ESF-supported apprenticeship schemes in EU member states
1 Sep 2013
Kari Hadjivassiliou, Principal Research Fellow
The proven benefits of schemes which combine work and study and allow young people to acquire their first work experience have led to increased recent policy interest at both national and EU levels. As a result, apprenticeships and traineeships have become more prominent in the EU’s employment and youth policies, against the backdrop of increasing youth unemployment. IES has carried out a review of apprenticeship and traineeship schemes across the EU, which highlights the benefits of these schemes.
Promotion of work-based learning
The European Commission has been actively seeking to promote work-based learning through high-quality apprenticeships and traineeships as an effective tool for integrating young people into the labour market. For example, the Youth Opportunities Initiative, launched in 2011, and the Youth Employment Package, launched in December 2012, as well as the March 2013 Youth Employment Initiative, are seeking to increase both the supply and quality of apprenticeships across the EU, often with considerable financial support from the European Social Fund (ESF). In the same vein, on 2 July 2013, the European Commission launched the European Alliance for Apprenticeships, aimed at improving both the quality and availability of apprenticeships and changing mindsets towards this type of learning.
The overall aim of current EU policy is to increase this type of education, alongside other forms of vocational education and training (VET) such as traineeships, while significantly improving its quality and learning content. It also aims to link it more closely to labour market requirements, involve social partners in its design, provide the required support and resources and, in general, enhance its image and reputation.
Benefits of apprenticeships
Apprenticeships in particular can and do play a critical role in helping young people to make a smoother transition from school to work. A long-standing and robust body of evidence has consistently shown that countries with rigorous apprenticeship schemes, such as Germany, Austria, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and Switzerland, are the most successful in terms of facilitating school-towork transitions. IES recently carried out a country overview across the EU, which was conducted as part of the EU-wide technical assistance project Advice on ESF Support to Apprenticeship and Traineeship Schemes. Our review also shows that apprenticeships have consistently yielded positive employment outcomes, and not only in countries typically associated with the so-called dual training system, made up of a combination of workbased formal learning, such as Germany and Austria.
For most of the apprenticeship programmes reviewed in our study, the majority of apprentices secured employment immediately upon completion, with the average proportion being about 60–70 per cent, while in some cases this was as high as 90 per cent. In addition, within six months to a year after completing the scheme, the proportion of apprentices who secure employment increases even further and is often over 80 per cent. Indeed, the high effectiveness concerning the employment outcomes of apprenticeship programmes, especially those associated with the dual training system, has led a number of Member States to either introduce schemes akin to this system, or to embark upon major reforms of their apprenticeships. These countries include Belgium, Spain, Hungary, Italy and Sweden.
The positive impact of apprenticeships in easing the transition from school to work was borne out by the other strands of our analysis, including a review of existing evaluation literature, cross-country data analysis and case studies from Italy and the UK. For example, cross-country evidence shows that, in those European countries where the apprenticeship system is most developed, young people have better labour market outcomes than in other countries. Furthermore, national studies, based on individual data, provide evidence of the superiority of apprenticeships in smoothing the transition from school to work, with respect to vocational school-based education or to entering the labour market immediately after compulsory education. Overall, apprentices are found to achieve better job matches, higher wages, shorter periods of unemployment before finding a first job, and a longer duration of their first job compared to individuals with low educational attainment or school-based vocational education.
Renewed interested in vocational education and training
Interestingly, because of the enhanced employment outcomes of apprenticeships – and VET in general, compared to more academic forms of education – the perception of this type of education is changing in a number of countries, not least those currently characterised by high youth unemployment. As a result, our review identified renewed interest among young people in this type of education, as it tends to lead straight to employment, has regulated learning content, terms and conditions and remuneration, and typically helps to obtain a nationallyrecognised qualification.
In addition, our analysis shows that a number of Member States, in an effort to either reduce the number of apprentice drop-outs and/ or encourage young people at risk of early school leaving to stay in education or even attract those not in employment, education or training (NEETs) back to education, have introduced a range of apprenticeship-related measures and schemes. These include prevocational programmes and/or the provision of individualised vocational guidance, support and mentoring for the duration of the placement. Such countries include Austria, Finland, the Netherlands and Germany. Moreover, in response to the recession of the late 2000s and its aftermath, many Member States have introduced a range of special measures, including increased funding, aimed at supporting apprenticeships and unemployed apprentices. Specifically, apprenticeship schemes have been reinforced in a number of Member States by offering apprenticeshiprelated higher subsidies, improving information to entrepreneurs and SMEs in order to encourage them to take on apprentices, and focusing on early school-leavers, disadvantaged young people and redundant apprentices.
Success factors of apprenticeship schemes
Our review and analysis of the main apprenticeship programmes in 27 EU Member States also identified a number of factors which most often contribute to their success. These include a robust institutional and regulatory framework and strong social partner and employer involvement. Further success factors include the creation of close partnerships between employers and educational institutions and a close alignment of schemes with labour market needs. Funding is also an important factor, including employer incentives, as is robust quality assurance. There also needs to be appropriate matching of apprentice to host organisation and the provision of a combination of theoretical, school-based training with structured, practical work-related experience. Apprenticeships need to be underpinned by an apprenticeship agreement or contract, and apprentices themselves need to be offered high-quality guidance, support and mentoring, with the opportunity to gain certification of acquired knowledge, skills and competences, leading to a nationally-recognised qualification. Finally, it is vital to ensure tailored and flexible approaches to the needs of vulnerable young people undertaking an apprenticeship.
 The IES research findings will be included in the forthcoming guidebook, Apprenticeship and Traineeship Schemes in EU27: Key Success Factors – A Guidebook for Policy Planners and Practitioners