Although another successful German football side may come as little surprise, their extra time victory over Argentina in the World Cup final marked a significant upset of pre-tournament predictions. With the country continuing to build on its success both on and off the field many are asking – what is the secret of German success?

With an average age of 26.31, Germany boasted the sixth-youngest squad in the tournament. By contrast their opponents in the final, Argentina, were the elder statesmen of the World Cup, with an average age of 28.92. Though youth by itself is a poor predictor of performance, it nevertheless indicated Germany’s open attitude to younger players, allowing them into the squad early to gain experience and foster a close team mentality. As testament to this approach their goalscorer, Mario Gotze, is only 22 years old.

Here some might draw parallels with the German economy through its much-envied apprenticeship model. With 18,000 different types of apprenticeships on offer, and the Chambers of Commerce actively policing apprenticeship terms and conditions, the system undoubtedly has much to commend it. In fact, many economists and commentators have credited the model with the country’s impressively low unemployment rate, 5.1% (compared with a Euro area unemployment rate of 11.6%) and, particularly, low youth unemployment.

As many countries have discovered in trying to replicate Germany’s scheme, however, its success rests not only on the number of apprenticeships offered but on the demand for them. This requires an increase in the skills base of apprenticeship candidates, to make them more appealing to employers and to give prospective apprentices some hands-on experience in the industries that might appeal to them.

Traditionally, under the German “dual-system”, around half of the students between the ages of 16 and 18 opt to divide their education between academic studies and vocational training. These students apply for training contracts with employers that last between two and three years. Critically, a job is usually waiting for them on completion. The ability to pro-actively select the work on offer and the high likelihood of being able to put newly acquired skills to use on completion, ensured the system’s popularity for decades and underpinned the rise and rise of the German manufacturing sector.

Yet, as Joachim Löw’s team knew when they took to the pitch on Sunday, past success cannot be allowed to breed complacency. According to Destatis, the Federal Statistical Office, the number of apprenticeship contracts issued last year fell by 23,700 (or 4.3% from the previous year). Indeed, the fall marked the sixth consecutive year of decline, with ever larger numbers of German students choosing higher education over the vocational route.


Education Minister Johanna Wanka has admitted that the situation poses a problem for the future of the model, as well as for German businesses who have been complaining about a lack of applicants. Another possible interpretation could be that the country is going to benefit from a sharp increase in the number of well-qualified graduates entering the workforce over the next few years, something that the labour market will have to adapt to.

Whatever the future holds, it seems certain that the key to success lies in maintaining a culture of cooperation and common goals, along with long-term policies to support those aims. As the meme bouncing around social media says, Argentina had Lionel Messi; Germany had a team.

Author: Tomas Hirst is commissioning editor, digital content, at the World Economic Forum.

Image: People celebrate after Germany scored against Brazil during their 2014 World Cup semi-finals, in Berlin July 8, 2014. REUTERS/Thomas Peter