Revision of the IT continuing training system – options at different levels

Verena Schneider, Henrik Schwarz

The IT continuing training system (IT-WBS) was established in 2002. Despite the innovative approaches adopted, demand in practice remains muted. This article discusses possible starting points for a revision of the system against the background of the modernised IT training occupations and in light of the three-stage advanced training model introduced in the new Berufsbildungsgesetz (BBiG) [Vocational Training Act].

An innovative concept

The IT continuing training system encompasses the following three successive and integrated advanced training qualifications

  • IT Specialist (14 profiles) – DQR level 5 (DQR = German Qualifications Framework)
  • Operative Professional (4 profiles) – DQR level 6
  • Strategic Professional (2 profiles) – DQR level 7.

These offer attractive development opportunities both to persons who have completed relevant training and to lateral entrants. An alternative to academic qualifications which is equivalent in formal terms therefore exists within the vocational education and training (VET) system.

This three-stage concept has now also been included in the new regulations governing the levels of advanced training set out in the reformed BBiG. The explanations to accompany the draft law emphasise the aim of contributing to the “strengthening and further development of ‘higher’ VET” by offering “transparent stages of advanced training and independent and attractive qualification titles” (BMBF 2019, p. 1).

However, the number of persons completing programmes in the IT continuing training system offers little cause for optimism in this regard. Significant numbers of qualifications have only thus far been achieved at Operative Professional level. Nevertheless, given an annual average of 600 graduates, even these figures fall short of expectations and opportunities. The reasons for this are manifold. Firstly, the IT continuing training system remains relatively unknown. It is also competing with higher education qualifications and with a confusing plethora of IT manufacturer certificates, which the introduction of nationally standardised certificates was actually supposed to replace.

But the potential is there. Demand for skilled IT workers continues unabated, and the number of newly concluded training contracts in the IT occupations has risen significantly over recent years. Almost 14,800 new contracts were recorded for the training occupation of information technology specialist alone, moving it into the top ten of the most popular occupations (cf. BIBB survey of newly concluded training contracts as of 30 September 2018) in the German dual apprenticeship system.

In light of the launch of the modernised IT occupations with effect from 1 August 2020 and given the enshrinement in law of the phased concept in the new BBiG, which entered into force on 1 January 2020, we will explore below how acceptance of and demand for the IT continuing training system could be improved. These considerations are also informed by results which were obtained within the scope of an evaluation of Operative Professionals conducted by BIBB in 2018 (cf. Schneider/Schwarz 2019).

A revision which takes the system into account

One result of the evaluation was that the Operative Professional stage should be revised. It was also felt that consideration ought to be accorded to the recent changes undertaken to the IT occupations. The profiles of these have been expanded by adding topics such as digital networking (Industry 4.0), data and process analysis, and digitalisation of business processes. An isolated revision of the profiles at the second level of advanced training (Operative Professionals) makes little sense, however, because all three stages are interlinked with the aim of providing a harmonised system together with the IT training occupations. To this extent, it would also be necessary to investigate content adaptations at the other two advanced training levels.

At the same time, the updating of the BBiG introduces statutory stipulation of training that successively build upon one another – “Certified Professional Specialist”, “Bachelor Professional” and “Master Professional” (§ 53a Paragraph 1 new BBiG). This strengthens the notion of a system-based approach in vocational education and training “in the interests of a career concept”. Possible approaches for structural changes emerge at the IT Specialist level in particular. Content and structural adjustment options will be discussed for each of the three advanced training stages.

IT Specialists – what is the right direction of travel?

The introduction of the IT continuing training system established a didactic concept of learning within the work process at the Specialist level. The system stipulates certification under civil law of learning outcomes achieved in the real work process (cf. Rogalla/Wittschleuer 2003). Unfortunately, very few certificates have been issued, although precise numbers are unknown. If the belief persists that there is still a requirement for this qualification stage, any revision would need to see the profiles transferred to a nationally standardised regulation with examinations under public law. This could create greater commitment, enhance the advanced training profile and also increase the attractiveness of IT Specialists.

