Academic Publishing, Apprentices, Deutsch

Apprenticeships in academic publishing – part 3: Germany

For the past two weeks this blog has focused on apprenticeships in academic publishing. In earlier blog posts, we talked about the – relatively new – system of apprenticeships in the UK.

Today, we would like to look at Germany, where the apprenticeship scheme has been long established and where apprentices have worked in publishing for many decades. Of course, apprentices have been learning the skills of certain trades for centuries, but a standardised apprenticeship scheme was first introduced in the Germany in the 1920s. Then, many trades applied standards that were thereafter recognised country-wide and guaranteed that each apprentice learned certain basics of his or her trade within the apprenticeship scheme. Since then, the standard length of an apprenticeship has been established as 3 years (some of them can be shortened under certain conditions); and so-called “Berufsschule” (a kind of FE college) is compulsory for each apprentice. Usually, apprentices will spend between one and two days a week at school, and the rest of the time in the companies to which they have been apprenticed. During the school time, they study subjects relevant to their trade, but are also taught English as a foreign language; and German, Politics and Maths, to ensure a rounded general knowledge. At the end of their apprenticeship they have to sit exams – both academic ones (at school) and practical ones (usually a final piece of work that is judged by an external jury). They then get their formal qualification, which is nationally recognised. Apprentices in Germany receive a basic salary from the company that employs them, and their tutor is usually their manager within the company.

In some trades, it is possible – or even necessary if you want to work as self-employed and/or train apprentices yourself – to add a higher-level “Meister” (master craftsman) qualification in the same profession.  It requires study in Business Studies, Law and Pedagogy, as well as becoming proficient in the expert knowledge and skills of the trade.

Apprentices first joined German publishing companies in the 1950s, when a national curriculum for the profession, “Kaufmann im Zeitschriftenverlag” (businessman in magazine publishing) was established. It didn’t take long for non-magazine publishers to follow suit and soon the job title was changed into “Verlagskaufmann” (Business Administration, Publishing). This changed again several times until in 2006, the current name of “Medienkaufmann/-frau Digital und Print” (Media Business Administration for digital and print) was established.

Therefore, German publishing companies have been employing and training apprentices for several decades and they are an integral part of each publishing company.

To find out more details we spoke to Nadine, who started her 3 years’ apprenticeship with a German pharmaceutical publisher in autumn 2019. (She wishes not to be named in full and asked for her employer to remain anonymous)

“I am doing an apprenticeship as ‘Medienkauffrau Digital und Print’ (Media Business Administration for digital and print) with an addition qualification in Media Economics, publishing. The main focus of my apprenticeship is the production of different kind of media, but I also learn about the planning, marketing, finances and many more things. The company I work in mainly publishes academic books and journals, and so far I have been very involved in the marketing of products and advertising sales. However, as an apprentice I change departments frequently, and even within each department the kind of jobs I have vary hugely. This ensures that I learn about the publishing process and the many different departments that contribute to a successful product. At the end of my apprenticeship, I am expected to know how different departments and workflows relate and I should be able to work in any part of the publishing process. It means that one day I may be analysing sales figures and, on another day, I am looking through a selection of freebies to send to customers. That’s what I enjoy about my apprenticeship – I find it interesting to work on a journal that contains specialist knowledge.  Even if most of the content is too specific for me to understand, I have found many interesting articles that have helped me already.
Before I started my apprenticeship, I completed my “Abitur” (A-Levels) at a Sixth Form that specialised in Design and Media. A-Levels were necessary for the apprenticeship, but the main reason for completing them was to keep my options open for the future. At “Berufsschule” (college) I go into a special class for apprentices who are working for additional qualifications: we are also being taught Business English, presentation techniques and rhetoric, and the handling of New Media. In addition to this, we all learn about Business Administration, industry-relevant law, production (for example we learn about paper quality and printing costs), budgeting, multimedia (programmes like Photoshop or InDesign), design and skills in computer applications such as Excel or Access.
I enjoy learning all of these things because they have a relevance to what I do in my job.  A university degree was not something I considered, because I didn’t want to learn purely academic subjects any longer.
The apprenticeship is meeting my expectations; it is never boring, and I get to do a variety of tasks. In my company the apprentices are continually being challenged but never overburdened, and it is always ok to make mistakes, too.
I would definitely recommend an apprenticeship like mine, especially to people who love to read. It is exciting to see how a product is being developed and to see it through from planning to sales. Also, this apprenticeship allows you to work in any department of a publishing house and to follow your strengths. That’s also my plan for the future: I hope I can stay at the company when I finish my apprenticeship, but I do not yet know which department I will want to work in, because I haven’t experienced all of them yet.”

[Written by Annika Bennett, Gold Leaf]

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