Teenagers from ethnic minorities find it more difficult to access vocational training in Germany than their peers of native descent. The recruitment practices of companies employing apprentices are crucial in this respect. Surprisingly, a new study reveals that employers consider language articulation to be very important.
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Ethnic inequality in vocational training
Teenagers from immigrant families often have more difficulty accessing vocational training in Germany than their peers from native parents. If below-average academic performance is part of the explanation, the hiring preferences and practices of companies employing apprentices are also crucial. Research conducted at the Sociological Research Institute (SOFI) of the University of Göttingen and the University of Paderborn differentiates this well-established phenomenon of ethnic inequality with an unexpected result: employers who view language articulation as highly significant offer equal employment opportunities to ethnic minorities and the ethnic majority. candidates.
The dual system in Germany
Let’s first take a step back and share some additional details about the institutional context of this finding. In Germany, about a third of secondary school graduates continue their studies in vocational training in companies. In this so-called dual system, apprentices learn and work partly in a company and partly in a vocational school. By international standards, this type of vocational training succeeds in facilitating the transition to employment for young adults.
For this reason, being denied access to learning has long-term negative consequences for the rest of a person’s career. In particular, it is the companies, and not the schools, that choose the candidates. The selection process resembles that of normal labor market recruitment – which, unfortunately, includes the possibility of intentional or unintentional discriminatory employment.
But even when compared to their peers of indigenous origin with the same level of secondary education and similar grades in German and mathematics, applicants from ethnic minorities are at a disadvantage in accessing vocational training.
Children with an immigrant background (mostly born in Germany but of foreign parents) are already overrepresented in the lowest level of the German stratified secondary system (Hauptschule). Graduates with a corresponding secondary school diploma have seen their chances of accessing vocational training diminish over the past decades.
But even when compared to their native-born peers at the same level of secondary education and similar grades in German and mathematics, applicants from ethnic minorities are at a disadvantage in accessing vocational training.
Verbal expressiveness is essential
The main finding of our study — namely that a strong priority given to verbal expressiveness by some companies is positive for candidates of immigrant origin — is indeed surprising. Even counter-intuitive at first sight. After all, the stereotype that young people of the second generation have a poorer command of the German language is widespread.
About 43% of HR staff or business owners interviewed in the research project agreed with such a statement in the survey. Theoretically, the lack of German skills could indeed be a serious barrier to apprentice-client communication. However, sharing these stereotypes and actual recruitment patterns showed no consistent statistical correlation.
The study found no ethnic disadvantage in recruitment decisions in companies that considered language articulation to be a very important criterion for choosing an apprentice.
Instead, the study found no ethnic disadvantage in hiring decisions when ethnic minority boys and girls wrote applications to companies that considered language articulation a very important criterion for choosing a job. apprentice. Additionally, the study revealed a significant minority-to-majority gap with other companies.
In all likelihood, these companies did invite teenagers with an immigrant background for an interview and this face-to-face gave them the opportunity to introduce themselves and show their real language skills, allaying any reservations.
Break the ice
Moreover, the study shows that companies which already have experience in training young people from ethnic minorities do not report any particular difficulties. The overwhelming majority would employ such apprentices again in the future. It is therefore important to break the ice in companies without this experience. Given that second-generation youth are a growing demographic in younger birth cohorts and that overall demographic aging in Germany continues, companies had better be more open to giving these future workers the chance to obtain the qualification that the economy will need in the decades to come.
The survey presented here analyzed the indirect mechanisms of ethnic discrimination in a more statistically rigorous way than previous research. The study linked a standardized survey of 446 applicants from lower secondary schools in the German regional state of Lower Saxony to a survey of 345 companies to which these graduates successfully or unsuccessfully applied. The surveys are not strictly speaking representative, but do reflect the regional economic structure in terms of industrial sectors and company size.