‘Our role as a European Union agency is to act as a catalyst and facilitate apprenticeship programmes,’ said Cedefop Director James Calleja at the ministerial meeting which endorsed the Riga conclusions on vocational education and training (VET) on Monday.

A panellist in the afternoon session which focused on the European alliance for apprenticeships (EAfA), Mr Calleja contributed to the discussion on how to get companies on board, particularly SMEs: ‘We will focus on how we can foster more partnerships between governments and businesses to promote apprenticeships. We need to help instil a culture of apprenticeships as it exists in Switzerland and some Member States.’

The alliance was launched in 2013 to fight youth unemployment in Europe. It is supported by the Commission, Member States and the European social partners.

Mr Calleja urged VET stakeholders to ‘transform the EAfA into action at national, regional and local levels to help local alliances between businesses, young people and public institutions and secure return on investment for companies but above all for individuals.’

‘One lesson I have learned,’ he added, ‘is that employers' involvement is very important. Financial resources must be increased to entice businesses and schools to engage in apprenticeships; for their own good and for the good of young people and society as a whole.’

Mr Calleja pointed to the experience Cedefop has had this year with country reviews: ‘We have seen that jobs create apprenticeships. Investment in growth is important.’

He concluded that apprenticeship culture has to start as early as possible, in school, while children are still young and that such culture has to be backed by partnerships between schools and businesses and between those engaged in the world of education and those in the world of employment.

More than 40 companies and other organisations signed pledges to join the EAfA in Riga. They will make a total of 140 000 apprenticeships and training opportunities available to young people.

Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility Marianne Thyssen welcomed the new partners, adding: 'Helping Europe's young people to access quality jobs is at the top of my priorities. Together we will create new opportunities for young people to learn the skills and gain the experience needed in the labour market.'

Mr Calleja also participated in a workshop for Heads of Delegations in which he stressed the importance of injecting more financial support to VET at European and country levels as well as awareness of the benefits of linking theoretical to practical learning.

On Sunday, a Cedefop delegation consisting of Mr Calleja, Deputy Director Mara Brugia and expert Lore Schmid took part in the meeting of Directors General for vocational education and training (DGVT), which prepared the Riga conclusions for endorsement and discussed a possible follow-up to be done by Cedefop and the European Training Foundation (ETF).

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