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Empowering young people by expanding and improving apprenticeships. Apprenticeships and other forms of work-based learning help young people make smoother transitions from school to employment. Thus, they are central to the development and implementation of the youth guarantee schemes.

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 other forms of work-based learning as a strategic priority. The European Commission also manages the European Alliance for Apprenticeships (EAfA).

Despite this recognition, obstacles to establishing good quality apprenticeship schemes persist. Several necessary conditions must converge, which are not always present. As part of the New Skills Agenda for Europe, launched in June 2016, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a European Framework for Quality and Effective Apprenticeships in October 2017. Cedefop contributed to this initiative, drawing on its overall expertise in apprenticeships and the experience from the use of Cedefop analytical framework for apprenticeships.

Within the EU policy framework, Cedefop carries out activities to provide evidence to support policy making at the EU and national levels and to support European cooperation on apprenticeships among Member States.

Cedefop activities on apprenticeships

1. Thematic Country Reviews
2. Policy Learning Forums
3. Research
4. Other activities

4.1 Reporting on VET policies and systems
4.2 Support to the ET 2020 Working Group (WG) on VET
4.3 Resources

1. Thematic Country Reviews

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.

Since May 2014, Cedefop has carried out Thematic Country Reviews on Apprenticeships in five volunteer countries: Lithuania and Malta as part of a first wave (2014-2015); GreeceItaly and Slovenia as part of a second wave (2015-2017). Cedefop has carried out a third wave of reviews in two more countries, Cyprus and Croatia, and piloted a lighter version of the TCR (flash TCRs) in French-speaking Belgium and Sweden.

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 expand the knowledge on apprenticeship across Europe. They 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.

2. Policy Learning Forums

With the Policy Learning Forums on Apprenticeships, Cedefop supports countries exchange and generates knowledge on apprenticeships to take their reforms and policies further. The forums may take different formats (different events, platforms for info exchanges, etc). The aim is to exchange and generate knowledge and maybe build consensus around shared problems - bring, generate more evidence to support evidence-based policy making at the national and EU levels.

The first policy learning forum (PLF) on apprenticeships was linked to the thematic country reviews on apprenticeships (TCRs), which Cedefop launched in 2014.
The second policy learning forum (PLF) on apprenticeships also engaged the countries involved in the thematic reviews on apprenticeships (TCRs) at different stages. It took place on 18 and 19 October 2018.
The third policy learning forum will take place on 17 and 18 September 2020 (click here for the draft agenda). 

3. Research

Ongoing research:

  • Long-term cross-country mobility in apprenticeships: the specific focus of this study is to identify and formulate the necessary conditions (at framework, system and implementation levels) and actions enabling long-term cross-country mobility of apprentices - in the form of a guidance paper that could be used to (i) reform apprenticeship schemes or systems (to make them readier for mobility); and (ii) design mobility projects for apprentices.

Past research:

  • Apprenticeships for adults: the report explored the topic from a conceptual and theoretical point of view, reviewing relevant existing research. It also explored policies in place in EU and four non-EU countries. It was the first report that addressed the topic from an EU-wide perspective.
  • Financing of apprenticeships/dual VET in the EU: an online database presents information on how apprenticeship schemes are financed in the EU Member States. The database structures and displays information on (a) apprenticeship scheme financing arrangements (i.e. the whole system of financing apprenticeship scheme) and (b) financing instruments implemented to incentivise employers and individuals to participate in apprenticeships.
  • Cross-national overview on apprenticeships: the aim was to map system level apprenticeship schemes existing in the Member States plus Iceland and Norway and carry out a comparative analysis of those schemes that meet a number of common criteria. The results of the overview were published in 2018 in a report and in an on-line database.
  • Governance and financing of apprenticeships

To strengthen and expand the knowledge on apprenticeships in Europe, the Department for Learning and Employability launched Cedefop community of apprenticeship experts. The experts’ independent and voluntary long-term collaboration is expected to improve the understanding of apprenticeship schemes and ultimately support their quality implementation in Europe.

4. Other activities

4.1 Reporting on VET policies and systems

In 2015, Member States agreed on priorities for vocational education and training (VET) until 2020 to achieve the objectives decided in 2010 (Bruges communiqué). One of them relates directly to work-based learning with a special focus on apprenticeships.

Cedefop monitors and analyses progress towards the agreed priorities in VET collecting evidence on common trends, achievements and challenges. As part of this work Cedefop publishes:
- country-based information on VET policy developments on all deliverables agreed in 2015, one of them on work-based learning/apprenticeships;
- synthesis reports in collaboration with the European Training Foundation on progress made in all objectives agreed by EU Member states and candidate countries, including apprenticeships.

This work relies on qualitative and quantitative data provided by Cedefop’s ReferNet and other Cedefop work in this area. It also draws on discussions with Directors General and the Advisory Committee for vocational education and training.

Traditionally, Cedefop provides information about VET systems in the European Union, Iceland and Norway. Its interactive VET in Europe database showcases 35 VET systems  presenting information on several themes including  apprenticeships. It contains detailed information about each VET programme type, including share of work-based learning, qualification levels, providers, target groups, etc.

In addition Cedefop publishes concise ‘spotlights on VET’ describing the key features of VET systems in the Member States, Norway and Iceland. These publications include sections on apprenticeships or similar schemes where applicable and may include relevant information in other parts. Information on apprenticeship may vary in terms of content and degree of detail, as the reports are country-driven.

4.2 Support to the ET 2020 Working Group (WG) on VET

The key purpose of the Education and Training 2020 Working Group on VET is to respond to the objectives of ET 2020, Rethinking Education, and the Bruges Communiqué as well as the Riga conclusions of June 2015. The work ­­­­of the ET 2020 WG on VET changes focus every two years. Cedefop  participates in the working group and contributes through background documents and research activities.

The 2018-2020 VET WG focuses on “Innovation and digitalisation. Boosting high-quality Vocational Education and Training (VET) and Higher VET”. The group’s mandate started in July 2018 and will continue until June 2020. The purpose of the Working Group is to explore the role and potential of innovation, with a focus on digitalisation, both within VET (e.g. new learning environments, teaching styles, use of technologies etc.) and their impact on VET (e.g. industry 4.0, automation, artificial intelligence), in view of more flexible and modern high quality VET systems.

In the period 2016-2018, the focus of the ET2020 VET WG was on teachers and trainers. As a result of this work, the WG elaborated 12 policy pointers and identified inspirational examples to support teachers and trainers in delivering high performance apprenticeships and work-based learning. The publication can be downloaded here.

In the period 2014-2015, the ET 2020 WG on VET worked on apprenticeships and work-based learning. As a result of this work, the European Commission published High-performance apprenticeships & work-based learning: 20 guiding principles (12/2015).

For more information about the work of the ET2020 VET WG, you can register on the Yammer platform and follow #ET2020VET on Twitter.

4.3 Resources

4.3.1 ReferNet articles on long-term international mobility of apprentices
The articles aim at identifying possible or actual enablers and disablers of long-term cross-country mobility of apprentices and where possible, what works and what does not in existing policies, initiatives and projects.

4.3.2 ReferNet articles on work-based learning and apprenticeships
The articles provide a national overview of existing work-based learning and apprenticeships in the EU countries, their specific features, main strengths and weaknesses.

4.3.3 Bibliography: Apprenticeships in work based learning (2010 onwards)

4.3.4 IAG-TVET leaflet “Investing in Work-Based Learning”
The leaflet of the Interagency Group on Technical and Vocational Education and Training provides a description of what work-based learning is, why it is important, what can be done and it indicates further sources of information on the topic.

Project contacts

Apprenticeship team