But how can the profiles at this first stage of advanced training be shaped in such a way so as to facilitate access for lateral entrants whilst also representing added value for those having completed training in the IT occupations? Admission prerequisites to the second stage of advanced training for these two target groups could, for example, be differentiated in terms of the required duration of “relevant professional practice” or via opportunities for credit transfer of contents to the next level. This would make it conceivable that the combination of a qualification under public law, relevant contents and credit transfer options with regard to the next stage of advanced training could bring about a “reanimation” of the Specialist level.

Operative Professionals – content profiling via (IT) security

As the evaluation showed, the “certified IT economist” profile at Operative Professional level attracts very little demand and should be discontinued. It could be replaced by a new profile which focuses on the topic of IT security. The high requirement for skilled workers with competencies in the field of IT security could help to give the IT continuing training system a boost (cf. Schwarz et al. 2018, also Schneider/Schwarz 2019).

Operative Professionals certainly enjoy advantages over higher education graduates. Smaller and medium-sized companies in particular believe that they represent a good opportunity to secure young managerial talent. Compared to higher education study, the IT continuing training system offers a practicable alternative to pursue further development on an in-service basis. One major benefit Operative Professionals are able to supply vis-à-vis higher education graduates is practical experience.

Strategic Professionals – high end?

Strategic Professionals are most in competition with higher education graduates, although the same advantages which Operative Professionals enjoy over a programme of in-service higher education study also apply. In addition, permeability with the higher education sector has improved over recent years. Weserbergland University of Applied Sciences has, for example, developed an in-service Bachelor course of study which offers a credit transfer for those who have acquired an Operative Professional qualification and leads to a degree in four semesters. A particular focus is placed on imparting scientific tools (cf. www.offene-hochschule.org). It also has a follow-up master’s programme which can be shortened by one semester to three semesters for those who undertake extra studies during the Bachelor course. Assuming that appropriate recognition is in place on the labour market, the practical benefit of the Strategic Professional qualification is that it allows considerable time savings to be made in reaching level 7 of the DQR. This could be expanded further via opportunities for credit transfer from the second stage of advanced training. The question which arises with regard to any re-regulation is, however, how the qualification can be structured in such a way so as to be perceived by Operative Professional as an attractive alternative to higher education study including in terms of content.

Take advantage of the momentum!

The revision of the IT occupations, the considerable demand for skilled IT workers, especially in the area of IT security, and the emphasis on higher qualifying VET in the new BBiG are all points which compact to generate a sense of “momentum” that should be exploited. The starting points presented for a revision of the IT continuing training system should be scrutinised prior to any modernisation.

Possibilities of credit transfer to provide connectivity in the higher education sector and for learning outcomes achieved by higher education dropouts within the IT continuing training system should both be investigated as part of the revision.


BUNDESMINISTERIUM FÜR BILDUNG UND FORSCHUNG (BMBF): Entwurf eines Gesetzes zur Modernisierung und Stärkung der beruflichen Bildung. 2019 – URL: https://www.bmbf.de/files/Gesetzentwuf_Bundesregierung_BBiG_Novelle_final.pdf (retrieved: 27.11.2019) 

ROGALLA, I.; WITT-SCHLEUER, D.: IT-Weiterbildung mit System: Das Praxishandbuch. Hannover 2003

SCHNEIDER, V.; SCHWARZ, H.: Das IT-Weiterbildungssystem – reformbedürftig In: BWP 48 (2019) 1, pp. 50-51  – URL: www.bwp-zeitschrift.de/de/bwp.php/de/bwp/show/9646 (retrieved: 27.11.2019)

SCHWARZ, H. et al.: 4.2.580: Voruntersuchung zur Novellierung der IT-FortbildungsverordnungAbschlussbericht. Bonn 2018 – URL: www.bibb.de/tools/dapro/data/documents/pdf/eb_42580.pdf (retrieved: 27.11.2019)

Research Associate at BIBB

Head of Division at BIBB


Translation from the German original (published in BWP 1/2020): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin