Role reversal in apprentices recruiting

Which firms search applicant profiles in a targeted way?

Sabine Mohr, Margit Ebbinghaus

The conventional method of recruiting apprentices, in which firms offer apprentice positions via various media and then wait for incoming applications, is becoming less and less likely to lead to success. One promising remedy is a reversed approach which involves the firms themselves searching applicant profiles in online apprenticeship training exchanges in order to find suitable candidates. This article sheds light on the extent to which this procedure now forms part of recruitment practice of firms.

Shortage of training place applications requires innovations in recruitment

The apprentice positions on offer have been published, even via various channels, and yet few or even no applications are received. An increasing number of firms providing apprenticeship training are being confronted with this experience (cf. DIHK 2023), which, alongside other factors, is continuing to increase the number of unfilled apprentice positions (cf. Christ et al. 2023).

Guides are increasingly recommending firms to turn the recruitment process around, i.e. carry out their own search for suitable candidates in applicant profiles on online platforms rather than waiting for young people who are interested in apprenticeship training to contact them.1 The argument is that such an approach, which forms part of an active sourcing and reverse recruiting strategy (cf. Information Box), particularly meets the younger generation’s expectations and needs to be addressed personally and accorded respect and therefore promises good chances of success.2

Active sourcing and reverse recruiting

Active sourcing and reverse recruiting are comparatively new recruitment trends. In active sourcing, firms send details of an apprentice position to young people whose profile suggests they may be suitable. If these young people are interested, then the normal application process follows. Reverse recruiting goes one step further. In this case, firms apply to potential apprentices to be their future apprenticeship provider. In other words, they offer them the apprentice position directly. Active sourcing and reverse recruiting can therefore be viewed as particular forms of direct recruitment routes. Many online apprenticeship training exchanges are now making it possible to conduct searches both for apprentice positions and for potential apprentices (e.g. www.azubis-im-profil.de, www.azubiplus.de).

Are firms ready to change roles?

Figure: Proportion of firms providing training which actively search applicant profiles for potentially suitable trainees Foto-Download (Bild, 433 KB)

Are firms which provide apprenticeship training prepared to accept a role reversal of this kind when seeking future apprentices? We will attempt to find initial responses to this question below on the basis of the 2022 BIBB Establishment Panel on Training and Competence Development (referred to in abbreviated form as the BIBB Training Panel, cf. Information Box). The object of investigation is to discover the extent to which searching in applicant profiles stored on online apprenticeship training exchanges has already become a part of firm recruitment practice and to find out whether there are any correlations with structural characteristics of firms.

The results presented in the figure make it clear that the particular variant of direct recruitment has certainly become part of practice. Just over one in five firms offering apprentice positions for the 2021/2022 apprenticeship year stated that they themselves had (also) searched applicant profiles on relevant apprenticeship training exchanges on the Internet in order to find suitable candidates.

There are, however, some differences between firms with regard to how far this reversal has been implemented in apprentices recruiting. These emerge from a differentiated consideration in accordance with structural characteristics (cf. figure). Whereas around one in four small, medium-sized and major firms searched applicant profiles for potential apprentices, very small firms were somewhat more cautious in this respect. Not even one in five of the latter has undertaken this step thus far. There differences are even greater between firms in the various sectors. Scarcely any firms in the primary sector have turned to the reverse approach to seeking applicants, with the average here being only one in fifty. The proportion of firms involved in medical or nursing services is also comparatively low at just under one in ten. Firms which provide public or personal services are slightly more likely to have taken up this still rather innovative option. The most frequent use of applicant profiles on online platforms to search for future apprentices is made by firms in the sectors of manufacturing industry, construction industry, trade and repairs and provision of company-related services. One quarter of firms in each of these sectors does this.

The conventional approach towards recruitment has, however, been supplemented rather than replaced. Not one of the firms surveyed relied solely on applicant profiles in order to acquire new apprentices. In fact, at least two other conventional recruitment pathways were deployed.3

The correlation between sector affiliation and the use of applicant profiles posted by young people on training platforms can be confirmed in a logistic regression model which, in addition to the structural characteristics, also takes into account the number of other recruitment channels used and two characteristics of the apprenticeship training market at the firm location as explanatory variables. A correlation with firm size could not be secured. It was, however, possible to show that the more recruitment pathways firms use in overall terms in order to fill their apprentice positions, the more likely they carried out their own searches in applicant profiles (cf. electronic supplement).

The BIBB Establishment Panel on Training and Competence Development

The BIBB establishment panel on training and competence development (short: BIBB Training Panel) is a regular annual representative survey of around 4,000 firms. In the 2022 survey, one of the questions directed at firms included in the sample which offered apprentice positions for the 2021/2022 apprenticeship training year was whether – as well as using other recruitment pathways (cf. Ebbinghaus et al. 2023) – they themselves had also carried out a targeted search for potential apprentices in profiles which young people interested in apprenticeship training had uploaded to apprenticeship training platforms. The responses to this question of 1,681 firms providing apprentice positions form the basis of the findings presented here.

More information on the BIBB Training Panel is available at www.bibb.de/qp.


In light of subsiding demand for apprentice position and rising numbers of unfilled positions, the question arises as to which routes firms use to promote their apprenticeship offer and how they approach the search for suitable applicants. As the results presented show, one in five firms undertakes targeted searches for future apprentices in applicant profiles on online apprenticeship training exchanges. Firms from sectors with more serious recruitment problems are in particular more likely to take on the role of applicant themselves and to supplement conventional recruitment pathways by searching applicant profiles for suitable candidates. The degree to which this special trend towards direct apprentice recruitment will continue remains to be seen. This is also bound to depend on how successful it proves to be.


Christ, A.; Schuss, E.; Milde, B.; Granath, R.-O.: Die Entwicklung des Ausbildungsmarktes im Jahr 2022. Analysen auf Basis der BIBB-Erhebung über neu abgeschlossene Ausbildungsverträge und der Ausbildungsmarktstatistik der Bundesagentur für Arbeit zum Stichtag 30. September. Fassung vom 17.01.2023. Bonn 2023. URL: www.bibb.de/dokumente/pdf/ab11_beitrag_ausbildungsmarkt-2022.pdf

DIHK – Deutscher Industrie- und Handelskammertag (Hrsg.): Ausbildung 2023. Ergebnisse einer DIHK-Online-Unternehmensbefragung. Berlin 2023. URL: www.dihk.de/de/themen-und-positionen/fachkraefte/aus-und-weiterbildung/ausbildung/ausbildungsumfrage-23

Ebbinghaus, M.; Gerhards, Ch.; Heyer, Ph.; Mohr, S.: Viel hilft viel?! – Welche Wege Betriebe nutzen, um Ausbildungsplatzbewerber/-innen zu finden und wie erfolgreich sie damit sind. BIBB Report 3/2023. URL: www.bibb.de/dienst/publikationen/de/19359


Electronic Supplement

Logistic regression on firm characteristics and recruitment pathways in the electronic supplement. Download Electronic Supplement

(All links: status 26/03/2024)

Dr. Sabine Mohr
Academic researcher at BIBB

Dr. Margit Ebbinghaus
Academic researcher at BIBB


Translation from the German original (published in BWP 1/2024): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin