Work-based learning and apprenticeships were discussed at a working dinner organised by Cedefop and hosted by Amjad Bashir MEP at the European Parliament in Brussels on 25 January. Twenty four people took part in the discussion, including eight MEPs from various parties.

Participants agreed that apprenticeships are a good vehicle in the fight against youth unemployment and that closer cooperation is needed between European stakeholders in the field.

In his opening speech, Mr Bashir thanked Cedefop for organising the event and for the opportunity to learn more about the agency’s work. He said that the UK, his country, has taken steps on apprenticeships which created 2.4 million jobs.

According to Mr Bashir, schools should present apprenticeships as an alternative to higher education. Following the apprenticeship path, young people have their education paid for, winning valuable work experience in the process. In the UK, ‘the apprenticeship revolution has helped reduce youth unemployment.’

Thomas Händel MEP, Chair of the European Parliament’s EMPL Committee, noted that ‘we should take the chance for more creativity,’ concurring that apprenticeships offer an opportunity to tackle youth unemployment.

Micheline Scheys, Chair of Cedefop’s Governing Board, referred to apprenticeships and work-based learning as ‘strong instruments for stronger qualifications for young people.’

Value for money

Cedefop Director James Calleja focused on the agency’s work and value for money. He presented highlights of Cedefop’s work, such as the European qualifications framework, Europass, skill supply forecasts and the Skills Panorama. He stressed Cedefop’s tripartite character and how this strength should enable European vocational education and training (VET) to come closer to citizens. Cedefop’s motto for the coming years, he stated, is ‘to think European but act locally.’

Mr Calleja added that the agency’s European skills and jobs survey, which was published in 2015, shows clearly that people who go through forms of work-based learning in VET have their skills matched with the needs of the labour market.

Cedefop’s Head of Department for Learning and Employability Antonio Ranieri said that Europe needs 4-5 million more jobs compared to 2008, but it still has 10 million more than in 2004-05. He argued that there is a problem of employment distribution and, in that respect, there is nothing better than VET and in particular work-based learning.

Cedefop Deputy Director Mara Brugia spoke of the overall context apprenticeship and work-based learning have within the agency’s work programme. She referred to the European initiatives that lead to forms of work-based learning which countries can adopt within their diverse education and training systems.

Specific needs

In the question and answer session that followed, Czech MEP Martina Dlabajová asked for examples and Mr Calleja said that in countries where there is no legal base for apprenticeships it is difficult to launch a good apprenticeship programme. He added that countries which place high importance on work-based learning have low youth unemployment and unemployment in general.

Michaela Šojdrová MEP, also from the Czech Republic, pointed out Cedefop’s ‘important role as an agency for strategic research and studies,’ and the need for comparative studies between Member States that would be of great use.

Romanian MEP Emilian Pavel argued that the Erasmus+ programme is ‘a big gain of Europe.’

Catriona Meehan of the non-profit Application Developers Alliance said that every business could be considered as a software developer, noting there is huge demand in the ICT sector even in the current climate of high unemployment in Europe.

European Commission’s Director for Skills Detlef Eckert stressed that we should be getting things done at European and national levels, adding that collaboration with education and change of jobs from manual to digital are some of the issues to consider for the future.

More to be done

Cedefop’s Steve Bainbridge, who facilitated the discussion, said that, although everybody agrees that apprenticeship is good, only one in eight students in the European Union are in work-based learning. He pointed out the need for a dialogue between stakeholders to overcome obstacles such as money, time, lack of trainers to support the trainees and the issue of curricula.

Concluding the event, the Cedefop Director said: ‘We have to work together more than we have done in the past. Your input is very important for research, analysis and knowledge brokering. We have a common mission; we want to be catalyst for change as we want more people in employment.’

Host Amjad Bashir added: ‘We should work together to make Cedefop a success, make Member States a success and give hope for the future.’