Higher Education Strategy Associates

Apprenticeships: Canada vs. Germany

Let’s play a game called: “Comparing Canadian and German Apprenticeships Using Actual Statistics, Instead of the Usual Misinformed Anecdotal BS That Passes for Analysis in Canadian PSE Policy Circles”.  We can start by asking: does Germany have more apprentices than we do?

Statistics Canada puts our apprenticeship population at 426,000.  In Germany, the number is 1.43 million.  But remember, Germany’s population is 2.6 times larger than Canada’s.  Normalized per 1000 of population, the relative number of apprenticeships looks like this:

Apprentices per 1000 of Population, Canada and Germany














Source: CANSIM 477-0053; Statistische Bundesamt, Bildung und Kultur Fachserie 11, Reihe 3, “Berufliche Bildung”, author’s calculations

So, overall, we do indeed trail Germany in terms of number of apprentices.

But the claim usually made on behalf of Germany is not just that it has lots of apprentices, but that these apprenticeships are the source of Germany’s manufacturing prowess.  Certainly, the skilled-trades brigade makes this point, and they seem to have convinced Essential Skills Minister, Jason Kenney, of this as well.

The problem is that it’s not true.  And that’s because German apprenticeships for the most part have nothing to do with what we call “skilled trades” (basically, anything involving construction or motive mechanics).  Check this out:

Proportion of All Apprentices that are in Construction/Mechanics Trades, Canada and Germany













Source: CANSIM 477-0053; Statistische Bundesamt, Bildung und Kultur Fachserie 11, Reihe 3, “Berufliche Bildung”, author’s calculations

Want more detail?  Let’s look at some of the key occupations that various pundits claim are a problem in Canada.

Electricians.  This is Canada’s largest apprenticeship category, with 64,000 apprentices. Germany has… 35,000.  Adjusting for population size, that means Canada has 4.75 electrician apprentices for every one in Germany.

Carpenters, Plumbers.  These are our second and third largest occupational categories, with 51,000 and 44,000 apprentices, respectively.  Unfortunately, we can’t make a comparison here because Germany only publishes statistics for the top 20 apprentice occupations, and neither carpentry nor plumbing make that list.  Yes, really.

Automotive Mechanics.  Germany is slightly ahead here – 58,530 apprentices to our 41,760.  But normalized for country size, Canada has 85% more auto mechanic apprentices than Germany.

So if German apprentices aren’t in skilled trades, what are they doing?  Well, take a look at the top ten apprenticeships in each country (the % of all apprenticeships represented by each occupation is in brackets).











Source: CANSIM 477-0053; Statistische Bundesamt, Bildung und Kultur Fachserie 11, Reihe 3, “Berufliche Bildung”

You see, German apprenticeships are not about “skilled trades” in the way we think of them.  They incorporate occupations in the service industries that actually employ most people in a modern economy, like retail, insurance, banking, health, and public service.  Ours don’t.  End of story.

Bottom line: if Germany has a lead on Canada in terms of skilled trades, it’s not because of the number of apprentices they train.  To the extent that apprenticeships account for this lead at all (as opposed to, say, industrial structure), other factors like apprenticeship completion rates, or the quality of the actual training delivered, are more likely to be at work.

So here’s a New Year’s resolution for the entire country: we’re all going to shut the hell up about needing to have, “more skilled trades apprentices, like Germany”, and move on to more productive conversations.  OK?

Grazie, Buon Anno.

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5 Responses to Apprenticeships: Canada vs. Germany

  1. Pingback: Smarter Policy on Apprenticeships | HESA

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  4. Pingback: David Trick – Taking Apprenticeship Seriously – It'sNotAcademic

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