Study: Young east and west Germans still see career prospects as sharply divided

Klaus Hurrelmann advises on McDonald's fourth German vocational training study.

Nearly thirty years after East and West Germany reunified, the majority of young people in Germany see better career prospects in the western part of the country, while only two percent of those in the former East German states see their region as offering a career advantage, according to the 2019 McDonald’s Vocational Training Study 2019 (McDonald’s Ausbildungsstudie), a survey of young people aged 15 to 24 by the Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach (IfD) for McDonald’s. Hertie School Professor of Public Health and Education Klaus Hurrelmann was an advisor on the study, which conducted interviews with 1,600 young people.

Eighty-seven percent of respondents said they consider western Germany to be an attractive workplace, with those in the eastern and western states broadly in agreement on this view. While 64 percent of young adults in eastern Germany also find their region attractive, just under a third in western Germany share this opinion. The high attractiveness of western Germany is based on the perception that job prospects there are better. Eastern Germany, on the other hand, is seen as providing more living space and childcare facilities.

Despite these differences, young people on both sides of the former border are united in their perception that moving from school into vocational training is becoming increasingly complicated. Forty-four per cent of those under 25 said the wealth of choices today - between, for example, vocational training, dual study programmes or university studies - makes it harder to navigate their future careers.

“The study makes clear that the systems governing education and the professions have become disconnected from one another,” says Hurrelmann. “The transition from school to work has become extremely difficult to navigate for young people. They have to manage this themselves” with little outside help, Hurrelmann says. He sees a number of ways that schools and business could improve how they work together in helping young people: Improving career guidance services; more active engagement from government employment agencies, companies and business associations; an expansion of Germany’s required ninth-grade internships; and more open days, job fairs and internet platforms where young people can inform themselves.

While pursuing a university-level degree is significantly more popular among western Germans, their eastern German peers are equally interested in academic and practical training, and so-called dual-study programmes are becoming more popular, the study showed.

In addition, young people with a low level of education or those who leave school without a proper degree have a very different view of the future than those with a better educational background.

Hurrelmann says schools and companies need to engage more with this group. “One possibility are partnerships with schools and companies, where trainers actually teach in the schools,” he proposes, adding that the entire system of job training and career entry needs to be overhauled, with far more participation from both companies and local government. “It is the current standstill that is disturbing to young people and increasingly makes them angry,” he said.

Read the full McDonald’s 2019 Vocational Training Study here.

Listen to a podcast on Deutschlandfunk radio with Klaus Hurrelmann here (in German).

Read a story featuring Klaus Hurrelmann in Der Tagesspiegel and in Die Welt (both in German).

More about Klaus Hurrelmann