Apprenticeship systems in international comparison

Newsletter articles

1 Sep 2013

Employment Studies Issue 18

Linda Miller, Senior Research Fellow

Linda MillerNew research for the International Labour Organization (ILO) has examined apprenticeship systems in 10 countries around the world, with a view to highlighting key trends and good practice to help India review its apprenticeship system. Although systems vary between countries, there are nevertheless many common features and trends.


The research

In 2012, researchers at the University of Ballarat, Australia, were asked by the ILO to review apprenticeship systems around the world to provide ideas that could be used to inform a future revision of the Indian apprenticeship system. Ten countries’ apprenticeship systems were reviewed: Turkey, Indonesia, Egypt, South Africa, Australia, Canada, USA, England, Germany and France. These were grouped into countries with ‘more developed’ apprenticeship systems – Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany and the United States – and those with ‘less developed’ systems – Egypt, Indonesia, India, South Africa and Turkey. IES provided the case studies of apprenticeships in England and Canada. As with many apprenticeship systems, the Indian approach had been introduced in the mid-20th century when work requirements were very different from those today. Therefore, the research was aimed at identifying the features of successful apprenticeship systems and drawing out the various options available to India, should it decide to modernise and expand its apprenticeship system.

The case studies consisted of a literature review and interviews with key personnel in the case study countries. They aimed to highlight the main characteristics of the apprenticeship models and examine trends regarding the range of different systems’ features. The final report[1] identifies examples of good practice.

Common features of change across countries

Looking at the two countries studied by IES, while England’s system has seen large-scale change over the past three decades, the Canadian approach to apprenticeship has remained relatively unchanged, with just some minor alterations. Nevertheless, the report identifies some common features of change across all countries, in particular:

  • Increasing participation of employers;
  • Increasing participation of individuals, including targeting specific learner groups such as women and ethnic minorities;
  • Aligning with national and/or international qualifications frameworks;
  • Addressing youth unemployment with specific youth-targeted initiatives under the umbrella of apprenticeships;
  • Increasing the range of occupations in which apprenticeships can be undertaken; and
  • Harmonisation across state or provincial boundaries.

In England, one of the issues that had been the focus of attention by several governments in past decades is that of the status of apprenticeships. For years, apprenticeships have been seen as a second-class alternative to higher education. While this does appear to be changing in England – with the increase in university fees, the introduction of the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England (SASE) and higher apprenticeships all being credited as factors responsible for changing people’s perceptions – it is interesting to see that this is an issue in other countries too, including India.

One of the other key changes in England has been the extension of apprenticeships to adults (in England, defined as those aged over 24). Apprenticeship systems in other countries vary in respect of the age restrictions: in Egypt, France, Germany, India and Turkey, apprenticeships remain the domain of younger people. In Australia, Indonesia and South Africa, the situation is the same as in England: apprenticeships are seen as the province of both young and older adult workers. By contrast, in both Canada and the United States, apprenticeships are seen as a qualification to be undertaken by adults, once they have gained extensive experience.

Expanding apprenticeships in Canada and England

The Canadian approach has some interesting parallels with the English apprenticeship system. Like England, Canada has a long history of apprenticeships in traditionally male-dominated occupations but is now introducing apprenticeships in new areas of work, such as early childhood educators and personal support workers – note, however, that these newer apprenticeship areas have not been introduced across all of Canada – these two examples had only been introduced in Ontario at the time the research was conducted.

Encouraging women and minority groups into apprenticeships is also a priority for Canada, as in England. In general, Canadian apprenticeships consist both of periods of work ‘on-the-job’ and periods of ‘in class’ instruction, but unlike in England, in most Canadian jurisdictions, these periods alternate. Again, as in England’s approach to apprenticeships, the Canadian system requires apprentices to find employment as an apprentice and the employer then acts as a 'sponsor', providing the workplace portion of the training and sponsoring the off-thejob training component. As in England, some colleges and training institutions offer 'pre-apprenticeship programs', designed to equip apprentices with the skills or preparation needed for apprenticeship training. Some Canadian provinces and territories require a probationary period before an individual enters an apprenticeship.

Quality and transferability across the jurisdictions in Canada is assured by the Interprovincial Standards ‘Red Seal’ Program. This develops national occupational standards, which are then used by all the provinces and territories to ensure effective harmonisation of apprenticeship training and assessment in each province and territory.

As in England, the largest areas of apprenticeship remain the traditional craft areas, and demand is set to grow, with skills gaps predicted in construction, oil and gas, nursing, trucking, the hotel industry and in the steel trades over the coming decade. Possibly as a consequence of these anticipated shortfalls, there have been some attempts to facilitate the direct transfer from high school to apprenticeship programmes, but these are limited at the moment.

The report to the ILO contains details of all 10 case study countries and an analysis of the issues currently confronting apprenticeship systems. It points to England as an example of a country in which new occupations can be added to the pool of existing apprenticeship occupational areas with relative ease, which has an effect on both the credibility of the apprenticeship system and the flow of skilled and trained labour into new and emerging industries. The authors note that in England, at the time the report was compiled, there were 200 apprenticeship frameworks with a further 118 listed as being developed.

Footnotes [back]

[1] Erica Smith, and Ros Brennan Kemmis with contributions from: Salim Akoojee, AbouBakr Abdeen Badawi, Ludger Deitmer, M’Hamed Dif, Robert Lerman, Linda Miller, Bibhuti Roy, Andreas Saniter, Nicolas Serriere, Özlem Ünlühisarcýklý (forthcoming) Towards a model apprenticeship framework: A comparative analysis of national apprenticeship systems. Geneva: ILO