As identified in the partnership agreement for the use of European structural and investment funds (ESIF), one of the significant problems of the Estonian economy is structural unemployment. This means that the labour market is characterised by a lack of jobs and shortage of labour force. Thus, vocational education and training (VET) needs to be better connected to the world of work to help people gain knowledge, skills and competences relevant to the labour market.
In 2015-18, the country will carry out a EUR 18.5 million ESIF programme on apprenticeship training, jointly funded by the State (15%). Activities will focus on promoting apprenticeship, and increasing the number of apprentices and apprenticeship providers. Apprenticeship training programmes will be developed: there will be training for school coordinators and enterprise supervisors, and their cooperation will be supported. Materials and guidelines for implementing apprenticeship training models and criteria for assessing their effectiveness will be designed. Existing practices among different employers and VET institutions will be analysed to identify and promote best practices. If necessary, changes in legislation will be proposed to increase employer motivation. Awareness of opportunities and benefits will be improved among employers through international conferences and peer learning in different EU countries, which have a long term experience in implementing work-based learning.
Two thirds of the apprenticeship curriculum is delivered through practical training in an enterprise alongside experienced staff, gaining job-specific skills. Apprentices have the same rights and benefits as all VET students: a student card, study and transport allowances, and a free school lunch. Apprentices also receive a wage during enterprise training.
The number of learners in apprenticeship is expected to rise from 617 (2% of VET students) in 2014/15 to 4700 by 2018, and to 8000 by 2020. 40% are planned for young people and adults without compulsory (lower-secondary) education or adults with compulsory education but no occupational qualification. Apprenticeships are seen as beneficial to the national economy as well as to employers and employees: the apprentice receives a relevant qualification as he/she is trained for the position that needs to be filled, and employers can train their own workforce.