Qualification strategies of German companies in Japan, India and China – German role models or local procedures?

Vocational and training behaviors of German corporations in Japan, India and China – German models or local procedures?


The introduction of dual training courses based on the German model in other countries has been a hot topic for years. The transfer of the German vocational training system has, however, been discussed controversially for years in development cooperation and in the context of international comparative vocational training research, although empirical findings are only rudimentary. The study presented here examines the specific qualification behavior of German companies in their foreign locations in Japan, India and China.

Based on the theoretical approach of the EPRG typology of international corporate management, expert interviews in the three countries are used to examine how the respective qualification patterns can be presented and classified. The findings indicate that a polycentric strategy is being pursued exclusively in India and predominantly in China. In Japan, on the other hand, in addition to the polycentric orientation that prevails there, there is an influence of geocentric orientations of the qualification styles.

The similarities can be partly explained by a theoretically oriented school system and an academically focused image of society, which assign only a marginal or stigmatized role to vocational education. In this context, vocational training with a German character can only be implemented with difficulty.


For many years the possible introduction of the German dual vocational education program into other countries has been discussed. The transferability of the German vocational education and training system into other countries has been controversially discussed in the work of development assistance and in international comparative vocational education research for a long time, even though the empirical basis is quite narrow. The present study focuses on the vocational and training behaviors of German corporations in their subsidiaries in Japan, China and India. Even though all three nations are important countries for the German corporations, the culture, the vocational education and employment systems are very different. Based upon the theory of the EPRG model in international management, This study analyzes the vocational education and training activities and in terms of the EPRG model by interviews with experts. The findings indicate that a polycentric approach is used exclusively in India and to a significant extent in China. In Japan, in addition to the prevalent polycentric approach, there is also a strong influence of geocentric training styles. The similarities can be partly explained by the stronger focus on theoretical training institutions and a more academic attitude in society as a whole, which means that purely vocational training plays a marginal role with low esteem. In this context, it would be difficult to implement the German style of vocational education and training. The findings indicate that a polycentric approach is used exclusively in India and to a significant extent in China. In Japan, in addition to the prevalent polycentric approach, there is also a strong influence of geocentric training styles. The similarities can be partly explained by the stronger focus on theoretical training institutions and a more academic attitude in society as a whole, which means that purely vocational training plays a marginal role with low esteem. In this context, it would be difficult to implement the German style of vocational education and training. The findings indicate that a polycentric approach is used exclusively in India and to a significant extent in China. In Japan, in addition to the prevalent polycentric approach, there is also a strong influence of geocentric training styles. The similarities can be partly explained by the stronger focus on theoretical training institutions and a more academic attitude in society as a whole, which means that purely vocational training plays a marginal role with low esteem. In this context, it would be difficult to implement the German style of vocational education and training. The similarities can be partly explained by the stronger focus on theoretical training institutions and a more academic attitude in society as a whole, which means that purely vocational training plays a marginal role with low esteem. In this context, it would be difficult to implement the German style of vocational education and training. The similarities can be partly explained by the stronger focus on theoretical training institutions and a more academic attitude in society as a whole, which means that purely vocational training plays a marginal role with low esteem. In this context, it would be difficult to implement the German style of vocational education and training.

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At the end of 2012, six European ministers signed a declaration on cooperation in vocational training (cf. BMBF 2012 ). In order to reduce youth unemployment, it explicitly states the introduction of dual training courses based on the German model in other countries, such as B. Spain, Portugal and Italy aimed. The question of the transferability of vocational training approaches is not just recently discussed, but at least in development cooperation and in the context of international comparative vocational training research for many years (see Schmidt and Benner 1989 ; Deißinger 1997 ; Lauterbach 2003 ; Münk 2004). An important thread of the discussion addresses the question of whether the German vocational training system can be transferred to a foreign country in its entirety or in an adapted form. This is based on the assumption that, in the context of intergovernmental vocational training cooperation, a transfer can be promoted on a sovereign level, quasi “top down”. However, some studies point to considerable problems at the implementation level (Stockmann 2013 ). For example, Schippers ( 2009 ) was able to identify various implementation problems for vocational training cooperation with Egypt.

Here, however, a slightly different perspective should be taken. This does not focus on the (inter) state level, but refers to the already existing specific qualification behavior of German companies abroad.

The topic of training practices by German companies abroad is hardly to be found in the scientific literature. There are only a few publications in the research field of international personnel management in which the vocational training activities of German companies abroad are at least partially discussed. For example, Schamp and Stamm ( 2012) the knowledge and personnel management of three German international companies in the automotive sector and focused on the “skills development” in the foreign subsidiaries. There is, however, no intensive discussion of various industries or the involvement of a large number of German subsidiaries in several countries (see also Ferner et al. 2001 ; Dickmann and Müller-Camen 2006 ; Pudelko and Harzing 2007 ). International comparative vocational training research, on the other hand, deals intensively with the training systems of other countries (see , for example, the collective works Rauner and Maclean 2008 ; Grollmann et al. 2012 ; Pilz2012 ), but here, too, the question of how domestic (here German) companies abroad implement the qualification of their employees is rather marginally pursued.

Out into the world with the job concept? – Conceptual preliminary considerations

The research guiding the focus on the training activities of German companies abroad is an approach from international corporate management and human resources management. As early as the 1960s Perlmutter differentiated with his EPG typology between three ” primary attitudes ” (see Perlmutter 1969 ) on which the internationalization of multinational companies was based , which he later together with Heenan about a further basic attitude towards the EPRG typology expanded (see Perlmutter and Heenan 1974 ; Heenan and Perlmutter 1979). According to the four letters EPRG, the authors differentiate between an “ethnocentric”, “polycentric”, “regiocentric” and “geocentric” basic attitude of companies (cf. Kinast and Schroll-Machl 2005 , p. 437; Drumm 2008 , p. 633).

