Can a dual study system find a place in U.S. education?
What can the U.S. learn from European apprenticeship experiences?
This overview of the apprenticeship systems of Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Hungary follows an AICGS
study tour to these countries in October 2014.1We identified best practices among key stakeholders in preparing their
workforces for careers in manufacturing and information technology. In this Issue Brief, we provide a snapshot of each
country’s system and its relevance for the United States.
There is renewed interest in apprenticeship in the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Hungary. Each of these
countries has a school-based vocational system, where technical training mostly takes place at secondary schools and
The UK has come the furthest in recent years in promoting work-based education, which has led to an impressive cultural
and political change and an expansion of apprenticeship in fields beyond the traditional manufacturing and construction trades.
France and Hungary have been less successful in engaging their private sectors in apprenticeship. In these two countries,
vocational education is still perceived less as a vital component of national skill development and more as a matter of social
Germany’s system of dual education has been the topic of much critical analysis over the decades. Combining substantial
practical training at firms (and paid by firms) with theoretical instruction at secondary and even post-secondary schools
is a defining feature.
Germany also boasts robust networks of employers, educators, and other social actors that work together to support and
adapt apprenticeship to the demands of global competition, which has the added advantage of spreading the costs and
administrative burden across many actors.
Recent assessments recognize the relevance of this system for the United States, but some also criticize its lack of flexibility
For U.S. policymakers, the complexity and depth of the German system is certainly far beyond American vocational
institutions’ limited resources, low status, and low level of standardization.
There is much to admire in the UK expansion, but expectations for the United States must be tempered given the
importance of localities in shaping the education system and the real budgetary constraints at the national level for
investing in technical education.
Furthermore, it remains to be seen to what extent are U.S. policymakers, employers, and educators interested
in better aligning the vocational education system with the needs of industry and improving students’ transition
from school to work.