Small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) provide two thirds of private sector employment in the EU and yet 92% have never taken up an apprentice. Even though SMEs have different needs regarding skills training, their challenges are very much alike across the countries. A pilot model of business support to get apprenticeships into European SMEs is welcome. Provided the right conditions are met and the right support is available, SMEs can offer high quality apprenticeships.
The aim of the Erasmus+ KA3 project Services for apprenticeship (SERFA) was to pilot such a business support mechanism as ‘skills brokerage’, free-of-charge tools to support companies in implementing apprenticeship, and step-by-step employer guidelines for the implementation of apprenticeship in eight European countries.
Representatives from Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Austria, Poland, Slovenia and the United Kingdom joined expertise from the field of employment, vocational education and training, and various economic sectors to ensure that the products and services they develop respond to real SME needs. By surveying 268 businesses across partner countries, partners were able to get an up-to date picture of SME needs and detect their barriers to engagement in apprenticeships and gaps in current service provisions. Their main activities included:
- designing a model of apprenticeship support called ‘skills brokerage’. More than 160 companies welcomed a free-of-charge impartial counselling service by a trained skills broker, focusing on identifying businesses’ skills and training needs to support their growth. Brokers prepare individually tailored training plans to help SMEs understand what is required by their current and prospective workforce to support business development. They also assess the company’s potential to bridge the identified skills gaps with apprenticeships and in-company training. When presented with an individualised company-training plan, 90% of businesses invest in skills solutions including apprenticeships;
- developing practical resources to provide support at every stage of the apprenticeship from recruitment to completion. 19 free tools were developed together with SMEs to provide support at every stage of apprenticeship, including a basic information pack, apprenticeship vacancy guidelines, interview assessment template, marketing pack, recruitment pack, welcome pack, and self-assessment tool. The tools are also included in Employer pathways to apprenticeship, a step-by-step process to guide employers through apprenticeship;
- providing an international pool of apprenticeship champions. More than thirty representatives of SMEs have joined the SERFA apprenticeship champions’ network with the aim of sharing their experience with other businesses and young people with interest in apprenticeship.
SERFA support services and tools are transferable to other intermediary bodies, whatever the economic sector across Europe, and available in seven European languages.