If a company transfers its concepts and cultural norms as well as personnel from the parent company abroad due to their importance for the overall organization, the company consequently tends to follow an ethnocentric basic strategy ( standardization ). In this case, the company identifies itself via the country of origin , and employees are primarily trained in their home country.

Polycentric companies, on the other hand, operate under the assumption that the cultural and institutional conditions in the country of the foreign branch are so different from the home country that it is advantageous to adapt the entrepreneurial activities as much as possible to the environmental conditions of the host country ( localization). Identification takes place via the host country, staff is procured at the foreign location and trained according to local standards. Personnel management strategies are based on the local environment and the prevailing socio-cultural norms of the location: “A polycentric firm, literally, is a loosely connected group with quasi-independent subsidiaries as centers – more akin to a confederation” (cf. Perlmutter 1969 , p. 12).

The company with a regio-centric basic strategy, on the other hand, is primarily characterized by the fact that foreign companies influence each other within a relatively homogeneous geographical region. In this way, concepts developed in the parent company can be adapted to the local institutional conditions in the foreign region. As a rule, however, the foreign companies do not exert any influence on the parent company (cf. Heenan and Perlmutter 1979 , p. 20; Drumm 2008 , pp. 633–635).

As a company with a geocentric basic strategy, Perlmutter describes globally oriented companies whose goal is a uniform approach with worldwide validity for the head office and foreign branches. Foreign branches are therefore “neither satellites nor independent city states” (see. Perlmutter 1969, P. 13). The personnel policy of this strategy is primarily characterized by the filling of key positions worldwide regardless of the country of origin of the employees. It is not the nationality but the qualifications of an employee that are decisive for filling a position. However, the practical implementation of this strategy is extremely problematic, as it can potentially conflict not only with polycentric, but also with ethnocentric attitudes (cf. Heenan and Perlmutter 1979 , p. 21; Drumm 2008 , pp. 633–634).

Central to these theoretical considerations is the assumption that even multinational companies are in many ways deeply rooted in their country of origin. It is also assumed that the country of origin, especially in the development of behavior and structures, has a strong influence on HR decisions. The extent of the influence of the origin of the parent company ( country-of-origin effect ) diverges depending on the institutional and cultural differences between the country of origin of the company and the host nation, i.e. the country of the foreign branch (see also 1997 ; Ferner et al . 2001 ; Noorderhaven and Harzing 2003; Pudelko and Harzing 2007 ). Furthermore, et al. ( 2001 , p. 123) show in this sense that the degree to which German companies transfer “typically German personnel methods” abroad depends on the institutional conditions that prevail in the host country. If cultural and institutional conditions in the host country limit the transfer of personnel methods abroad and the foreign branch consequently adopts the practices and methods of the host country, the literature speaks of a host country effect or a localization effect (see also, for example, 1997 ).

The typology from human resource management outlined here is also suitable, due to its international focus and broad conceptualization with regard to the influencing factors, to specifically analyze and systematize the training activities of German companies abroad. At the same time, certain limitations must be made from the perspective of educational science and, in particular, of the professional pedagogical perspective. The approach used here is primarily in the context of HR considerations, such as the sole proprietorship perspective, personnel recruitment and optimization, and cost efficiency (cf. Drumm 2008 , p. 30 f .; Jung 2011, P. 12). The interaction with the vocational training system and its detailed analysis, on the other hand, as well as questions of skill acquisition and learning processes, are not in the foreground. In this respect, the typology serves here as a systematic access on the meta level and is underpinned by an operationalization that is accentuated by occupational pedagogy (see below).

As a consequence, the following research questions arise:

  • To what extent do German companies abroad follow the German qualification model? In particular: which structures and processes of the German dual initial trainingFootnote1 are transferred if necessary, or which host country-typical or international or regional approaches are adopted as alternatives?
  • Which of the typologies can be derived as dominant for which country?
  • Which influencing factors of the host country are the reasons for the training activities?Footnote2

Against this background, this article examines the training behavior of German companies in Japan, China and India and focuses explicitly and exclusively on the areas of initial training and further education for the medium qualification spectrum (skilled workers). The country selection made was on the one hand against the background of the quantitative importance of German direct investments outside EuropeFootnote3 hit. Asia plays a prominent role here – and here again in recent years the large economically emerging nations India and China (cf. Kaufmann et al. 2005 ; The World Bank 2008 ; Männicke 2011 ). In addition, Japan was added to the group in order to be able to focus on an already highly industrialized, large Asian country.

On the other hand, in the sense of a “most different design” approach (Georg 2005 , p. 188) , the federal states should have a different structure and organization of formal vocational training in order to be able to work out the greatest possible differences in the training behavior of German companies due to the respective national parameters . To ensure this difference, a typology based on the “varieties of skill formation systems” (Busemeyer and Trampusch 2012, P. 8–20) checked the country selection again. Without outlining the approach in detail at this point, it can be stated that with regard to the two dimensions generated there, state influence / activity and company influence / activity on vocational training, the three selected countries are mutually exclusive as well as with respect to the country of origin Germany differ significantly. In their typology, the authors state that Germany has a high level of influence from both the state and companies, while for Japan it has a low level of state influence and a high level of company (Busemeyer and Trampusch 2012, P. 12). Although India and China are not classified by the authors, an assignment in the typology can be made comparatively easily. In the context of a “liberal skill formation” similar to Great Britain (Busemeyer and Trampusch 2012 , p. 12), India is characterized by a low influence of both dimensions, while China is characterized by a low corporate influence and a relatively high state influence (on the exact vocational training structures of the countries see below).

