important factors here include:

  • Recognizing and developing talents, interests, skills, and competencies
  • Weighing one's wishes and goals against educational and labor market opportunities
  • And doing so as practically and early as possible

Career orientation for youths is a process. It's not enough to inform them about different careers at individual events and then have them make a choice. Young people need continual assistance and support in the process of career orientation with a focus on what they want, what they can do, and then actually doing it. In terms of what they want, one issue for youths is formulating their desires and interests. At the same time, it's important to discover, develop, and test their own skills, talents, and competencies – this is the “what I can do” part. Both questions are closely linked and interdependent. The decisive step is ultimately comparing those desires and competencies with the educational and job market opportunities available to them. Information is necessary here: What types of careers might be in line with my desires, capabilities, and intended schooling track? What educational possibilities exist? Which ones are open to me? What opportunities do the various options offer? All of this, finally, is followed by the “doing” part – pursuing the defined goal and working towards achieving the intended educational and career path.

This educational approach is the foundation of the work of the Berufspraxis network. The former Berlin Senator for Education, Science and Research, Dr. Jürgen Zöllner, called the Berufspraxis network “one of a kind in Germany.” Its importance, in his estimation, “could not be overstated.” “Practical career orientation in the trades is valuable not only for those who later wish to pursue an education in the trades but also for those who, through the practical visits to the operations realize that it's not for them, because that helps us avoid drop-outs down the line.”

Our school programs begin with the “Job Detective” projects for 7th-graders (12-13 year-olds). In small groups, the kids discover learn about the trades companies in the vicinity of the school in a playful way. First, a two-day course trains them to be “Job Detectives.” In it they learn how to learn about the various careers in the local companies, what questions they can ask, what to look out for – in short, how they can gather impressions on their tour of discovery around the neighborhood and the trades found there to achieve a result through their own initiative and creativity. On the day of discovery, the students visit various shops and companies, ask their questions, have the careers they observe explained to them and gather “evidence” – objects from the various companies. Later the small groups present their information and impressions as well as the “evidence” they collected.

In the 8th grade, we start “workshop days.” In an introductory classroom event, the kids are prepared for the upcoming project. They receive information on the course of vocational education in general and the diversity of different trades. The differences between the careers and the skills required to do them are spelled out. To give the students a better idea of the characteristics of these professions, they generally visit four different education centers of the trade guilds. There they learn in a hands-on manner on-site – in the real working world – about the various trades, with their typical activities, materials, and tools.

These educational centers are institutions run by the trade guilds in which vocational students receive the general portion of their education in the trades. They provide workshops with state-of-the-art facilities in which real work is done. There the youths come into contact with trainers and students and gain a real, practical sense of the respective career. Career orientation thus takes place in the real working world and is based on practical experiences. That is the core of our career orientation programs and the key to what makes them so good.

Additionally, in 8th grade we offer events on planning for the future, determining key qualifications, application training, and aptitude tests.

In 9th grade, an in-depth learning phase gives youths the option of learning more about and trying out a career that especially interests them. During an intensive week at a training company or educational center, the youths do a brief internship for which they have to apply and describe their motivation and which offers them a clear view of the selected career, its day-to-day reality, and the course of the training program for that career.

In 10th grade, we assist the career counselors at the employment agencies in the schools in placing the youths in vocational training programs. We consult with the career counselors about the youths' career prospects and work with them based on that information. The foundation for this is our network of connections within the trades and our close contact with the guilds. That enables us to provide practical information about available apprenticeships.

Five key components form the core of our approach to career orientation:

  • Understanding career orientation as a process and thus the need to provide continuous presence, advice, support, and assistance to youths
  • Practical orientation – that is, career orientation through practical experiences in the real working world
  • Structural anchoring of the programs for career orientation in the schools as the fulfillment of our legal mandate
  • Educational concepts that are based on experience; that take account of the economic, political, and societal dimensions of career orientation programs; in which the youths are at the center and which take their circumstances, resources, interests, and needs into account; and, associated with that,
  • A value-based, holistic approach to competency development. Career orientation also means life planning and supporting youths on their path to becoming independent, responsible, and involved individuals and members of society.

The "Berufspraxis Network" of Modul e.V.