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Empowering young people by expanding and improving apprenticeships. Young people have been hit particularly hard by the crisis. Apprenticeships and other work-based training schemes help young people make smoother transitions from school to employment.

There is broad consensus in Europe that apprenticeships can be an efficient way of addressing labour market imbalances. Thus, the European Commission’s communication, Rethinking Education: Investing in skills for better socio-economic outcomes (2012) identified quality apprenticeships and work-based learning as a strategic priority. It also announced the European Alliance for Apprenticeship (EAfA).

Despite this recognition, obstacles to establishing good apprenticeship programmes persist. Several necessary conditions must converge, which are not always present. Also, these conditions vary considerably among Member States, making a single apprenticeship model inappropriate.

The European Commission's Directorate General for Education and Culture has asked Cedefop to take a leading role in supporting the European Alliance for Apprenticeship and implementing youth guarantee schemes. In practice, Cedefop is to support European cooperation on apprenticeships both among Member States and within individual countries.

Cedefop activities on apprenticeships and work-based learning

1. ET 2020 Working Group on VET (apprenticeships and work-based learning)

2. Event: European Conference on Engaging SMEs in Apprenticeships

3. Reporting on VET policies and systems

4. Thematic country reviews on apprenticeships

5. Research: Governance and financing of apprenticeships

6. ReferNet articles on work-based learning and apprenticeships

7. Bibliography: Apprenticeships in work based learning (2010-)

1. ET 2020 Working Group on VET (apprenticeships and work-based learning)

The Commission’s Working Group (WG) on VET focus is on effectively implementing national VET reforms which set up or strengthen work-based learning (WBL) and apprenticeships. The WG works on four specific and operational policy challenges identified at EU level and/or of importance for Member States, namely:

  1. Support for companies, in particular SMEs, offering company placements
  2. Positive image of apprenticeships and improved career guidance
  3. National governance, regulatory framework and social partners'
  4. Quality assurance in work-based learning

In line with strengthening country-support to benefit Member State policy development, the WG strives to achieve the following outputs:

  • Guidance frameworks for clusters of countries that have a common interest in a specific topic related to apprenticeships, based on the results of the learning needs/support offers survey and DGVT consultations
  • Assistance to countries for successful implementation or modernisation of VET WBL, in particular apprenticeships
  • Bilateral cooperation between "mentor" countries and countries which need to strengthen particular WBL aspects of their VET systems

High-performance apprenticeships & work-based learning: 20 guiding principles (12/2015). This document presents 20 guiding principles developed by the ET 2020 WG on VET in 2014-2015. These principles were developed during a series of meetings, in-depth country focus workshops and webinars. Representatives of the EU Member States, EFTA countries, and Candidate Countries as well as EU Social Partner and VET Provider organisations, Cedefop and the European Training Foundation (ETF) participated in the Working Group, which was chaired by the Commission. Cedefop and external consultants have contributed to the working group through background documents and research activities.

2. Event: European Conference on Engaging SMEs in Apprenticeships

Cedefop's European Conference on Engaging SMEs in Apprenticeships was held in Thessaloniki, 9-10 November 2015.

This initiative is part of Cedefop’s support to the European Alliance for Apprenticeships and is one of a series of Cedefop conferences to facilitate interaction, cross-country dialogue and experience-sharing among relevant stakeholders for apprenticeships, all focused on supporting bilateral/multilateral co-operation for apprenticeship boost and modernisation. The first conference of this type was organised in May 2014.

The objective of the 2015 event was to discuss how SMEs can be better engaged in apprenticeships, and give an opportunity to participants to network and to explore areas and ideas for cooperation on how to assist SMEs in the provision of apprenticeships, in particular those which have not trained apprentices before.

Participants learned more about funding opportunities under Erasmus+, in particular the forthcoming Erasmus+ call for proposals in this area.


3. Reporting on VET policies and system

In 2015, Cedefop will review progress Member States have made in the period 2011-14 on VET policies and specifically in achieving the objectives and deliverables agreed for VET in the Bruges communiqué (2010). Some of them relate directly to apprenticeships, or work-based learning more generally. The information available on WBL/apprenticeship-related issues through policy reporting is, however, brief, as the exercise covers all 22 Bruges deliverables.

Planned outputs are as follows:

  • country fiches (EU 28+ IS+NO (9)) with information on all 22 deliverables, one of them on work-based learning, including apprenticeships (STD 5a), others including related information;
  • deliverable fiches (STD5a either combined with others or presented separately);
  • a report synthesising progress towards the objectives of the Bruges communiqué; it will discuss deliverables and issues related to apprenticeship as appropriate and may include some country examples on these issues.