Empirical approach

Against the background of the approach to training behavior outlined above and the very different cultural understandings of vocational training processes in the selected countries, a qualitative approach is recommended (cf. Ullrich 1999 ). And also in the context of the information to be collected, which requires a high degree of detailed knowledge and practical experience, the qualitative method of empirical social research is an appropriate type of investigation for the research interest explained at the beginning (see also 1997, P. 22). Specifically, the guideline-based, exploratory expert interview, which was used accordingly in this study (cf. Bogner and Menz 2009 , p. 64) , is particularly well suited for such an investigation, in a thematically new and confusing field .

The guidelines were implemented in three thematic blocks for all three countries based on the theoretical considerations already explained.Footnote4 As a detailed description cannot be given here, the following central aspects should be pointed out at this point: The basis was the idea of ​​identifying deviations from the German vocational training concept in a structured manner. For this purpose, on the basis of relevant theoretical concepts ( cf. Blossfeld 1993 ; Heinz 1995 ; Deißinger 1998 ; Clement 1999 ; Ryan 2003 ; Hellwig 2008) the following meta categories were used, which were then further specified in individual questions: place of learning, didactic-curricular characteristics, participants / target group, professionalization of the vocational training staff, cost distribution between the actors involved, recruitment criteria / importance of certificates and references, ratio of training and further education.

The first block focused on basic premises and strategies. On the one hand, questions were asked about the training offers that were actually available and, on the other hand, about indicators relating to the basic strategies of the internationalization of HR functions already explained in the theoretical part (e.g. role of the parent company in the management of training offers, involvement of different workforce groups in qualification measures). The aim of the second thematic block was to mirror the German training patterns using criteria of the occupational concept (see above) on the training activities of the foreign branch in the respective country context. The third block, with its open character, served the purpose of pure exploration for past experiences, current topics and future challenges (e.g. demographics, Economic development). The interview partner was given the opportunity to talk freely about the points that were relevant to him.

Since the environmental conditions for training in Japan, China and India are different, the questions were adapted to the local conditions accordingly. However, the central research criteria were applied in all three countries.

In 2011 and 2012, the main examinations were carried out on the basis of pre-tests carried out in all three countries. For this purpose, all German companies in each of the three countries that met the following premises were written to in advance: The regions were selected for reasons of research economics on the basis of the greatest possible density of German companies. With regard to the company size on site, it was assumed that there would be at least around one hundred employees in order to even enable the potential for real training or the like. With regard to the choice of industry, a clear differentiation of the findings had to be dispensed with afterwards, given the relatively small number of people who were willing to interview, in contrast to the number contacted.Footnote5

The training experts were visited by an interviewer on site and also questioned there. The sum of the interviews was carried out by three researchers who, on the one hand, had previously gone through a mutual calibration process and, on the other hand, were able to speak German and English in the respective national language. Experts were considered to be people who, based on many years of experience in a special field, hold a special function (cf. Mieg and Näf 2005 , p. 7; Flick 2007, P. 218). Decision-makers (e.g. HR managers, training managers) for the area of ​​training and further education in the respective host country were asked as interview partners. The nationality of these people did not matter as the research approach excluded such a restriction. One interview round was carried out for each company, in which an expert with a maximum of three experts took part.

In Japan, interviews were conducted in five companies in the Tokyo region. In India fifteen interviews with companies in the state of Tamil Nadu (southern India) and in China interviews with eleven German companies in the Shanghai region were conducted.Footnote6th

The interviews lasted between 60 and 80 minutes. In consultation with the experts, all interviews were recorded on tape and then partially transcribed.Footnote7th

Presentation of the findings

In the following, the generated findings are presented separately by country and reflected in the country-specific context. Against the background that no comprehensive picture of the country-specific characteristics of the education system, labor market and society can be sketched and that at the same time a certain episodic nature is inherent in the qualitative findings, central aspects with regard to research questions and typology are dealt with here singularly, the classification and evaluation the findings are then made in Chap. 5.

German companies in Japan

In Japan, interviews were carried out in five large companies in the Tokyo region. The surveyed companies can be assigned to the financial and logistics services, the manufacturing industry and the certification service.

If “training activities” are mentioned, this focus must first be put into perspective after evaluating the results: none of the companies examined are training school leavers. A bundle of z. T. to cite interdependent reasons. Due to the Japanese education system, there is no institutional framework to train Japanese students according to German ideas (i.e. according to the professional principle). This host country effect is made clear by the statement made by the interviewee from company J1: “[Training] is not formalized here anyway. And it has already been attempted via the chamber [German Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan, cf. Alexander and Bals 1993, Note d. Ed.] To introduce such programs, which was not very successful. ”Furthermore, the high costs for teaching staff, infrastructure, etc. that such training would incur as a reason not to train pupils were given. The young age of Japanese school leavers was also cited as an obstacle. On the one hand, this leads to an increased duty of care on the part of companies and, on the other hand, results in a relatively high drop-out rate among young people, as the students are not yet mature enough to enter the world of work. Overall, for these reasons, the companies examined do not consider the training of students to be profitable.

Furthermore, three of the five companies examined do not even employ university graduates. Here, too, the qualification of the Japanese graduates, who are very inexperienced in practice, is not seen as economically sensible: “To put it quite frankly, on the fact that the people here come with an unfamiliar education, they come to an education that actually does not lead to our activity. We are not prepared for that to compensate now ”(Company J3).

In addition, according to a respondent, the lesser-known companies still suffer from poor recruitment requirements for image reasons: “No graduate wants to join a foreign, unknown, small company that has no social prestige and is also not, as I say, ‘effective as a mother-in-law’.” This is of course the case with the graduates of the best universities who claim to join the big well-known Japanese companies.

The two companies examined that employ and train university graduates use trainee programs. Every year, a certain number of university graduates (mostly with bachelor’s degrees) are hired and introduced to the company via the trainee program, which usually lasts 1–2 years. The main learning method is on-the-job training (OJT), which is supported by selected seminars and, in some cases, a practical phase in one of the foreign branches. Since these trainee programs are developed centrally by the parent company, they differ only marginally from the “global training standard”.

