Profile of an occupation – specialist in market and social research

For many years, young people wishing to pursue a career in market and social research were forced to attend university first. Since the introduction of the training occupation of “specialist in market and social research” in 2006, however, they have been able to enter the sector directly. The three-year training programme imparts the knowledge required to deal with highly varying issues of societal and economic relevance in a versatile and differentiated way.

Profile of an occupation – specialist in market and social research
Preparing and presenting results.

A training occupation as an alternative to higher education

Until the beginning of this millennium, specialists in market and social research had largely completed a university degree prior to entering the sector. In the early 2000s, the relevant professional bodies started to wonder whether dual training might not be suitable for a multitude of the tasks involved in market and social research. A two-track approach towards training and recruitment seemed to make sense in light of the two-way division of work that was becoming apparent within the branch. On the one hand, employees with academic degrees provide academic research consultancy services connected with the design of investigations, data analysis and the derivation of recommendations. Secondly, there is the operational and organisational project management side, which can be covered by staff who have completed qualified dual training. The training regulations subsequently drawn up allow trainees to become familiar with all commercial, methodological, organisational and technical task areas that may be encountered in the field of market and social research.

Specialists in market and social research work for market research institutions, at companies which conduct their own in-house market research (including advertising and media agencies), and in research institutes specialising in empirical social and business research. They use various methods and surveying techniques to support research ventures within the scope of project stipulations. They conduct research, procure and evaluate data and assist with a wide variety of tasks ranging from the design of questionnaires to the processing of data. They deal with projects which tackle a broad selection of issues. They may participate in a marketing research project to investigate consumer preferences for coffee-based drinks and may equally be associated with a social research study on the plight of transnational refugee families.

Project work forms a central component of training

The application and evaluation of cumulative steps within the context of a research project are a major training objective. Trainees learn about the core processes of market and social research. At the end of training, they are in a position to plan, execute, document and evaluate a project on the basis of an initial idea. This also forms the object of a school-based learning field stipulated for the third year of training. The Joseph DuMont Vocational College (JDBK) in Cologne is currently one of five vocational schools across Germany which concentrates on training specialists in market and social research. Here, for example, one class has been examining the growing significance of media competence within the context of “fake news”. The trainees interviewed both fellow pupils and teaching staff as part of a year-long project entitled “Fake News – what can be relied on at the JDBK?” The survey comprised a qualitative and a quantitative research element. The processing of the results and the development of specific recommendations are also integral to the project. The final report produced by the group is available to download (link at the end of the article).

Special term – code plan

A code plan provides instructions for the encryption of responses in surveys (e.g. when open questions are posed). Relevant combinations of figures are allocated to the replies in order to facilitate subsequent data analysis.

Development in trainee numbers

In light of a slight decline in the overall number of newly concluded training contracts (cf. Figure), the Association of German Market and Social Research Institutes (ADM) and the Professional Association of German Market and Social Researchers (BVM) have joined forces to set up a “Future for FAMS” working group with a view to raising awareness for the training occupation. A member survey was conducted to collect findings relating to what trainee specialists in market and social research think about the career choice they have made and to explore the views of the vocational schools, the institutes providing training and the marketing departments at companies. Another issue looked at what had happened to the specialists in market and social research who had finished their training during the first few years of the occupation's existence.

Number of newly concluded training contracts by highest general school leaving qualification
Source: BIBB “Trainee Data System”, survey as of 31 December each year.

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The Vocational Education and Training Statistics show that most trainees have a higher education entrance qualification (cf. Figure). The average age of trainees upon commencement of training is accordingly quite high (21.7 years overall, women 21.1 and men 22.3 years). The occupation is also an attractive option for persons who drop out of higher education. An internal member survey conducted by the ADM and the BVM indicated that such trainees accounted for 21 percent of newly concluded contracts in 2019. The high qualification level is further reflected in the extraordinary success achieved by examination candidates. The Vocational Education and Training Statistics show a pass rate of 100 percent for the period from 2016 to 2019.

The ADM and BVM member survey makes it clear that, contrary to expectations, the task areas of specialists in market and social research are not limited to support and back-up functions. In 2019, 77 percent of trainees were taken on permanently by their companies after finishing training. Qualified specialists in market and social research are also frequently appointed to positions as project heads. Trainees tend to remain loyal to the market and social research sector upon completion of training. The study shows that just under 90 percent are retained within the branch.

At a glance


All links: Last updated: 14/12/2021

(Compiled by Arne Schambeck)
Sources: ADM – Association of German Market and Social Research Institutes
BVM – Professional Association of German Market and Social Researchers


Translation from the German original (published in BWP 4/2021): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin