Modern apprenticechips aid German economy.

Germany’s apprenticeship program is one answer to a growing problem. Even as the world financial system stabilizes, unemployment among young people is soaring. In Spain, some 39% of under-25-year-olds are jobless, up from 26% a year ago. Ten other European Union countries including France, Belgium, and Hungary have youth unemployment rates above 20%. In the U.S., the unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds has climbed to over 18%, up from 13% a year ago.

The danger is that a generation of young people may be economically scarred for years. Studies suggest that an extended period of youthful joblessness can significantly depress lifetime income as people get stuck in low-end jobs, or come to be seen by employers as damaged goods. “The longer they are out of work, the harder it becomes.

In Germany, by contrast, under-25 joblessness was 8.2% in September, just a tick above the overall German rate of 8%. Austria, Denmark, and Switzerland also have well-established apprenticeship programs and below-average youth unemployment. Rather than being left to flounder after high school, young workers are plugged right into the labor market.

German companies are happy with the system, too. Apprenticeships give employers several years to train workers in company-specific skills and assess the abilities of an Azubi—short for Auszubildener (“trainee”). Says Günther Hohlweg, who oversees the 10,000 young people learning trades at Munich-based electronics and engineering giant Siemens: “When they’re done, they can start on a higher level.”

The system is even good for the national budget, because companies bear much of the cost of secondary-school education. German authorities accredit some 350 kinds of apprenticeship, ranging from baker to hair stylist and bank clerk to video editor. Even university students may be apprentices, splitting their time between studying and practical experience in fields such as biotech or aerospace.

Lately, though, the system has come under stress through factors related to both the current downturn and long-term changes in the global labor market. The number of apprenticeships slumped more than 10% between 2000 and 2005, recovering only after the government threatened to compel companies to take more trainees. German officials expect the number to dip again this year because of the financial crisis. Although apprentices in lower-skilled trades can serve as cheap labor, they are often an expense to their employers in the short term. Siemens (SI) spends about $220 million a year training Azubis, some of whom earn as much as $1,500 a month. The company estimates that the productive work done by the trainees equals only about one-third their cost. Siemens, which offers almost all its apprentices full-time jobs, recoups the investment only later.

The biggest problem is a shortage of work for teens who complete only basic schooling, which may end after the ninth grade. Germany’s highly automated factories offer far fewer low-skilled jobs than they used to. As a result, more than half the graduates of basic schooling wind up in government-supported training programs. 

At the same time, some industries take on too many apprentices. Hair salons, for example, can profit from the cheap labor that trainees provide. So they tend to train more hairdressers than the market can absorb. Once young people have invested years learning a trade, it’s tough to start over. Germany is much less successful retraining older workers than training young ones.

German language continues to slide in higher education..

Leicester University’s German department is the latest to consider closure, as students opt for ‘warmer’ languages such as Spanish and French.

Faced with the closure of German departments across the country, German graduates are having to expand their search for research posts to wider categories.  Next month, another university’s senate will debate a proposal from senior management to close its German department in 2013.

The full-time lecturer, full-time teaching fellow and part-time teaching fellow who make up the University of Leicester’s German department have been told the future of their department is “unsustainable”.

The university says the proposals allow it “to invest in areas of growing demand within the school of modern languages, and follow a decline in the numbers of students choosing to study German”.

“It is part of the evolution of universities that particular subject areas cease and new courses are brought on stream in ways that reflect demand and the objectives of the university,” its spokesman says.

Meanwhile, Queen’s University Belfast has ruled that this year’s 20 undergraduates studying German will be its last. It says student demand is “unsustainably low” and that the subject “performed poorly” in the latest evaluation of the research output of UK universities. The language will continue as an extra-curricular study, a spokeswoman says.

Just 64 out of the 116 universities in the UK are offering German as part of a degree, for courses starting in the autumn of 2010. The subject has been taught at UK universities for 125 years. In the 1950s it was particularly popular because of Germany’s economic boom and a revival in interest in the Romantic authors Goethe and Schiller.

But the latest figures show the number of undergraduates choosing a German language course in the UK is falling. Between 2006-07 and 2007-08 it fell by 10% to 4,765. The number has, however, fluctuated over the past five years and rose by 7% between 2005-06 and 2006-07.

The number of students taking German GCSE or A-level continued to drop this year, falling by nearly 8% at A-level to 5,765 students and by 4% at GCSE to 73,469 students.  Postgraduate enrolments on teacher training courses with a specialism in German have gone down for the last couple of years. The latest figures show just 169 enrolled in 2007-08, a drop of 30% on the year before.

German history lectures still manage to pull in the crowds. At Nottingham Trent University, humanities professor William Niven says modules on the Third Reich and Uniting Germany regularly draw in more than 100 students each year. But could the recent spate of threatened closures signal the end to degrees that combine study of the German language and the country’s culture and history?

“This isn’t the end of German studies, but the subject will probably end up only being taught at some Russell group [the most competitive and research-intensive] universities within the next decade,” says Pól Ó Dochartaigh, vice-president of the Association for German Studies in Great Britain and Ireland and dean of the faculty of arts at the University of Ulster.

Professor Susanne Kord, head of University College London’s German department, says: “We will see many more German departments close or, at the very least, amalgamate into other departments. This means that they will lose their independence and budgetary control as well as a considerable amount of their current prestige and visibility, both nationally and internationally.”

And yet Germany is Europe’s largest economy and a major trading partner for the UK. In many parts of eastern Europe, German is the language of business. For others, it is the language of drama, the sciences and philosophy. How can we be witnessing its gradual demise in universities?  There may be multiple reasons.

One is the falling numbers of students taking German at GCSE, A-level and then on to degree level. This has escalated since the government decided in 2004 that a modern language should no longer be compulsory at GCSE.

There is also the perception that German is a difficult language. The reality is that even though it might have more case endings, it is closer to English than Spanish or French are.

Modern language departments have also received budget cuts in the latest research assessment exercise (the evaluation of research output in UK universities). German was hit more severely than other subjects because those who set the standard were particularly stringent.

Sarah Colvin, Mason chair of German at the University of Edinburgh, thinks it is more likely to be that languages such as German are easy hits for university management. They are expensive to deliver because they require small class sizes. “At a time when university funding is being severely reduced, languages look like an easy way to save money.”

The last five years have seen the proportion of students enrolling on modern language degrees drop by 4%. The Higher Education Funding Council for England now classifies subjects on these degrees as “strategically important and vulnerable”.

It has commissioned an urgent review of their sustainability, to be published next month. It is led by Michael Worton, professor of French at UCL, who will give little away, apart from the suggestion that his report will look at the importance of teaching the history and culture of Germany, in addition to the German language.

New German Language College Opens in Azerbaijan

The newGerman language Center began to operate in February, 2009, and thus far it has over 100 students.

“The Center for the German language differs from other institutions for the foreign languages. Most teachers of the center passed qualification trainings in Germany. The center not only teaches the German language, but also informs students about the culture and life in Germany,” Director of the Center Zahra Aliyeva said.

Aliyeva said the Center is a partner of the Goethe Institute. The Institute provides financial support and gives recommendations to the center’s management. The students, who will complete the courses, will be granted certificates of the Goethe Institute,” Aliyeva added.

German Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Per Stankina, said the activities of the center will influence qualitatively process of learning the German language in Azerbaijan.

“The center’s teachers should teach students that with knowledge of the German language, they can find a job, not only in Germany, but also in Azerbaijan. The importance of Azerbaijan for Germany has increased. Many German’s companies intend to operate in Azerbaijan and these companies will be happy to provide jobs for Azerbaijanis with a good German language,” the ambassador said.

Head of the Goethe Institute, Werner Vella, said she hopes several more similar centers for the German language will be opened in Azerbaijan in future.

Germans shun H1N1 vaccine

The German government has ordered 18 million more vaccinations against swine flu. But two-thirds of Germans say they don’t want to be immunized.

In the latest step to fight an anticipated breakout of the H1N1 swine flu virus, Germany’s 16 state health ministers have announced they plan to order another 18 million vaccination units. That’s enough to immunize nine million more people and ensures there is enough stock should demand surge later in the year.

The health ministers have already ordered 50 million swine flu vaccinations for 25 million people, as each person requires two doses of the vaccine. That means there will be enough vaccine to cover 40 percent of the German population.

The latest order is subject to funding being available. The thorny question of who will bear the cost of this – the federal government, the health insurers, the state health departments or local authorities – is being discussed at a special working group meeting in Berlin on Wednesday.

A new study conducted by the Forsa Institute for DAK, one of Germany’s largest health insurers, revealed that a surprising number of Germans do not plan to get immunized.

In the study of 1,001 people aged between 18 and 60 years, 62 percent said they would “definitely not,” or “almost definitely not” let themselves be vaccinated this autumn when the first swine flu vaccines become available.

Eighty-two percent of Germans said that swine flu poses a “fairly low” or “very low” danger.

Bavarians, in Germany’s south, in particular rejected vaccination. Only nine percent said they would “definitely” go to their doctor to be immunized compared to 14 percent of Germans on average. It’s a different picture in eastern Germany, where almost a quarter of those who took part in the study said they were “definitely” going to get immunized.

Germany voices opposition to Google Books

First, three major U.S.-based companies railed against the Google Books settlement. Now an entire country says nein!  The German government filed a complaint in U.S. courts yesterday warning lawmakers that the Google Books deal could have an international impact on copyright law, privacy, and the rights of German authors.

In 2005, Google enmeshed itself in a bad scene when it scanned millions of out-of-print works without author permission. The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers balked, Google coughed up $125 million, and here we are.

Though the Google settlement only applies in the U.S., Germany contends that its precedent will affect other countries.

“Once the database is posted, Internet users even in Germany will have access to the Google Books Search by using a freely accessible U.S. proxy server,” said Theodore C. Max, the German government’s lawyer. “In other words, even if the digital book database is entirely localized within the United States, it will still be available for search requests from Germany.”

Now that Germany has paved the way, other countries may take a similar view.

Dogs recruited to protect German sheep from wolves

German officials wanting to protect their sheep from wolves are calling in the experts, two Pyrenean mountain dogs named Ben and
Carlos.

Saxony state environment minister Frank Kupfer said Tuesday the services of the specially trained dogs are now available to worried shepherds.  The dogs, a breed that has guarded German livestock for centuries, will protect sheep if Saxony’s wolves ignore obstacles such as electric fences.

Wolves are protected and have established themselves in parts of Germany over the past decade.  Official figures show Saxony, on Germany’s borders with Poland and the Czech Republic, has 45 wild wolves living in five packs, the biggest population in the country.

Wolves have killed some 200 sheep in the German region over recent years.

German bride spends first night with crate of vodka

A bride in Germany spent her wedding night passed out next to a crate of vodka in the back seat of a car and had to be rescued by police when the BMW began to overheat in the sun.

Police in the western city of Cologne said on Monday the inebriated 30-year-old remained unconscious even after they smashed the car window to get her out.

“Only after being shaken several times did she eventually regain consciousness,” police said in a statement.

Still clad in her wedding dress, the dazed woman had to scramble through the broken window because she had no idea where the car keys or her husband were, police said.

Somali pirates get $2.7 mln ransom for German ship

Somali pirates holding a German ship with five Germans, three Russians, two Ukrainians and 14 Filipinos on board have received a $2.7 million ransom and are counting it before releasing the ship.

The German-flagged container vessel Hansa Stavanger was captured about 400 miles (645 km) off the southern Somali port of Kismayu on April 4.

The release of the 20,000 tonne ship, owned by Hamburg shipping company Leonhardt & Blumberg, was expected last week but it was delayed after the pirates demanded a higher ransom.

Earlier, a Malaysian-owned tugboat held for over seven months was released after a ransom was paid, with 11 Indonesian crew.

Gangs of Somali pirates in the shipping lanes linking Asia and Europe have made millions of dollars in ransom payments from ships hijacked in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.

Festival adds evening air show to rich menu of fun

Here’s a culinary quiz: What recipe calls for 10,000 pounds of potatoes, 20,000 bratwurst, 15,000 pieces of pastry and torte and 8,000 pounds of onions? The recipe for Milwaukee’s German Fest, natürlich!

From strudel to spanferkel and lederhosen to dirndls, German culture, music, food and drink will fill the Maier Festival Park.

German music and dance will fill the various stages across the grounds, featuring German performers such as vocalist Styrina and the Munich-based band Chikeria and the Austrian Widderstein-Buaba band.

No Milwaukee celebration of all things German would be complete without a few hands of sheepshead (schafkopf), a card game introduced by German immigrants and took on a local life of its own.

Among new attractions at the festival this year, Fromme listed the Porsche Club of America’s Car Display, which will feature a selection of Porsches that will change each day. On the opposite end of the automotive spectrum, an East German Trabant will be on display in the culture area.

No matter what else you do at German Fest, you really must eat and drink. Highlights of the festival’s menu include kartoffel (potato pancakes) with pfannkuchen (applesauce) or spanferkel (pig, roasted whole). Rollbraten, schnitzel and Kasseler Rippchen, all succulent pork dishes, go well with a noedel (dumpling) or two.

Lucio leaves Bayern Munich for Internazionale

The Brazil captain, Lucio, has agreed to join Internazionale after five years at Bayern Munich, the German club announced today. Lucio, whose contract with Bayern ran until 2010, will sign a three-year deal with the Italian champions.

“The Brazil captain agreed to end the contract running until 30 June 2010,” said Bayern, who did not reveal the financial side of the agreement. “The 31-year-old defender moves with immediate effect to the Italian champions Inter where he will sign a three-year deal.”

Lucio, who was to rejoin Bayern today after his Confederations Cup participation with Brazil, signed for the Germans in 2004 after a stint with Bayer Leverkusen. Part of Brazil’s 2002 World Cup-winning side, he quickly established himself as a rock in Bayern’s defence, helping them clinch the Bundesliga and cup double in 2005, 2006 and 2008.

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