Figures from the Federal Statistics Office (Destatis) on Wednesday showed the number of people starting apprenticeships in 2013 dropped 4.3 percent on the previous year to 525,300 – the lowest number since German reunification in 1990.
Germany’s apprenticeship model has been seen as one of the key factors for its low youth unemployment rate and is being emulated in other countries.
But figures showed the total overall number of people currently in apprenticeships also hit a new low of 1.39 million last year, a decrease of 2.7 percent on 2012.
The number has been declining since 2007 – a development Destatis put down to Germany’s historically low birth rate, which has left fewer people entering the labour market.
“This downward trend observed in the previous year is mainly due to the demographic development… as well as to a bigger appetite among school graduates to go to university," it said in a statement.
Around 500,000 people started a university degree in 2013, up from 360,000 in 2005.
Eric Schweitzer, president of the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK), warned in February that this trend had to be reversed. “The consequences to Germany's economy will be damaging, if the trend to study at any cost is not stopped,” he said.
Wednesday’s Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung blamed businesses and politicians for prioritizing university education above all else for the decline.
There were large regional differences in the number of new apprenticeships. In Berlin, and its surrounding state of Brandenburg, the number fell by almost ten percent, while in the economic powerhouse of Bavaria they declined by three percent.
The most popular apprenticeship among women was to become a sales assistant, for men it was to train to be a car mechanic.
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