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Germany's apprenticeship model "cannot really solve the major educational challenges facing the United States,'' a German businessman warned during an address in Washington last week.

In a speech given at the U.S. Education Department, Peter Harf, the chief executive officer of the firm Joh. A. Benckister GmbH, said many Germans think "the apprenticeship system is not working anymore'' and "see it as yesterday's solution for tomorrow's problem.''

Between 1980 and 1990, he noted, the number of youth apprentices in West Germany declined by 13 percent. In 1991, Germany companies were able to fill only 420,000 of the 700,000 apprenticeship positions offered.

Mr. Harf said the decline is due, in part, to the reduction in skilled blue-collar and white-collar jobs brought on by advances in technology. The lack of career opportunities for those with mid-level skills is making it less attractive for students to enter apprenticeships or for companies to offer them, he claimed.

He suggested that the United States first teach more young people "comportment'' skills--such as punctuality--and basic language, mathematics, and reading skills.

"I would take all the money--or lots of the money--that you are planning to invest in apprenticeship systems and put it where it can really do some good,'' he asserted, such as in early-childhood programs.

Apprenticeships can help ease the transition from school to work, the executive added, but such systems must be "market driven,'' train young people for jobs of the future, and "make sure that the business community benefits.''


At a news conference this month in Bonn, Chancellor Helmut Kohl also signaled that there's trouble in the German apprenticeship system.

The number of university students in Germany has risen to almost 1.9 million, he said, compared with 1.6 million apprentices.

"The increasing number of university-educated persons in our society has led to a loss of importance being attributed to vocational education,'' Mr. Kohl warned, "with serious consequences for personnel availability for small and medium-sized enterprises.''

"There cannot be a functioning social-market economy system in Germany without a flourishing small-business sector,'' he added.

The briefing was scheduled to release a 110-page plan for overhauling the country's social, economic, and educational systems. It recommends that children attend school for 12 years rather than 13 and that university training be shortened. The average age of a university graduate in Germany is 28.4 years, Mr. Harf said.--L.O.

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