European exchange scheme boosting appeal of apprenticeships

Carpentry in Hamburg Metropolitan Region never without trainees thanks to scheme
23 March 2023
People strolling through field in Hamburg Metropolitan Region

Finding suitable apprentices has never been more daunting for companies. Four out of ten companies were unable to fill their apprenticeship positions in 2022, according to the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DIHK). However, there are exceptions to every rule. Karsten Lühmann, manager of the same-named carpentry in Mechtersen near Lüneburg, is among the lucky few to fill the apprenticeship positions without fail and to bring a foreign apprentice on board every spring.

Lühmann showing apprentices key skills
© Handwerkskammer Braunschweig-Lüneburg-Stade
Karsten Lühmann mit seinen Azubis

Exchange schemes

"Most of the foreign apprentices are from Norway, and when English isn't enough, we make eye contact and use all kinds of gestures to communicate," said Lühmann. Other apprentices from Finland and France have also trained in his carpentry. "Some of them actually work with us for three or four weeks while others train here for several months." Conversely, Lühmann sends his German apprentices to companies in Norway for internships lasting several weeks.

The carpentry is among several companies in the Hamburg Metropolitan Region encouraging young people to take up an apprenticeship through exchange schemes. Automotive companies send their apprentices to Japan and tailor's shops send their apprentices on a stint in Italy. Yet, these companies remain the minority. What has been common practice at universities for decades is still the exception in companies. Only 5 per cent of all apprentices go abroad as part of their training, according to the Joachim Herz Foundation, which promotes an exchange scheme with the United States.

Stays abroad boosting appeal of apprenticeship

Internships abroad can help companies to attract and retain junior staff especially when the number of new training contracts remains at a historical nadir. "Offering integrated stays abroad during vocational training is one way of increasing the attractiveness of vocational education and training," said Friedrich Hubert Esser, President of the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB). And the offers are in place. The European Commission's Erasmus+ scheme, for instance, educates and trains youths and is worth billions. "We hear time and again how much these young adults mature during their time abroad and become little leaders, so to speak," said Udo Herz, Mobility Advisor at the Chamber of Skilled Crafts Braunschweig-Lüneburg-Stade.

Mutual benefits of intercultural exchange

These encounters with young trainees from other countries are fruitful as Lühmann is always picking up new skills and ideas from them. While he likes to teach the Norwegians about German craftsmanship, he praises the placid Scandinavians. "The Norwegians are not so hectic and not always in a hurry," he laughs. The next apprentice from Norway is due to arrive in April for a two-month spell.