Purpose ‐ In Germany structural change and aggravated international competition have been accompanied by a declining willingness of enterprises to offer apprenticeships. Young people with low levels of qualification increasingly end up in courses at vocational schools that offer few transitions to regular VET or the labour market. This paper aims to show how the German VET (vocational education and training) system turned from an inclusive scheme to a selective scheme regarding young people with low levels of qualifications from basic schooling. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The paper presents empirical results of an evaluation study on the background of the structural changes in German VET. Findings ‐ The empirical results show exemplarily the low connection between these courses and the apprenticeships in companies. Research limitations/implications ‐ The results are exemplary for one type of course at vocational schools. The results cannot empirically illustrate causalities between the structure of German VET system and the diminishing possibilities of youth with low levels of qualification but secondary data presented in this paper support the assumption of an increasingly selective German VET system. Social implications ‐ The article provides information about social selectivity in contemporary German VET. Originality/value ‐ The article not only recapitulates the current German discussions about structural problems and reforms concerning the VET-system, but also draws conclusions from the German situation about possibilities of apprenticeship-based pathways for youths with low levels of qualifications in other countries.