Overall, the importance of initial training for school leavers or university graduates is relatively low. The recruiting and subsequent qualification of personnel with professional experience, so-called mid-career recruits, is more important, because the time and monetary investments to be made by the company in terms of work preparation are much lower for these employees. A German manager (J5.2) describes the situation for employees in the areas of pre-sales, sales and after-sales as follows: “They hire them, send them to Germany, then they learn how the product works and what specifics In sales it has to do with which customer requirements have to be observed and and and. And then they should work. “

The scope of the further training measures for staff with professional experience takes place in all companies via a mix of OJT and off-the-job training (OffJT), is based on individual and company-specific needs and is essentially financially supported by the company. While OJT corresponds to company-specific and less formalized learning in the sense of “day-to-day coaching” (company J2) in all companies, the didactic, curricular and organizational design of the OffJT offers is somewhat more differentiated between the companies.

At company J1, the organization of qualification measures is basically “very specific and precise” (company J1). Due to the industry-specific importance, qualification measures from local, external providers based on ISO standards, national regulations or other international specifications are used to a large extent. However, due to the company’s strong focus on exports, courses are sometimes held with external providers in the target countries of the entrepreneurial activities. In addition, the company holds workshops to increase motivation, improve soft skills and team building.

The OffJT offers from company J3 have been externalized for cost reasons. The company itself concentrates on developing concepts and coordinating further training; the company leaves the implementation to various training companies or individual trainers. In addition to the cost factor, the quality of the qualification measures also speaks in favor of this path: “You really get the professionals. (…) You get the latest knowledge or the latest methodological approaches, there are really great things out there. And keeping everything in-house yourself is difficult ”(Company J3). Depending on the measure, the training is not only carried out in Japan (in Japanese), but also nationwide in Asia or at the headquarters in Germany (in English).

Driven by a special department in the head office, a large canon of modules (apart from country-specific topics) is organized in the form of standard courses and a considerable part of which can be accessed worldwide via the company’s intranet.

The measures at company J4 are similar. Here, too, training in the technical area is offered by external partners. However, these are less local Japanese providers than international training providers. A global standard can thus be adhered to.

Although the rather high proportion of non-regular employees can benefit from training measures at the suggestion of the manager, this group’s participation in further training is rather low: “The classic canon of training measures is only available to this group (…) to a limited extent” (company J4 ). In group J5 (group J5 consists of group companies J5.1, J5.2 and J5.3.) OffJT offers only play a minor role and are hardly formalized. Due to the small number of participants and the focus on company-specific knowledge (software programs, products, etc.), it is often the most efficient solution for group companies J5.2 and J5.3 to organize and hold the courses centrally in Germany. The group company J5. 1, on the other hand, is very ‘organized in Japanese’ and acts completely separate from the German parent company when it comes to training and further education: “It [the company J5.1] is completely unaffected by any German influence. (…). In other words, training, career ladders, attitudes – nobody peeps in and they don’t consult anyone (…). He’s a Japanese manager who runs the shop in a really Japanese way ”(Company J5).

The reasons for the strong differences between the group companies are primarily to be found in the different work content and requirements of the areas of activity on the employees. It seems to the company that it makes little sense and is not possible to intervene in functioning structures in the production area through German, non-institutionalized structures. B. In the service area, knowledge and standards from the parent company appear more important and are easier to implement.

When asked about the basic strategies of the companies examined, it can be said that none of the companies has a “pure” basic strategy, but that different attitudes can be determined for different aspects of the study, so that overall mixed forms result.

This shows that the majority of companies are based on a hybrid of polycentric and geocentric attitudes. This affects companies J1, J3, J4 and J5.1. On the other hand, the company’s foreign branches, largely independent of the parent company, act as independent satellites, which reveals polycentric structures.

In the case of company J2, on the other hand, in addition to polycentric characteristics, regional-centric tendencies can also be identified, because the foreign branches in Asia support each other in personnel development measures.

Overall, the minor importance of ethnocentric strategies is striking. Approaches to this strategy can only be recognized to a significant extent in companies J5 (namely in J5.2 and J5.3), because here not only a large part of the staff is sent from Germany, but at the same time Japanese staff are sent to Germany for qualification measures.

German companies in India

Fifteen large companies in the state of Tamil Nadu were interviewed in the Indian survey. They belong to the construction industry, the automotive supplier sector and the pharmaceutical industry.

Overall, it can be said that there are diverse training offers in all of the companies examined and that these are of great importance in the respective company policy. Representing the companies examined, company I5 clarifies the current situation as follows: “Wherever there is a new system or strategy, a new machine, a new product, a new process, change, there is a training need”. The role or influence of the German parent company is limited to the provision of product information and training in the technical field (“technical support”) in the majority of the companies examined. In management, personnel selection and the organization of training and education

The predominant understanding of “Initial Education and Training” (IET) relates to the introduction of new employees into the company in the form of “Induction Training”. This introductory training is intended to introduce the new employees to the company, its products and their new workplace. In most companies (ten companies) the duration is around one week. “In the moment the person walks in, they are fresh. They will be put in our training program. It is more focusing on the company policies, procedure, practices, ethos, culture and all those things. (…) It is mandatory for anyone who will enter the organization “(Company I1).

When asked about the existence or introduction of a “dual training system” like in Germany (“Vocational and Education Training”) in India, which is characterized by the cooperation between the state and companies according to the occupational concept, it was emphasized that such a system in India does not exist and it takes time to adapt a similar system. The reasons for this include both the institutional framework in India and the social acceptance of the vocational training system. Company I13 presents the current situation as follows: “There is huge demand in vocational trained people in India. (…) But the ITIsFootnote8 are attracting some school drops out, but they are not affordable. (…) In fact admission to ITIs has reduced. But admissions to polytechnics and engineering have increased. At one point of time we are not getting the vocational trained people for the lower level jobs. “

Specifically, the ideal-typical professional career after leaving school (traditionally shaped understanding) for privileged young people first provides for an academic training before entering the employment system. It should be noted at this point that various job profiles, for which qualifications are provided in Germany through apprenticeships, are offered in a similar form in India as programs at academic institutions. “Indian way of education is different. The focus is more on technical and career base. (…) First we do the education and then search career. (…) Vocational is available in India, but when you do vocational it looks like a blue collar not as a white collar “(Company I9).

