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How European countries manage apprenticeships to respond to the coronavirus crisis

Cedefop’s community of apprenticeship experts launched an internal consultation on how European countries are managing apprenticeships in the current health emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Twenty five experts contributed to this exercise from: Austria, Belgium (fr, fl, de), Bulgaria, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, UK-England and UK-Wales.

A synthesis of the information shared was produced. The experts expressed their individual professional opinion, not that of their institution or Cedefop’s.

Main messages

According to the information received, all the above countries make efforts to keep up with the learning at school via distance learning and maintain the contracts with the companies. The aim is not to lose the year, although most countries are still working out how to deal with the final assessment (postponement being the worst-case scenario).

Distance learning however is piecemeal, and its use very much depends on the schools’ and teachers’ e-skills and availability, and on sectors. Its use ranges from mere communication/keeping in touch with students, to access to resources (videos etc.), to actual teaching. Some countries are considering virtual final assessment.

The role of teachers and of cooperation at school-company level is critical to ensuring training continuity (especially via distance learning). Apprentices who still go to companies, are occasionally allowed – in cooperation with schools – to make up for parts of learning meant to be delivered in schools.

Concerning schools, the response was linear across countries (schools are closed), but when it comes to companies the situation is more nuanced, largely depending on economic sector. Not going to school does not necessarily mean discontinuation of company attendance. Apprentices continue their training and work, particularly in companies providing essential services such as healthcare and food, as long as health and safety measures are observed. Apprentices discontinued their company attendance in sectors whose activities have been shut down by regulation, such as, in most countries, hospitality, wellbeing, tourism.

Impact on school-based component

All schools and VET providers offering training to apprentices are closed. Countries differ in the deadline for this measure (April or mid-May 2020). Most countries have not specified the implications of the training activity interruption and its impact on the duration of the apprenticeship period.

Most countries have set up arrangements for distance learning, including organised online classes. Familiarity with, and success of, distance learning varies across countries. In Bulgaria, for example, students study theory online for two or three days, just as they did in school. In Germany, apprentices who still go to companies may access school training resources at the workplace. In Iceland, teaching was transferred online overnight. This has been challenging for many teachers, especially those teaching more hands-on classes. But some are using or creating demonstration videos and finding creative solutions with online resources. In Spain, students continue their programmes, where possible, through online classes.

Impact on company-based component

In most countries, apprentices do not go to companies, but the situation varies by sector, scheme or education level. Where it is considered safe, in-company training continues. In French-speaking Belgium, for example, students in higher education with work-based learning, can continue going to the workplace if the employer and the school agree. In Portugal, work-based learning can continue at the workplace provided the enterprises where it takes place are operating and there is an agreement between learner, tutor and VET provider.

In general, apprentices whose contracts are not suspended are paid as usual. When companies close there are two main options: apprentices whose contracts are covered by the labour code, receive a wage if they continue working or, if they don’t, they are covered by labour market measures; apprentices whose contracts are not covered by the labour code and usually receive an allowance, receive a State grant/subsidy.

In Austria, for example, where apprentices’ contracts are covered by the labour code, if companies are closed, they can apply for Kurzarbeit (reduced working regulation). This is a scheme whereby the training company pays 100% of apprenticeship wages but gets reimbursed from the public employment service for most of them.

In Malta, on the other hand, where State allowances apply, apprentices will not be paid by the employer, but they will continue to get the stipend issued by the government.

Check out the synthesis report for more information on the response of individual countries.