This work relies on the results of ReferNet surveys in 2012, 2013 and early 2014 and Cedefop’s regular monitoring of the European tools. It also considers Cedefop’s work on statistical data, projects and studies related to the deliverables and relevant qualitative and quantitative sources from European and international organisations (Commission studies, work by OECD, ILO etc). Cedefop also held interviews with ACVT and DGVT members. In several cases they referred to apprenticeships (policies, challenges, success factors).

Traditionally, Cedefop publishes yearly updates of reports and concise ‘spotlights’ describing the key features of VET systems in the EU-28+IS+NO. These publications include sections on apprenticeships or similar schemes where applicable and may include relevant information in other parts. Although information is provided by ReferNet based on guidelines by Cedefop, information on apprenticeship may vary in terms of content and degree of detail, as the reports are country-driven.

(9) 3 fiches for BE, 4 for UK.

4. Thematic country reviews on apprenticeships

In line with EU policies, Cedefop supports cooperation at European level among Member States and interacts with individual countries that wish to develop quality apprenticeships.

In 2014, Cedefop started cooperating with Member States to undertake in-depth reviews of their national developments on apprenticeship (thematic country reviews on apprenticeship). Between May 2014 and May 2015, Cedefop piloted two thematic country reviews on apprenticeship in two volunteer countries, Malta and Lithuania. Three countries (Greece, Italy, and Slovenia) have expressed interest in participating in Cedefop’s thematic country reviews on apprenticeships in 2015-16.

The main objectives of the country reviews are:

  • at national level, through close cooperation of Cedefop with national stakeholders, to carry out in-depth review of apprenticeships in selected countries to identify their specific strengths and challenges and propose a set of policy recommendations for ensuring quality apprenticeships;
  • at European level, to increase the evidence base supporting policy- and decision-makers in European countries, at different levels, in designing and implementing policies and measures for developing and/or improving quality apprenticeships; also to support comparison across countries.

With findings from each country participating in the project, the thematic country reviews will gradually expand the knowledge on apprenticeship across Europe. They will add a high level of detail, including factors determining or hampering the success of apprenticeship initiatives in different national contexts.

The review methodology relies on:

  • a common analytical framework;
  • an inclusive, participatory and collaborative approach and policy learning;
  • an evolving and iterative approach.

A broad range of stakeholders in the country (such as responsible ministries, social partners, and VET providers) are involved at different stages of the review.

Legal acts for VET regulating apprenticeships: Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland (working documents)
Summary of legal acts ¦ Comparative summary based on Cedefop's analytical framework

5. Research: Governance and financing of apprenticeships

The aim of this study is to analyse VET governance structures and financing arrangements in five countries - Italy, Spain, Sweden, Latvia and Portugal - in view of expanding apprenticeships. The study will provide a practical framework and a tool for assessing countries’ VET governance structures and financing arrangements, and apply the scenario technique to identify options on how governance structures and financing arrangements could be further developed to support apprenticeships in a given country.

The study is an action research project where relevant national stakeholders are actively involved. In each country, employers, employees, governments and independent experts will be invited to participate in workshops to scrutinise their current governance structures, financing arrangements and framework conditions, and discuss the three alternative scenarios for development of quality apprenticeship.

The study will contribute to policy learning. It will provide a better understanding of strengths and challenges of the current countries’ governance structures and financing arrangements, and of actions that need to be taken. The analysis will also aim to provide lessons and recommendations for other countries wishing to expand apprenticeship. The study will also contribute to research as its results, including the elaborated research tools (evaluation tool, scenarios, reference framework) can be the foundation for similar studies in the future.

6. ReferNet articles on work-based learning and apprenticeships

ReferNet articles aim to offer analytical and detailed information for comparative analyses and they complement the VET systems reports.

The articles provide a national overview of existing work-based learning and apprenticeships in EU countries, their specific features, main strengths and weaknesses. The articles take account of existing evidence, in particular (i) ReferNet contribution to policy reporting/VET in Europe, and (ii) recent studies published by the Commission on apprenticeship supply in EU member states, and on apprenticeship and traineeship schemes in EU27.

Building on information provided through VET in Europe and the policy reporting exercise, the articles complement and integrate the analysis with a special focus on areas not fully covered by the policy reporting exercise. In doing so, the articles also support Cedefop in developing a comparative picture of work-based learning and apprenticeships across the EU.

Past event
Policy Learning Forum (PLF) on apprenticeships
7-8 September 2017, Cedefop, Thessaloniki

New publication

Apprenticeship review: Slovenia

Project contacts

Ramona Carmen David Craescu