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The secret of German success

I often take my morning coffee at Brookhaym Bakery in Berlin, a little bakery owned by Hillman, whose 20-year-old son, Yorgen, had spent four years studying his father’s profession. He spent the last two years in his father’s bakery, as on-the-job training — a prerequisite to become a member of the Berlin Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Jurgen was then able to join the Bakers’ Guild in Germany but first he had to pass the final exam, both written and practical, before becoming an apprentice baker.

On a cold morning, when I was drinking coffee as usual at the bakery, I saw Hillman hugging his son after he received an email informing him about Jurgen’s success in the exam. Hillman proudly told us, “Dear customers, I want to tell you that my son Jurgen has become an apprentice baker, continuing a profession that has been in our family for six generations.”

I asked Jurgen: “What did you study to become a baker?,” wondering why it took him nearly two years of study and two years of practice to become one. Jurgen replied: “Bread is associated with all European civilisations, and even other civilisations.”

He continued: “In Germany, people used to protest against bread price for centuries. Even more, ancient German kingdoms used to lay laws determining the ratio of wheat in baking bread, depending on the annual harvest to ensure providing bread for people, to ensure balance and not to waste the harvested wheat required to make their favourite traditional drink.”

300 key bread types

I told Jurgen: “I have never seen such a large bread diversity, in terms of its contents and forms as I have seen in the traditional German bakeries”. I added: “How many types of bread are in Germany?” He said: “I do not know the total number, but there are 300 bread types that were classified as key types in Germany.”

“There are specific rules and conditions for each bread kind, and I have studied them all”, Jurgen said, and advised me to visit the Ulm Museum to know how baking tools have evolved throughout history, and how they impacted the German economy and communities.

Hillman, Jurgen’s father, who was listening to our conversation, said “There is a proverb among bakers that the profession of baking will not make you rich, but it will never let you live in poverty.”

German bakeries are the only shops that remain open all the year round, even on public and religious holidays.

Germans put an academic and practical curriculum for professions like baker, carpenter, welder, tailor, farmer and many others.

Ali Abdullah Al Ahmad, UAE Ambassador to Germany

I tried to imagine the same scenario between a father and his son from a Gulf country. It was truly difficult to do so, because most fathers in the GCC will not be convinced that taking up baking as a career is the best way to ensure the future of their children.

Could this be due to cultural differences? Maybe, but not necessarily. For example, during the pre-oil era, it was so common to have many families associated with a certain profession or craft, such as “Al Bahhar”, which means sailor, “Al Haddad”, which means blacksmith, or “Al Najjar”, which means carpenter. Other surnames mean jeweller, baker and the like. These families often used to have knowledge and experience in the craft that was passed down to them from their ancestors. But, this is not the case nowadays, and if anyone is asked about his family’s name associated with a certain craft, he would only give the information that he acquires in 10 minutes of Google search.

However, the Germans have managed to preserve and develop such professions that may seem primitive, especially at the time of artificial intelligence and the post-robot era.

This made me wonder why the Germans put an academic and practical curriculum for professions like baker, carpenter, welder, tailor, farmer and many others. In 1969, the federal German government introduced a training programme called “vocational training” with the aim of developing unified training programmes across Germany’s 16 states.

The programme is part of the German technical and vocational education and training (TVET) system, which is one of the most developed in the world.

Germany has a long history of vocational education and work-based training programmes as a pathway to high quality employment in a range of occupations. The training programmes are tailored to build specific skills for each profession, so that graduates from vocational programmes can enjoy equal training education, in order to ensure product quality.

According to statistics on vocational training in Germany, the duration of training programmes depends on each certain profession or craft, ranging from two to four years. More than 330 crafts and professions cannot be practised without graduating from vocational training programmes. One-third of high school graduates join vocational schools, which update their curriculums annually to meet the job market’s needs and the latest developments in each profession and craft.

In addition, 70 per cent of the graduates from vocational schools join the job market, where there are 509,000 new jobs available annually for graduates from vocational education. Germany is home to more than 51 per cent of skilled workers who graduate from these programmes.

Lessons from people

The programme is based on partnerships with German companies. More than 430,000 companies participate. Germany is home to the world’s most skilled labour and has the lowest youth unemployment.

The vocational education experience has greatly succeeded in Germany, while its rates of success have varied in Austria, Switzerland and Denmark. However, the European Union (EU) is trying currently to replicate this experience in Italy, Slovakia, Greece and Portugal.

A manager at a vocational training school told me: “A university education is not essential to be successful as long as you have a career that grows and develops.” He stressed that that the labour market’s requirements, demographic structure and labour sector are the ones that determine economic and social feasibility of each country.

In this prestigious ancient European capital, lessons cannot be learnt only from politicians in the Bundestag or from Germany’s astute geniuses. Lessons can be drawn by listening to the German people to realise how this people believe in mastery and perfection as a deeply-rooted culture in the society.

When perfection becomes a culture for progress, it motivates people to shape a more beautiful future. Thank you, Hillman, the baker!

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