Continuity and mutability of dual occupational profiles – the contribution of regulatory work

Stephanie Conein, Monika Hackel, Markus Bretschneider

“The vocational education and training system is in crisis!” The reasons for such statements are multifarious in nature, but they regularly cause and have caused existing structures and VET regulatory work in particular to be called into question. A memorandum produced by DIETER EULER and ECKART SEVERING in the autumn of 2020 was one such example. Against this background, the present article provides insights into the regulatory work conducted by BIBB and shows how consensual cooperation serves as a vehicle for the successful development of occupations in the field of tension between continuity and change. The article also clarifies how regulatory work recognises developments at an early stage, integrates them into training occupations in a timely manner, and structures these occupations in a way that enables training to take place over the long term and across a broad basis.

Aims of regulatory work

Regulatory work in an area of conflict between continuity and change
Figure: Regulatory work in an area of tension between continuity and change

Training regulations constitute occupationally specific legal ordinances pursuant to the Vocational Training Act (BBiG) and the Crafts and Trades Regulation Code (HwO) and act as structuring instruments for vocational education and training in Germany. They are developed in consensus with the social partners within the scope of the regulatory work carried out at BIBB. As well as support for the development of training regulations, this regulatory work also includes the continuous monitoring of occupations within the framework of research and evaluation projects in order to identify any need for change and assistance with the implementation of regulations in practice, e.g. via the series of publications “Structuring training”. Particular features of this process which are worthy of preservation are the involvement of the stakeholders in VET policy and the high level of commitment shown by the sectors which results, among other things, from the consensual procedure for the development of regulations. This leads in turn to a high degree of willingness to provide training on the part of companies and to comprehensive practical relevance on the basis of minimum standards which are comparable all over Germany.

The educational goal of any programme of vocational education and training is acquisition of the employability skills which are necessary for the long-term exercising of an occupational activity in a changing world of work.

“Gaining the ability to think and act autonomously when applying skills and knowledge” has been viewed as a key criterion for the recognition of a training occupation for over 40 years (FEDERAL COMMITTEE FOR VOCATIONAL EDUCATION AND TRAINING 1974). The recently modernised standard occupational profile items, the contents of which need to be imparted in an integrative manner over the whole of the course of the period of training, are one current example of how consideration is being accorded to this criteria. This latest update encompasses facets such as

  • the development of proposals for sustainable actions,
  • the joint designing of tasks,
  • social and communicative aspects and
  • the application of self-directed learning methods.

Within this context, regulatory instruments also contribute to the design orientation of vocational education and training (cf. e.g. RAUNER 2004). Design orientation refers to the relevance of the interplay between education, technology and work organisation and is understood as an ability to help shape the world of work. The focus is on taking this objective into account when formulating training contents. New technologies in particular lead to new competence requirements. When skills, knowledge and competencies are formulated, these requirements need to be shaped such as to ensure that training occupations both meet current needs and that training can continue over the longer term. Within the context of training, skilled workers should acquire competencies which fundamentally qualify them to exercise an occupation for a considerable time to come. Regulatory work needs to operate in this area of tension between continuity and change (see figure) so as to find answers to the following questions.

How can new requirements and skills needs be identified in a timely manner?

BIBB deploys a multitude of early recognition and prognosis instruments. Some of these, such as the BIBB-IAB Qualifications and Occupational Field Projections, tend to be aligned to macroeconomic change processes. Nevertheless, they also focus on specific competence requirements at the level of occupations or on alterations to occupationally specific work processes. One of the tasks of the experts working within the area of regulation at BIBB is to keep an eye on these levels. They network with regulatory policy stakeholders, companies, skilled workers, professional associations and various specialised sciences so that continuous monitoring of the respective occupational field can take place. Alongside tried-and-tested evaluation instruments at the level of the training occupation (e.g. evaluation of the IT occupations, cf. CONEIN/SCHWARZ 2015), relevant research projects are also carried out. Examples here include “Occupation Screening”, which formed part of the BIBB-BMBF “Vocational Education and Training 4.0” Initiative (cf. inter alia ZINKE 2019). In this case, the modernisation needs created by digitalisation were investigated in 14 recognised training occupations. Such research activity is characterised by a close proximity to occupational practice and to companies (providing training). Competencies and new requirements for occupational profiles are, for instance, surveyed via case studies conducted on site and at first hand (skilled workers, training managers, company executives) and then validated by means of questionnaires carried out across the occupational field. As a consequence, the results obtained are often much more differentiated than those which emerge from other investigations. The closer one gets to the level of the workplace, the clearer the picture will be. But the depiction obtained will also be a more diverse one. This degree of closeness is needed in order to recognise what certain competence requirements, such as “dealing with data”, actually mean in individual occupations and to understand that very different competencies are sometimes being addressed. In agricultural occupations, for example, digital data needs to be initially prepared for use by skilled workers. In process engineering occupations, on the other hand, such data is provided in digital form and the task of the skilled workers is to interpret it. Occupational (field)-specific analyses of this kind make it clear which facets of new competence requirements must be addressed in the respective training occupation. Such a direct insight into practice paves the way to outcomes which are capable of implementation didactically. Results are a good deal more elaborate than those described by the much-used buzzword “digital competencies”, but they are also more specific and more realisable. These occupationally specific details form an indispensable foundation for the consensual development of training occupations amongst experts from company practice.

How can new developments be integrated into training occupations?

The various possible ways of developing an occupation undergoing technological change (substitution, deskilling, upskilling or even an entirely new occupational profile) have been presented in numerous publications (cf. e.g. CONEIN 2020). Developments within an occupation may thus also proceed in parallel in the course of digitalisation. In addition to this, technological changes are dependent on sectors, training occupations and companies and do not take place simultaneously. This needs to be taken into account during the process of modernising a recognised training occupation. Companies will otherwise be excluded from the chance of training young staff, and this will exacerbate the shortage of skilled workers. Various structural models of training regulations offer opportunities to react to new competence requirements in a differentiated way. As set out in detail in works produced by BIBB (cf. BRETSCHNEIDER/SCHWARZ 2015; CONEIN/ZINKE 2019), different options are available for this purpose. These range from the adaptation of individual occupational profile items to the creation of new elective or additional qualifications. Even in an age of digitalisation, it is therefore possible to design training regulations in a way that is in tune with the times and meets occupational requirements. A current example of this is the elective qualification “Digitalisation and networked production”, a highly popular option which has been available to chemical technicians since 2018.1

The principle of using “technologically neutral” formulations represents a further aspect of lending due consideration to different facts and circumstances on the basis of minimum standards. The decision to take account of technology in all cases but to use open descriptions is one of the reasons for the long lifetime of training regulations. This means that general indications of types of software or plants are included rather than stipulations relating to programmes or equipment produced by a certain manufacturer. Astonishingly enough, the long life time of the training regulations (e.g. with regard to training in the occupations of information technology specialist or bank clerk) was particularly and frequently bemoaned as a deficit in the past. There was also a demand that ordinances should be sustainable, and such a circumstance was not viewed as constituting evidence of this. To cite an example: There is still an especial need for bank clerks to be in possession of knowledge regarding the requirements of financial products, market mechanisms, posting procedures and to have advisory skills even if customer guidance services are being supported by an AI-aided consultancy tool. This is the only way in which reputable advice in line with client needs can be provided. Otherwise, there is a risk that the customer will make a bad investment and that the bank will suffer reputational damage.

A consideration of these regulatory instruments, which have been developed and trialled in differentiated ways over many years, reveals that the regulatory work conducted thus far is well suited both to mapping the continuous and long-term developments of occupational fields and to recognising newly emerging skills needs at an early stage so that these can be integrated into the training regulations. It is, however, also correct to state that training regulations “merely” set out the minimum standards that apply to the skills, knowledge and competencies to be imparted. Ultimately, however, practical implementation at the companies is at least of equal importance. This leads to a further question, and the information stated above provides a framework for arriving at a response.