A minority (two companies) offer what is known as “apprenticeship training” either after completing the basic theoretical training at ITIs or after completing the “diploma” at the vocational secondary level. In this, the graduates receive practical training in a company for one year. The process is not determined by a fixed curriculum, and the training is carried out by the respective department head in the form of an OJT who has no didactic-pedagogical training. The pay of the trainees and the costs of the companies for this program are subsidized by the state (see also Männicke 2011). There is no final examination after the practical training. In addition, companies also offer special introductory training courses for university graduates (“fresh graduates”) based on their later work activities. After a theoretical introduction to the company, these graduates complete an OJT with various types of examination for several months. The training lasts six to twelve months, depending on the complexity of the job, and is not very formalized. For example, company I5 designs this introductory training as follows: “The first week they will be in the technical training department. We used to give all the technical information. (…) It will be an OJT and every month they will undergo a soft skill program. There is a schedule program for the first year. Every month after the completion of the department they have to do a presentation. (…) The main idea is to find out who is what and how their performance is “(Company I5).

Another offer of the companies, which is only offered by seven companies, are “vocational trainings” for students, which have to be provided within the framework of the university curriculum in so-called “summer projects” over a period of 45–60 days.

Further training measures are made dependent on the current requirements and required skills of the job. Further training should therefore close the “knowledge gap” between job requirements and the actual qualification of the employee and train him optimally for his position and task.

The further training offer in the company is divided primarily into technical training, training related to social skills, so-called “soft skills” and behavior-related (“behavorial”) training. A much-mentioned focus, especially in sales, is improving English communication, which is very often criticized.

Basically, the following trends in the design of training and further education in the companies surveyed can be identified:

Theoretical specialist knowledge is for the most part expected by employers when they join the company. The training units offered relate more to the connection of company or product-specific knowledge with the performance of your later work. The internal training offers are formalized and structured and are equipped with learning material. However, this material is predominantly only related to the company (e.g. product presentations) and does not aim to convey knowledge beyond the company.

These larger companies also have separate training centers, such as an “application center” (company I1) or an industry-specific special school (company I2). “The intention is more in practice creative. The idea is what you gain has to be retained and what you are reading has to be applied. (…) The Application Center is a venue where the training can touch, feel and see. They can do it by themselves. We have classroom training, on-the-job training and then on the side training “(Company I1).

The trainers are not trained teachers, but mostly product managers who have extensive professional experience and, at best, have received “train the trainer” training. In addition, the companies send two to three representatives from the Indian subsidiary to Germany in order to train them on a company or product-specific basis. These in turn take over the training in India.

A certification of the training participation is not usual on the part of the company. Since the majority of the offers are organized and held internally, there is no reason for this. In the case of external training courses, participants receive a certificate of attendance. Some of the “fresh graduates” have to pass a test after their OJT, through which an employment contract is then concluded. “Employment itself is a certification” (company I10).

The training costs are fully covered by all companies against the background of the benefit gain. Since the training units for “fresh graduates” are particularly expensive, certain measures are taken to bind them to the company after their OJT and to increase the employee’s productivity through this promotion. Company I6 implements this measure as follows: “We introduced a scheme that we will employ them on a normal listing. At least some amount is detected every month. We said you will get this one – this is a loyalty bonus. You will become available for this only after two years of service. If you are leaving you don’t get that. It is not on the purpose of making any money. But they are trained and when somebody is leaving I will lose this money “(Company I6).

In summary, the challenges faced by the companies examined in their training offerings include the inadequate link between higher education and the later practical requirements of the labor market as well as the high fluctuation rate, which are underpinned by the following quotations. “Training is also a key factor to keep the people. Because number one problem that most companies in India face is that the attrition rate is high – the turn-over of people. So, for them it is part of an attractive package to join the company. They expect training “(Company I12).

With regard to VET, it is emphasized that this will only be accepted if the social opinion regarding vocational training changes and if this is also reflected in payment and further development. “The remuneration and the return of VET are very little. (…) The pay-off is not good. (…) It’s a continuous work, to train them emotionally to understand that you get lesser paid for the time when you start and as you go by it is a better quality of life that you will get ”(Company I1).

When asked about the basic strategies of the German branches in South India, one can speak of a “host country effect” or a “localization effect” based on Perlmutter and Heenan. This is the case when “cultural and institutional conditions in the host country prevent the transfer of personnel methods abroad” (cf. Perlmutter and Heenan 1974 ). Accordingly, the company policy is based on the practices and concepts of South India and can accordingly be assigned to the polycentric company. Most of the companies surveyed are independently operating companies that are mostly only connected to the German parent company through the exchange of joint products and technical know-how.

German companies in China

As part of the present study, interviews were conducted in eleven large German companies from the Shanghai region. The companies are active in the chemical industry, in the automotive industry and as automotive suppliers.

The results of the interviews show that the German companies located in China offer a range of vocational training activities. Training according to the classic German training system was not implemented in any of the companies examined. The reason for this abstinence is primarily due to the fact that vocational training in China is traditionally one-sided school-oriented and cooperation between training companies and vocational schools is largely unknown (cf. Xu 2004 ; Rützel and Ziehm 2006 ). In addition, China lacks both the legal framework and the competence of the training staff for a cooperation i. S. der German duality (cf. also Zhao and Xu 2008 , p. 658; Rauner and Zhao2009 , p. 346).

