Dual tech: balancing theory and practice | Inquirer Opinion

Dual tech: balancing theory and practice

To paraphrase a sports-drink ad that has gone viral, “hard work works” if you want to be good at what you do. Of course, you need to have strong fundamentals to begin with. It is rather depressing, therefore, to see that, after all the hard work in school, far too many young people spend far too much time looking for employment, only to be turned away by far too many employers.

For the fresh graduate looking for work experience, the reason for rejection is classic Catch 22: We can’t hire you because you have neither the skills nor the experience, so come back when you have both.

This is one of the reasons internships are so appealing, especially in Europe and North America: One gets hands-on experience under actual working conditions. It’s a great way to learn the ropes, as it were, and at the very least, listing the internship in one’s resumé counts as work experience.

Training under the tutelage of a master at his workplace after learning the basics in school is an idea that is steeped in centuries of tradition, especially in Europe. It neatly balances theory and practice. This highly experiential learning process has evolved into the modern Dual Education system, which combines apprenticeships and schoolwork in one course.


Germany is at the cutting edge of this practice. Its “Duales Ausbildungssystem” offers over 300 occupations that a student can train for in a company.  The training takes from three to five days a week. The student spends the rest of the week in school for both general academic lessons and trade-specific theory.

In his presentation on Germany’s Vocational Education and Training (VET)  system, Yorck Sievers of the German Chambers of Commerce and Industry said the training period itself can run anywhere from two to three-and-a-half years. During that period, the learner is trained in not just one but several related occupations. In that way, the learner acquires a skill set with more depth, thus improving his/her hiring opportunities.

Sievers said unemployment was significantly reduced because the companies who were involved with VET were confident that after the apprenticeship, the people they were hiring were truly job-ready.

Stanford University economics professor Eric A. Hanushek believes that the dual-education system can be “Europe’s secret recipe” against economic recession. “Vocational education, particularly with apprenticeships, is designed to ensure that workers have job-related skills that make them immediately useful to firms. Thus, especially when faced with unemployment problems, it may be good policy to ensure that the education system is providing the skills most needed by the economy,” Hanushek says.


Germany’s VET owes its success to the lessons it learned over a long period of time, all the way from the Middle Ages when the guilds set the standards of quality for the various trades. With the passage of the Vocational Training Act in 1969, the federal and state ministries, the trade unions, the chambers of commerce and employers organizations, and the vocational education institutions all worked to arrive at a detailed consensus on training regulations.

Hanushek, on the other hand, emphasizes that “while some countries may view the German experience simply in terms of the apprenticeship programs and the linkages with firms, this would be a mistake.” He says the German experience is “really the dual system that combines academic preparation with industrial experience.”


He also points to broader issues that need to be clearly addressed when adopting the dual-education system as a national policy.

One is that general academic skills (i.e., reading comprehension, mathematics and scientific understanding) have a strong influence on economic growth. “Part of this comes from contributing to innovation in the economy, but part also comes from having a generally sophisticated workforce that can assimilate new production approaches,” he explains.

Secondly, in today’s global knowledge economy, the skills that workers bring with them may become obsolete as the jobs that they were hired for continue to evolve. There is “a tendency for the gains in initial employment that come with apprenticeship programs to be offset in varying degrees by lessened employability later in life,” Hanushek says.

Then there is the issue of education quality. Germany’s entire education system is more than world-class. While it is true that the VET is just one dimension of schooling, Germany’s education system is such that the overall quality of the academic component that goes with the in-company training is consistently high. Germany’s performance in international tests is proof of this. But what if the quality of education is suspect, as it is here?

Finally, Hanushek says, “what happens if the technology [that drives industry] changes? This concern is particularly important when there is rapid technological development—as would be implied by rapid economic growth. Vocational training may make students better able to carry out the school-to-work transition and better able to enter into jobs quickly. But it may also make them worse off in the future when technology changes, and it may lead them to have fewer employment opportunities over the full life-cycle.”

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Butch Hernandez ([email protected]) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation and education lead for talent development at the IT & Business Process Association of the Philippines.

TAGS: Butch Hernandez, Commentary, education, Germany, opinion

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