What can regulatory work achieve and what can it not achieve?

Regulatory work is geared towards prudent action and not towards quick reaction. One thing which regulatory work does not do and indeed should not do is respond disruptively to disruptive changes. This would lead to an unreflective, adaptation-driven reactionism and to technological determinism. Regulatory work would be turned into a rabbit in the headlights, staring at the development of technology and always concerned about dutifully accommodating the disruptive changes in as rapid a way as possible. Regulatory work based on consensus requires participation by the relevant partners and differentiated observation and reflection. It therefore also needs time. Analysis of early recognition of technology is also leading to an awareness that a certain degree of technological maturity needs to be achieved in terms of the dissemination of new technologies before detailed and substantive statements can be made regarding possible resultant training contents (HACKEL/BLÖTZ/REYMERS 2015). On their way from research and development to company work and business processes, technologies go through a number of transformations which exert an influence on the content of qualifications. This provides sufficient leeway for careful analyses, discussion processes and consensus building between the relevant stakeholders with regard to the realignment of occupational profiles or the necessity for new occupations. Some occupations gain a new lease of life if it proves possible to tap into new areas of potential. Taking systematic account of needs for change which are expressed by both practice and research facilitates a circumspect readjustment of occupational profiles so that graduates of recognised training occupations are able to acquire the ability to deal with the technological shift and thus embrace occupational mobility (cf. VON DEM BACH et al. 2020). Office-based occupations are a case in point. Despite the disappearance of simple writing tasks over recent decades, further development has been achieved via increased assumption of responsible administrative and organisational tasks which even extend to encompass agile project management roles. This means that qualified workers are capable of cross-sectoral deployment in a range of different work areas.

Early implementation of company-specific innovations in training is both possible and desirable. At the same time, however, this is not a priority task for regulatory work. The regulatory framework sets out the minimum requirements which each company providing training must meet. The companies themselves and the company-based training staff are responsible for execution of training. They are permitted and indeed encouraged to exceed this standard by imparting current contents. Nevertheless, the (limited) opportunities for qualified skilled workers to exert an influence should also be borne in mind. Such staff are normally users of technology, i.e. they work at the operational level and are less likely to be involved in the area of research and technological development. The possibilities accorded to them in terms of helping to shape a world of work in constant flux are therefore restricted.

Other expectations as to the purpose of regulatory work are also misdirected. Deciding “which work tasks [...] in an occupational profile [should be] replaced by digital technologies” (EULER/SEVERING 2020, p.18) is definitely not a regulatory task. Such a decision will be taken at the companies. Neither will design-oriented vocational education and training be in a position to decree, for instance, whether a trainee mechanic in rubber processing should check the size accuracy of an extruded tube wall manually or digitally. This does not mean that the involvement of trained skilled workers in technology design processes is not of great benefit. Such staff are certainly in a position to create crucial impetuses for better technological design in their own domains. The point is that this is part of the interplay between education and training, work structure and technological development and not an issue for regulatory work.

Regulatory work as a flexible system

In conclusion, we can say that dual vocational education and training owes its successful existence to several factors. These include the mandate taken on by the stakeholders and careful balancing of the roles played by those with regulatory responsibility, the companies, the vocational schools, the competent bodies and above all the training staff. The coronavirus crisis has shown that many companies are prepared to stick by dual training, even in difficult times (cf. SCHREIBER/BIEBELER 2021). This mandate and the commitment which goes with it are materially due to the principle of consensus underlying regulatory work and to the precept that training regulations are developed by practice for practice. In the past, highly effective ways have been found to include technological change in initial vocational training without having to amend training regulations every time new technologies are introduced. This approach has proved its worth and will remain viable for the foreseeable future.