As a result, an in-house, informal induction of new employees is preferred (in ten companies), in which no differentiation is made between school leavers and experienced employees. The induction is financially borne by the respective company itself. This activity begins with a company introduction, which usually lasts one week. The departments, products and their contact persons are introduced to the new employees. This is followed by an area-specific OJT at the new workplace, which is the responsibility of colleagues, team leaders and the supervisor. The OJT can last one to six months, depending on the job requirements. The companies C1, C2 and C3 stated in the context of the interviews that the induction was based on special in-house induction plans, which are worked out in different levels of detail: “Measures for new employees are divided into two phases. The first phase is the introduction of the new employees (…) Then the employees go to their respective departments. The colleagues in the department train the employees according to the work requirements and an induction plan ”(company C1). “There are very, very individual on-the-job induction plans” (Company C2). To provide highly specific qualifications, the new employees from C3 and C7 are sent to the parent company in Germany: “Difficult jobs on difficult, complex machines, we have a few that we send to Germany for two to three months, they get highly specialized in Germany Training on these machines ”(company C3).

In addition, almost all of the companies examined orient themselves towards work-specific requirements in the OJTs. Only company C11 offers its new employees a broader overview of the activities in the adjacent departments, but this insight is limited to a maximum of one working day at a time.

The companies examined almost exclusively employ graduates from vocational schools in the manufacturing sector and university graduates in the administrative sector. In addition, university graduates are also hired in the companies for activities for which no academic vocational training is required in Germany. Graduates often regard these jobs as entry-level jobs. Company C2 illustrated this with an example. “For the classic secretary, there is an apprenticeship in Germany for, here we employ university graduates, that is an entry position for them”.

In addition to induction, which the companies examined consider to be the most common form of vocational training activities of German companies in China, there are also individual forms of training that, contrary to the otherwise usual strict separation of learning locations (see above), involve voluntary and regional cooperation between individual companies and vocational schools occur. This includes in particular the training of specialists in the production area.

Companies C8, C9 and C10 prefer such independent cooperation. The companies maintain their own classes in the vocational schools, which are formed at the beginning or in the middle of the training. In this case, those interested actively apply in advance for training in these classes. The apprentices are then selected jointly by company representatives and vocational school teachers, who are supported by aptitude tests and job interviews.

Thanks to the company’s own classes, trainees can acquire company-specific knowledge during their school-based training phase, in addition to basic professional skills and abilities.

The trainees are trained in full-time school until shortly before they graduate from school. They then receive practical training in the company. In the case of companies C9 and C10, the trainees in the last year of their training in the company are directly trained in future jobs by OJT. The trainees of the company C8 spend the last six months of their training in the in-house training center and at the future workplaces. All of the companies examined are based on job-specific skills. “If the students do the internship with us, they will be used in this area, where their future workplace will be” (Company C10).

A certification of this measure by the companies does not take place. Company C9 justified this as follows: “The students do not get a certificate from us, because the aim of the program is to train these students for our company and not for others. That is why we do not offer a certificate. It wouldn’t make any sense to us ”.

The costs of this measure are borne by both learning locations. On the one hand, this means that the training costs incurred in the vocational schools are borne by the state and by the school fees or tuition fees of the trainees. On the other hand, the company pays the company training costs. “The school is responsible for the school costs and we are responsible for the operational costs. The students pay the normal tuition fees ”(Company C8). In addition, the trainees receive a small allowance for the in-company training phase.

The examined companies of these cooperative forms of vocational training see the strengths of this cooperation in the better adaptability of the trainees and in the reduction of induction costs: “The difference to other classes is that the students of the company class are better suited to our company. After graduation, you can get used to the way we work faster and you know our corporate culture ”(Company C9).

The further training activities of German companies in China can be divided into state and company measures. The state-regulated measures are in turn divided into refresher courses and advanced training. The refresher courses deal with innovations in the occupational fields. Both forms of further training are carried out in the state vocational training centers by state vocational training staff, with participation in state further training activities being compulsory. “The state demands that certain state training courses are compulsory for employees with certain operational functions” (Company C1). The question of whether the state training measures are certified was answered in the affirmative by company C1.

In addition, the companies examined have their own training activities in the form of OJT and OffJT. OJT offers are largely small-scale measures such as B. SAP training courses or machine instructions.

Companies C7 and C11 operate their own training departments, which coordinate, organize and carry out all of the company’s training activities. Various universities and private providers are involved as cooperation partners. The training center of the company C7 offers “approx. 3500 different training courses in-house alone ”(Company C7).

However, a high proportion of in-company further training offers are carried out by external further training providers and trainers. Not all company training measures are certified.

Both state and company training measures are largely financed by the companies themselves. “It goes up to the fact that we partially pay the MBAs for good employees” (Company C7).

In response to the question of which basic typology strategy, based on Perlmutter and Hennan, the examined German companies in China pursue, one can summarize here as a dominant polycentric basic strategy. The companies examined align their qualification policy to the Chinese conditions and the local qualification regimes. They recruit school leavers from the Chinese education system and employees from the Chinese labor market to meet their staffing needs. However, due to the lack of practical experience and the inferior qualification level of the graduates of the Chinese vocational training system, it can be attested that some of the companies rely on elements of the training structure of the parent company, to counteract these deficits. In some of the companies examined, elements of the German dual system were integrated into the qualification in order to increase the practical experience of Chinese school leavers, which indicates ethnocentric tendencies. “There is a high demand for skilled workers across China, but since we [C4] are a German company, we are interested in training skilled workers according to the dual system. Because the strengths of the dual system are that the focus is on the practical part ” “There is a high demand for skilled workers across China, but since we [C4] are a German company, we are interested in training skilled workers according to the dual system. Because the strengths of the dual system are that the focus is on the practical part ” “There is a high demand for skilled workers across China, but since we [C4] are a German company, we are interested in training skilled workers according to the dual system. Because the strengths of the dual system are that the focus is on the practical part “( Company C4).

