During their visit to Germany, IJAB introduced the six delegates to several organisations that help young people find the career best suited to them and/or support them during the transition into employment. In Hannover, the focus was on state-level programmes while in Hildesheim, discussions were held in cooperation with the head of the Department for Youth, Schools, Social Affairs, Culture, and Sports as well as youth office representatives, looking at schemes and resources within youth work, socio-educational provisions for young people, and vocational advice to young people at communal level.
The role of the voluntary sector in Germany and China
Speaking on behalf of the Lower Saxony Ministry for Social Affairs, Health, and Equality, Reinhard Teuber introduced the delegation to the structure and functioning of German child and youth services with special emphasis on advisory services for young people with vocational problems. Lower Saxony was contributing 10 million euros a year, most of which was going to the various associations and agencies for young people. In general, the Land government merely provides guidelines and promotes regional structures whereas local authorities are responsible for implementing youth work at local level and, in accordance with the subsidiarity principle, appoint voluntary organisations to carry out public services. "We do the same. We buy the provision of services from the project holder," said the Deputy Secretary General of the All-China Youth Federation, Mr Chu.
The All-China Youth Federation is responsible for implementing government measures to address challenges such as the high unemployment rate of young graduates as well as the social integration of migrant workers and their children. Countrywide, the Federation runs some 650 advisory centres that also provide job placements. In fact, Mr Chu recognizes some differences between the German and Chinese structures and is very interested in the way child and youth services in Germany are organized at federal level. He would like to use this visit to learn which particular areas would most benefit from being assigned to the voluntary sector, and how to ensure transparency and accountability at all levels. "For us, Germany is a role model because its services for children and young people are so effective," says Mr Chu.
The restructuring of youth work is a process that had been initiated as part of China's open-door policy some 20 years ago. Mr Chu has been a part of the All-China Youth Federation ever since, and sometimes he feels progress is too slow. "We still have no set structure, we are still experimenting with new approaches," he says. But he adds that they need to be very careful when trying out new approaches. Firstly, the situation of Chinese families and young people was quite different from that in Germany, and it would not do to simply transfer the German model to China. If things were to go wrong, this would result in a huge loss of time with potentially terrible effects on a large number of people. In addition, there was a constant need to patiently explain to the public why it was good to have support for young people provided not just by the state but also by the private and non-profit making sector.
Secondly, China's centralized political system has no voluntary sector – this would need to be set up. And it was of the utmost importance for those holding positions of responsibility within organisational structures such as the All-China Youth Federation to ensure that future project holders would gain experience and become efficient. To date, the All-China Youth Federation is the only contact point for young people and all the experience concerning youth work is centralized there.
The effectiveness of German child and youth services
The Chinese guests were keen to learn exact figures appertaining to the subject matter being presented: how much funding does the project holder receive, how many young people take part, what is the success rate? These they immediately converted into key performance indicators – and they were often impressed with the projects' efficiency and effectiveness. Competition between project holders leads to high standards in child and youth services. They then noticed that in Germany, this policy area is much more regulated by law than in their country, with a number of implementation laws and funding guidelines in addition to the Child and Youth Services Act.
Another subject of great importance to the Chinese youth work professionals is youth crime. They asked the representative of Lower Saxony how this was dealt with at state level. Reinhard Teuber explained that Germany had a specific Youth Court Act that provided the basis on which youth court judges decided whether a crime was to be punished or whether there was a case for educational intervention. Lower Saxony was one of the first German federal states to continuously fund professional open youth work facilities for young offenders since the 1980s, currently supporting 59 projects run by voluntary and local authority providers. "By working with qualified youth workers, young offenders are less likely to re-offend and that, for us, is more cost-effective than detention," Mr Teuber summarized the advantages to the state of this approach to youth crime.
Youth workshops and vocational advisory centres in Lower Saxony
Lower Saxony has developed two state-level programmes aimed at advising young people with vocational problems. In about 100 so-called "youth workshops" throughout Lower Saxony, some 5,000 young people gain vocational qualifications each year and receive advice and support for dealing with their individual challenges. A visit to such a youth workshop run by Pro Beruf GmbH, Hannover, a non-profit organisation, was included in the German-Chinese exchange programme. At Pro Beruf's training restaurant, the delegation not only enjoyed a traditional German lunch but was also introduced to young Germans who are either doing their apprenticeship or have a 3-months trial placement as a cook or waiter.
The second state-level programme is called "PACE", an acronym for "Pro-Activ Centren". There are 44 such centres throughout Lower Saxony aimed at 14-to-27 year-olds, offering individual advice and guidance as well as specific courses and educational opportunities to help with the challenges of transitioning from school to vocational training and on to employment. The delegation visited one of these centres based at the Leine Volkshochschule (VHS), an adult education centre located in the Hannover district of Laatzen. Here, the Chinese youth work professionals learned about the professional guidance their German colleagues provide for individual young people who failed to cope with the transitional challenges mentioned above.
This centre also includes a PACE training office and a PACE-Mobile, the former being a "Werkakademie" that, with a maximum duration of 30 days, is an intensive hands-on workshop where the participants support one another in their search for apprenticeship placements. More than half of the participants succeed or decide on an alternative course of action such as a year of voluntary service, going to university, or starting a job. "This project is so effective because the participants have the added incentive of having to make best use of limited time," says Kerstin Lingelbach who is responsible for the project based at the Leine Adult Education Centre.
The PACE-Mobile is a minibus used by youth workers to collect young people from their homes, to help them become actively involved in shaping their own personal and professional future. The delegation went to look at the vehicle, fitted out with a small table for sit-down conversations. Mr Chu remarked that they had tried a similar project in China, too, which apparently had not been all that successful. A PACE-Project staff member smiled sympathetically and said: "These aren't the easiest youngsters to deal with." But obviously it is always worthwhile to be patient because every young person who can make the transition into employment, and into a life without great social and personal deprivation, is an asset to all of society. And that's what is important to professional youth workers, in the West as well as in the Far East.