Marked contrasts in the prestige of dual vocational training occupations in Germany

Christian Ebner, Daniela Rohrbach-Schmidt

In Germany, the vocational education and training (VET) system and the labour market are organised by occupation; a person’s occupation is a key factor in determining income and career prospects and structures the processes of job searching and recruitment. Society has very different perceptions of the prestige of different occupations. Occupational prestige plays a role for young people when choosing an occupation and when it comes to filling apprenticeship places. This article presents the initial findings from a current BIBB study regarding the occupational prestige of the 25 largest occupations in the dual VET system.

How is occupational prestige measured?

Occupational prestige has not been researched extensively for the whole of Germany since Wegener (1984), so for almost 40 years. The occupational structure has changed considerably since then, with new occupations being created and existing ones transformed, e.g. with regard to their job content or requirements. The BIBB research project “Occupations in Germany: social perception and personality traits” examined the occupational prestige based on a large, representative survey of the resident population regarding 402 occupations (cf. Information Box). These also include the 25 largest (i.e. most strongly occupied) dual VET occupations (as of 2017; cf. Lohmüller 2018).

Data basis and collection

The survey regarding the attractiveness of occupations in Germany was conducted between October 2017 and May 2018 by means of a telephone survey of 9,010 persons by Sozialwissenschaftliches Umfragezentrum (SUZ). Those surveyed were asked to give their opinion on the current prestige of five occupations selected at random from a total of 402 occupations in Germany. The assessment used a scale from 0 (very low prestige) to 10 (very high prestige). More than 100 respondents thus assessed each of the 402 occupations on average. To ensure the quality of the collected data, the selection of occupations, their designation in the survey and the wording of the questions were themselves tested thoroughly based on various methods of questionnaire testing including a cognitive pre-test (for details and the prestige of all occupations, cf. Ebner/Rohrbach-Schmidt 2019).

How prestigious are different training occupations in Germany?

Note: The given values are averages of the individual assessments per occupation (between 96 and 141 per occupation; salesperson=summary of multiple single occupations, n=1,197; motor vehicle mechatronics specialist=motor vehicle mechatronics specialist and mechatronics engineer, n=229). The results are based on weighted data. The confidence intervals specify the confidence range for the average values based on the random sampling. The horizontal red line shows the average prestige value for ‘helper occupations’.

There are marked contrasts in German society’s perception of the 25 largest dual VET occupations (cf. Figure). The VET occupations of IT specialist and mechatronics fitter are held in high esteem in German society with average values of more than 7. Many of the other largest VET occupations have attractiveness values of more than 6 (e.g. industrial clerks, motor vehicle mechatronics technicians, medical assistants, tax clerks). Specialists in the hotel business, public administration clerks and hairdressers enjoy a prestige value that is above average on the scale (more than 5). The occupations of salesperson specialising in foodstuffs, cook, and salespersons in general are held in comparatively lower prestige but still achieve average values of more than 4. To allow better understanding of how the single VET occupations are perceived, the average prestige value of unskilled and semi-skilled activities (‘helper occupations’) is also shown on the Figure1 (horizontal red line: average value 4.40). All the VET occupations with the exception of cook and salespersons in general enjoy a significantly higher prestige than occupations for which completed VET is not usually necessary. Society holds the frontrunners IT specialist and mechatronics fitter in almost as high esteem as some occupations that generally require a university education such as mechanical engineer and notaries (cf. Ebner/Rohrbach-Schmidt 2019).

What is the significance of the results?

The results reveal marked contrasts in the occupational prestige of dual VET occupations in Germany. It can be seen that VET occupations that have a high percentage of unoccupied apprenticeship places are also viewed as less prestigious (e.g. salesperson specialising in foodstuffs or cook, cf. BIBB 2017). There are certainly a variety of reasons that certain VET occupations are perceived as more or less prestigious. According to initial analyses, factors that play a role include income or the activities performed in the occupations. Other factors (e.g. workload, job security) are currently being investigated in the course of the research project. Here, it will also be interesting to see to what extent the assessment of prestige of certain occupations depends on the age, gender, education level or occupation of the persons evaluating the prestige.

  • 1

    On the fifth, bottom level, the German Classification of Occupations 2010 makes a distinction between requirement levels 1 (unskilled or semi-skilled activities for which no full vocational training is normally required), 2 (specialist activities that generally require at least a 2 year vocational training degree), 3 (complex specialist activities that generally require training as a master craftsman or technician or equivalent qualification from a technical school) and 4 (highly complex specialist activities, occupations that require a university degree; cf. Paulus/Matthes 2013).


BIBB: Ergebnisse der BIBB-Erhebung zum 30.09., Datenstand: 11.12.2017; eigene Berechnungen – URL: www.bibb.de/naa309-2017 (retrieved: 07.06.2019)

EBNER, C.; ROHRBACH-SCHMIDT, D.: Berufliches Ansehen in Deutschland für die Klassifikation der Berufe 2010. Beschreibung der methodischen Vorgehensweise, erste deskriptive Ergebnisse und Güte der Messung. BIBB-Preprint. Bonn 2019 URL: www.bibb.de/vet-repository/000001 (retrieved: 07.06.2019)

LOHMÜLLER, L.: Datensystem Auszubildende (DAZUBI) Zusatztabellen. Die 25 am stärksten besetzten Ausbildungsberufe mit ausgewählten Indikatoren zur dualen Berufsausbildung, Deutschland 2017. Bonn 2018

PAULUS, W.; MATTHES, B.: The German Classification of Occupations 2010 – Structure, Coding and Conversion Table (FDZ Methodenreport 08/2013 (EN)). Nuremberg 2013

WEGENER, B.: Gibt es Sozialprestige? Konstruktion und Validität der Magnitude-Prestige-Skala (ZUMA-Arbeitsbericht 1984/02). Mannheim 1984

Prof. Dr, Institute of Social Sciences, Technische Universität Braunschweig

Dr., Research Associate at the BIBB Research Data Centre

Translation from the German original (published in BWP 4/2019): Beverly Rudd, exact! Sprachenservice, Mannheim