Evaluation of the findings

The presentation of the findings already makes it clear what different social and educational cultural facts exist in the three countries. An assessment in the context of a qualitative study on internationally comparative vocational training research can therefore neither claim to be generalized nor to provide an all-encompassing explanatory context in the three countries, which are e.g. T. once again have very different national characteristics, draw. However, on the basis of the generated findings, tendencies with regard to the characteristics of qualification types can be determined and classified.

Overall, the research findings show a dominance of the polycentric corporate strategy. If the meta-categories mentioned at the beginning are used for the German occupational concept (see Section 3), based on the information in Chap. 4 of the reported findings, none of the points for the surveyed companies showed a strong convergence with the German training system. A further interpretation of these findings in the context of the socio-cultural framework can only be made against the background of the knowledge of the limitations of the study. One approach is an approach that links the structural and the cultural level (cf. Georg 2005, P. 190 f.). Specifically, an education and employment system that can be understood in a cultural context must go beyond the expansion of the “varieties of skill formation systems” approach, which has already been described above and which focuses on the regulatory and organizational framework, and the didactic-curricular orientation and the qualification process in the context of socialization (Deißinger 1995 , Pp. 379-383). In this respect, the qualification strategies of German companies analyzed here in the context of the EPRG typology can now be interpreted against the background of a culturally reflected qualification style in the respective country.

In our findings, parallels to the German status in China are most likely to be noted with regard to qualification strategies. The Chinese vocational training system comprises the secondary vocational school, the skilled workers’ school, the technical secondary school and the upper secondary vocational school as well as higher vocational training in the tertiary sector (cf. Xu 2003 , p. 59 f .; Rauner and Zhao 2009, Pp. 336-340). The German companies examined here predominantly recruit graduates from vocational school types at upper secondary level and from higher vocational training. Chinese vocational training is organized as a full-time school, which, depending on the type of school, is more or less extensively enriched with a practical part within the school (cf. Rützel and Ziehm 2006 , pp. 60–65). The gap between the highly theoretical training content in school and the requirements of the labor market is the greatest weakness in Chinese vocational training (see Lai and Lo 2008). Despite the efforts of the Chinese government to promote vocational training e.g. To modernize, for example, through training workshops and company internships, the skills of the graduates fall short of the competence requirements of the labor market (cf. Shi 2012 , p. 92 f.).

Against this background, some of the companies surveyed try to compensate for the weaknesses of the full-time school-based vocational training system by adapting German vocational training elements in the form of cooperation with local vocational schools. The following elements can be found here in particular: A focus on young people in the context of initial training, the duality of the learning locations (at least in the third year of training), a clear didactic-curricular definition of learning content, professional vocational training staff and certification of the training course at least by the vocational school. The reason why China is the only country in this study to show some successful partnerships between vocational schools and German companies can be traced back to the historical development of Chinese vocational training. During the industrialization of the 1950s and 1960s, some state-owned companies operated their own vocational schools, which were characterized by a large number of companies. With the privatization of the companies, these in-house vocational schools were closed and replaced by state-run full-time vocational training (see Fang2009 ). Against this background, the cooperation between vocational schools and companies does not represent new territory in Chinese vocational training, even if the cooperation does not correspond to the classic idea of ​​German learning location cooperation.

However, all other companies in this study are fully based on the Chinese conditions i. The recruiting of specialists from full-time vocational schools supplemented by training in the company. At these companies there is a widespread notion that in-company training units could disrupt the day-to-day business process. This aspect was also addressed in other surveys on the adaptation of the German dual system in China (cf. e.g. Cheng and Lei 1994 , p. 120; Rauner and Zhao 2009 , p. 347).

The explanations on the framework conditions make it clear why the polycentric training strategy stated above with partial ethnocentric tendencies appears to be quite rational for China.

In Japan, the research results show a rather diffuse picture with a rather polycentric tendency. German companies have to face the conditions of the Japanese transition system. In a country where the majority of an age cohort acquire an academic degree (cf. Terada 2011 , pp. 112–126) and foreign companies, as prestigious as their names may be, are not very attractive (cf. Alexander 2011), in German companies the induction of experienced employees at the intermediate qualification level almost completely replaces the initial training. The reason for this is in particular the fact that recourse to the Japanese qualification structures is not possible. The logic of Japanese companies does not follow a professional concept, but an operational concept (cf. Terada et al. 2004 , pp. 156–159) in which ‘in-house qualification’ is in the foreground (cf. Georg and Demes 1995 , p. 88 f.). And even there, it contains structured features of in-company initial training that are hardly known from Germany (cf. Georg and Demes 2000, P. 305 f.). Japanese companies place less value on specialist knowledge that is acquired in schools, for them the fundamental virtues of the ‘secret curriculum’ play a greater role (cf. Georg and Demes 1995 , p. 93). According to the Japanese view, the technical can mainly be learned through on-the-job training (OJT), through years of experience with all the senses (cf. Drinck 2002 , p. 263). The Japanese ‘first qualification’ has a completely different function than in Germany; it is not primarily oriented towards the imparting of standardized qualifications, but rather serves the long-term social integration into the company community (cf. Georg and Demes 1995, P. 89). In addition, there is the fact that the transition from the education to the employment system is very informal. Educational institutions, for example, maintain extensive contacts with employers at the parallel reputation level, graded according to reputation, whereby German companies are not involved here (cf. Drinck 2002 , pp. 264–265; Alexander 2011 ; Eswein and Pilz 2012 ). As a result, an informal matching of applicants and companies takes place before the actual application via the recommendations of the educational institutions for job vacancies that the companies have reported exclusively to the institutions in advance.