In the same way as training regulations progress by incorporating current developments, the procedures of regulatory work are also subjected to constant change brought about by the continuous improvement in instruments and processes. With this in mind, BIBB is currently engaged in a project to investigate the issue of how digitalised and networked technologies for the further development of regulatory procedures can usefully be deployed. With regard to the permanent observation mentioned above, a further topic to be addressed is a systematic monitoring within the context of regulatory work which uses synergies from the existing analytical instruments and supplements these by adding specific indicators of relevance to regulatory policy. Alongside this, there are specific further regulation-related issues requiring a response such as how sectorally based certificates can be integrated into training regulations without according preference to certain providers or how universally vaunted “future competencies” such as reflection capability, creativity and problem-solving skills can be enshrined within training regulations in an occupationally specific and legally compliant way.

Regulatory work thus constitutes a flexible and elastic system rather than a rigid fabric of immutable processes. This flexibility permits the realisation of change within continuity without any inevitability of fractions or even of disruptions.


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Bundesausschuss für Berufsbildung: Empfehlung betr. Kriterien und Verfahren für die Anerkennung und Aufhebung von Ausbildungsberufen vom 25.Oktober 1974 – URL: www.bibb.de/dokumente/pdf/HA028.pdf

Conein, S.: Berufsbildung 4.0 – Fachkräftequalifikationen und Kompetenzen für die digitalisierte Arbeit von morgen: Der Ausbildungsberuf „Verfahrensmechaniker/-in für Kunststoff- und Kautschuktechnik“ im Screening. Bonn 2020

Conein, S.; Schwarz, H.: IT-Berufe auf dem Prüfstand. In: BWP 44 (2015) 6, pp. 58-59 – URL: www.bwp-zeitschrift.de/de/bwp.php/de/bwp/show/7872

Conein, S.; Zinke, G.: Berufsbildung und Digitalisierung – Optionen zur flexiblen Anpassung von Ausbildungsberufen. In: BWP 48 (2019) 5, pp. 40-42 – URL: www.bwp-zeitschrift.de/de/bwp.php/de/bwp/show/10539

Euler, D.; Severing, E.: Nach der Pandemie: für eine gestaltungsorientierte Berufsbildung in der digitalen Arbeitswelt. Gütersloh 2020

Hackel, M.; Blötz, U.; Reymers, M.: Diffusion neuer Technologien – Veränderungen von Arbeitsaufgaben und Qualifikationsanforderungen im produzierenden Gewerbe. Bonn 2015

Rauner, F.: Zur Erforschung beruflichen Wissens und Könnens. Was die Berufsbildungsforschung von der Expertiseforschung lernen kann. In: Jenewein, K. u.a. (Eds.): Kompetenzentwicklung in Arbeitsprozessen. Baden‐Baden 2004, pp. 75-91

Schreiber, D.; Biebeler, H.: Ausbildung in Zeiten der Corona-Pandemie. Bonn (im Druck)

von dem Bach, N. u.a.: Umgang mit technischem Wandel in Büroberufen: Lebendiges Arbeitsvermögen, Aufgabenprofile und berufliche Mobilität. Bonn 2020

Zinke, G.: Berufsbildung 4.0 – Fachkräftequalifikationen und Kompetenzen für die digitalisierte Arbeit von morgen. Branchen- und Berufescreening. Bonn 2019


How training regulations come into being – further information

BIBB (Ed.): Ausbildungsordnungen und wie sie entstehen [Training regulations and how they are developed]. Bonn 2017 – URL: www.bibb.de/veroeffentlichungen/de/publication/show/8269

BRETSCHNEIDER, M.: Einführung in die Ordnungsarbeit. Wie eine Ausbildungsordnung entsteht [An introduction to regulatory work. How training regulations are developed]. PowerPoint presentation with audio explanations. Bonn 2020 – URL: www.bwp-zeitschrift.de/g462

Infographic available for download at: www.bwp-zeitschrift.de/en/bwp.php/en/bwp/grafik/504

(All links: status 6 April 2021)

Academic researcher at BIBB

Head of Department at BIBB

Academic researcher at BIBB 


Translation from the German original (published in BWP 1/2021): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin