Over 50 participants in Cedefop’s 3rd policy learning forum on apprenticeships had the opportunity to share knowledge and reflect on the experience of other countries in a virtual event on 17 and 18 September.

Participants from 11 countries represented mostly ministries of education and labour or their agencies, national level employers’ associations and unions, and vocational education and training (VET) providers. The countries taking part were:

This reflects Cedefop’s intention to open this peer learning opportunity to a wider range of countries who are undergoing an exercise to reflect and improve their apprenticeship systems and schemes.

In his opening remarks, Cedefop’s Head of Department for Lifelong Learning and Employability Antonio Ranieri told participants: ‘The awareness of the potential of apprenticeships has grown over the past years. Implementation processes are slow in some countries, but the commitment remains high, thanks also to your efforts.’

This year’s forum was dedicated to two topics: apprenticeship governance and apprenticeship in-company training design and delivery. After a presentation of their short papers on the topics, experts from various countries engaged in a vivid discussion with the event participants. Questions addressed included:

  • How can governance facilitate an effective link and cooperation between labour market and VET actors to meet apprenticeship demand?
  • How is in-company training designed and delivered at employer level to ensure comparable learning outcomes leading to the same qualification and parity of opportunities among learners and employers?

Coronavirus and the future

The closing panel debated the lessons learned from the ongoing coronavirus crisis and the future of apprenticeships.

European social partners were represented by ETUC’s Agnes Roman and Business Europe’s Robert Plummer, the European Commission by Tamas Varnai and Cedefop by Deputy Director Mara Brugia.

Ms Brugia said that apprenticeships embedded in school-based VET systems can benefit from the governance already in place. But there is a risk that such apprenticeships lack a distinct identity. This might make it difficult to communicate the difference or their relative benefits for employers, young people and the wider economy.

She added that, if social partners and other labour market stakeholders are only marginally involved, apprentices’ training is unlikely to go beyond the individual company’s needs; and this will not help address the skills mismatch problem. If apprenticeship is meant to become a social institution to train and empower the future workforce through high-quality training, then it must grow, perhaps not in size but in depth.

Referring to the coronavirus crisis, Ms Brugia said that post-Covid we must continue working on better quality apprenticeship provision and embed apprenticeships in multi-level governance structures. Social partners can guarantee conditions that allow apprentices to grow as skilled and empowered citizens and workers.

Mr Varnai said that the European alliance for apprenticeships wants to boost apprenticeships nationally by incentivising SMEs to offer places, mobilising local/regional institutions and strengthening the social dialogue.

The social dialogue’s importance was also stressed by trade unions representative Ms Roman who found the forum ‘very timely to discuss how to improve quality of apprenticeship and cooperation.’ She was happy to hear from national representatives that many developments involve social partners.

On behalf of the employers, Mr Plummer pointed out: ‘We are happy that social partners are involved in definition of curricula etc., but we need to look at increasing the amount of time apprentices spend in the company.’ He argued that apprentices need to acquire the skills companies are looking for and use them within specific company context.