Another aspect makes it more difficult to adopt German dual forms of training: Since in Japan the role of purely vocational schools is continuously falling in favor of university-oriented institutions (cf.Terada 2011 ) and the attempt that has been made in recent years to introduce short company internships to increase the practical component in general Increasing the school curriculum (cf. Ito 2010 ) does not form an effective basis, there is no independent second place of learning in Japan.

Against this background, initial training with German characteristics in Japan is largely unrealistic (cf. also Alexander 2011 , p. 178). The remaining training offers then do not have a clear character in terms of typology and, as the interviews (see above) make clear, can be assigned to the other types depending on the design.

The examined companies in India act largely independently and are mainly based on the concepts and practices of the host country. Consequently, a polycentric qualification strategy can also be attested here. However, the companies we interviewed are more flexible with regard to the design of training activities than in Japan, where almost only experienced professionals are recruited and then trained. In India, both young professionals and previously employed workers are being recruited. The focus is primarily on training and less often on comprehensive training. The reason for this is that the Indian labor market is characterized by high fluctuation, which makes broader investment in qualification appear risky for companies (see Goller2009 ). This phenomenon, referred to as “poaching” in the literature (cf. e.g. Stevens 1996 ), is also attempted by some German companies through incentives to stay and participation models in training costs, but it still remains a major obstacle to qualification activities.

Another glaring obstacle to the introduction of dual training structures is the quantity and quality of the Indian vocational training system below the academically focused offers (see also the statements of the companies surveyed above). Structurally, the Indian vocational training system is only rudimentarily differentiated, with the current approx. 9000 Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs, private institutions being differently referred to as ITCs) are at the center. In these, however, only a fraction of an age group can be trained (cf. Mond and Pilz 2011 ; Agrawal 2012 , pp. 459–462). The quality of the courses offered in the ITIs is often of a very low level (see ILO 2003 ; Singh 2012, Pp. 202-204). In addition to the technical and spatial equipment, there is often a lack of appropriately trained teaching staff and modern curricular principles (cf. Männicke 2010 , p. 18). A large part of the training is also carried out in full-time school form, has a very strong theoretical focus and has only very limited practical relevance (cf. Goller 2009 ).

The lack of attention and financial support for Indian vocational education and training (cf. Agrawal 2013 ), recognized by the political side in recent years, has not yet led to any noteworthy changes (cf. Agrawal 2012 ; Singh 2012 ). This is inter alia. in the basic structure of Indian competence acquisition processes, which, beyond academic education, is very much shaped by informal or non-formal acquisition of qualifications in non-regulated employment relationships (cf. King 2012 ; Agrawal 2013). At the same time, it should not be forgotten that, especially in rural areas, there is still a low general school leaving qualification on average for children, which makes access to a theoretical education more difficult or leads to high dropout rates in the ITIs. In addition, the still widespread caste thinking, especially in the context of manual or “dirty” work, stigmatizes vocational training and scares off possible “high potentials” (cf. Singh 2001 ).

These statements make it clear that German companies in India i. d. R cannot even cooperate more intensively with vocational training institutions in local projects.

Finally, the focus should now be directed once again to all three countries as well as to prospective activities of German foreign subsidiaries:

The training behavior of German companies is largely determined by the local framework conditions. In the context of the “varieties of skill formation systems” typology, it is noticeable that only in China are the existing full-time schools partially integrated into the training of German companies. In Japan and India, where these vocational schools do not exist or only marginally exist, other strategies are used. In Japan these primarily consist in the recruitment of older workers and their further training, while in India, against the background of a “liberal skill formation” tradition, the “localization effect” has an impact and German companies prefer shorter phases of training.

However, the findings generated here also clearly show that German companies, especially in China and India, have a great need for young people with practical training at an intermediate level of qualification. At least in the medium term, a polycentric training strategy will remain dominant. For companies that are unable to seek and finance a stand-alone, isolated solution, a stronger orientation towards the German training system requires the development of joint activities with collective training schools of German companies (see e.g. AHK, no year) or the involvement of high-performing state vocational schools. The latter initiative, however, then again affects the aforementioned state or intergovernmental level.


  1. 1.The German dual training system quantitatively represents the central part of the German vocational training system and is the area in which the training companies are also directly involved in initial training in Germany. Therefore, this part of the vocational training system was chosen as a reference point.
  2. 2.The company perspective was indirectly included: the size of the companies in the host country was taken into account by a minimum number of staff in the host country as a prerequisite for potential training activities and thus the sampling (see below) was influenced. By focusing on the middle qualification level, differences in the personnel structure of the companies surveyed (e.g. in companies from the IT sector with a high percentage of academics or companies with a singular focus on simple production by unskilled workers) were largely eliminated (there is a certain restriction in Japan on Basis of the local education system, see below).
  3. 3.Europe was not included in order to exclude the effects of the EU internal market for workers and the effects of mobility and recognition regulations for qualifications. At the same time, according to a most different approach, the activity in countries that deviate as much as possible from the German context should be examined.
  4. 4thAll guides were initially developed in German and then translated into English and the respective national language. Already in the cover letter and then again when making an appointment, the experts were offered to conduct the interview in one of the three languages.
  5. 5.Some lighthouse projects by large German companies, such as B. The mechatronics training at Volkswagen in Pune / India, the AHK training course in three major Indian cities (AHK no year) or the AHK project in Shanghai are not included in this study because of their special status.
  6. 6thThe different numbers resulted from the fact that in Japan, despite the contact with a very large number of German branches, only very few companies were available for an interview. In one group, the activities in three subsidiaries were also taken into account.
  7. 7thConversations that could not be held in German or English have been translated into German by the authors with regard to the quotations given.
  8. 8th.Industry Training Institutes are state-run or privately owned institutions organized as full-time schools that i. d. R do not cooperate with companies (cf. Goller 2009 ; Männicke 2011 ).

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