Apprenticeship and other forms of work-based learning can be an opportunity for empowering young people and adults, boosting their long-term employability through quality education and training.
There is broad consensus in Europe that apprenticeships and other forms of work-based learning may support the transitions of young people from school to employment and increasingly contribute to upskilling and reskilling of adults.
Within the EU policy framework, Cedefop carries out research and knowledge brokering activities to provide evidence to support policy making at the EU and national levels and to support European cooperation on apprenticeships and work-based learning among Member States.
EU policy framework: focus on apprenticeships
Apprenticeships have been constantly a policy priority in VET at the European level, from the Bruges communiqué (2010) to the Osnabrück Declaration (2020), leading almost all EU Member States to engage in actions of reforming existing apprenticeship schemes or introducing new ones.
The 2020 Osnabrück declaration has recognised once more that apprenticeships and workplace-based learning improve employability by equipping people with “knowledge, skills and competences that are relevant for the ever-changing labour market and offer upskilling and re-skilling for inclusion and excellence”.
In the same year, the Council Recommendation on VET has renewed the emphasis on the potential of apprenticeships to prevent young people unemployment and prepare them for current and future labour market opportunities and challenges, including the green and digital transitions.
Amid this mix of policy developments, attention turned to quality and effectiveness. In this context, the European framework for quality and effective apprenticeships (EFQEA) represents a key point of reference, offering Member States a well-defined set of criteria for their apprenticeships to provide benefits to both employers and apprentices.
Since 2013, the EU has supported Member states on expanding existing apprenticeship schemes or introducing new ones also through the European alliance for apprenticeships (EAfA), which was relaunched in 2020.
Cedefop activities on apprenticeships and other forms of work-based learning
1.1 Studies and databases
- Cross-national overview on apprenticeships (2018): Cedefop mapped system level apprenticeship schemes in the Member States (then including the UK) plus Iceland and Norway and carried out a comparative analysis of those schemes that met a number of common criteria. The report identified and analysed the different purposes and functions associated with the schemes, and investigated whether and how they differ in terms of organisation.
- Cedefop European database on apprenticeship schemes (2019-20): the online database collects and presents structured, comparable information on apprenticeship schemes in EU Member States plus Iceland, Norway and the UK. The database collects and organises information at country and at scheme level, allowing for comparison at both levels. In 2019-2020, the database has been revised and updated by Cedefop and its community of apprenticeship experts.
- Long-term cross-country mobility in apprenticeships (2019-20): Cedefop identified and formulated the necessary conditions (at framework, system and implementation levels) and actions enabling long-term cross-country mobility of apprentices. A policy paper (2021) can be used to inform (i) reforming apprenticeship schemes or systems to make them readier for mobility; and (ii) designing mobility projects for apprentices. The study findings will be published in 2021.
- Apprenticeships for adults (2017-18): the report explored the topic from a conceptual and theoretical point of view, reviewing relevant existing research and exploring policies in place in EU and four non-EU countries. Being the first report that addressed the topic from an EU-wide perspective, the report confirmed that adults increasingly participate in apprenticeship training and that EU countries’ fundamental division into two main apprenticeship function groups leads to two different approaches in aiding participation of adults in apprenticeship.
- Financing apprenticeships (2016-2018): Cedefop’s study (2020), under the Financing VET project, is a first-time effort in systematically collecting and analysing information on financing arrangements for apprenticeship schemes in EU countries and the UK. Looking at the main costs of apprenticeship and how they are shared, the mechanisms for collection and redistribution of financial resources and the volumes of funding involved, the study demonstrates the wide variety of ways in which apprenticeships are financed and proposes a typology of financing arrangements for apprenticeships. An online database presents information on how apprenticeship schemes are financed in the EU Member States and the UK. It continues Cedefop’s work on Governance and financing of apprenticeships (2014).
- The role of work-based learning in VET and tertiary education (2021): Analysing the 2016 EU labour force survey (EU-LFS) ad hoc module, Cedefop’s report, provides EU-wide updated statistical evidence addressing key aspects: how many young graduates experienced work-based learning as part of their highest education attained, particularly in VET and in tertiary education; who they are; and how well they do in the labour market, in comparison with their counterparts who have not participated in work-based learning.
- The role of work-based learning in training adults. Cedefop’s report on work-based learning approaches in continuing vocational education and training in Europe (2015) has identified priorities and insights for effective continuing VET policies and systems. Tailored learning offered with work-based learning is a key area in Cedefop’s analytical framework for developing upskilling pathways (2020).
1.2 Thematic country reviews
Between 2014 and 2018, Cedefop carried out seven Thematic Country Reviews (TCRs) on Apprenticeships in Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Malta and Slovenia. In 2017-18, Cedefop piloted also two flash TCRs in French-speaking Belgium and Sweden.
Cedefop TCRs gave national steering groups of apprenticeship stakeholders an opportunity to review and reflect on their national apprenticeships system or scheme(s), to investigate on what hampered their success or contributed to it, in view of designing reforms or improving their implementation. Cedefop involved a broad range of stakeholders in the countries at different stages and levels of the reviews (such as responsible ministries, social partners, national institutions but also apprentices, teachers, trainers, employers and VET providers) through an inclusive, participatory and collaborative approach.
With the TCRs country-specific findings and their comparative analysis, Cedefop expanded the knowledge on apprenticeship across Europe.
2. Analyses and policy briefs
Cedefop carries out in-house analysis and drafts policy briefs on the topic of apprenticeship and work-based learning. Among the most recent ones:
- The policy paper on long-term cross-border apprentice mobility (CBLTMA) (2021) that shows that realistically, CBLTMA may become an opportunity for all apprentices only in the long run. In the short term, a step-by-step approach in implementing incremental changes seems to be the most appropriate way to make CBLTMA work in a sustainable manner.
- The paper on ‘How many apprentices are there in the EU?’ (2021) presents Cedefop data on apprenticeship participation based on national sources and offers reflections on the challenges that make it difficult to estimate apprenticeship participation in EU Member States.
- The analysis on the implementation of the European Framework for Quality and Effective Apprenticeships (EFQEA) (2021) examines how schemes in Cedefop’s European database on apprenticeship schemes compare with several of the EFQEA criteria, revealing areas of strength but also unearthing issues and gaps that require further action.
- Cedefop analytical framework on apprenticeships (2019) provides a standardised definition of apprenticeship systems and schemes, outlines several areas for analysing an apprenticeship scheme and further articulates them into operational descriptors.
- Briefing notes on apprenticeships
- Apprenticeship: a pill for every ill? (2021) makes the case for how identity, purpose and shared vision for apprenticeships matter in the pursuit of quality, especially since apprenticeship should not just be about bringing people into employment, but about securing their long-term employability.
- Apprenticeships for adults (2020) discusses the different policy approaches followed in the EU and presents conditions under which apprenticeship can be a suitable and attractive option for adults and employers.
- Making apprenticeships work for small and medium enterprises (2015) presents conditions under which SMEs can be more engaged in apprenticeships, in terms of financial incentives, a facilitating business environment and support to in-company trainers.
3. Communities and events
3.1 Cedefop community of apprenticeship experts
To strengthen and expand the knowledge on apprenticeships in Europe, the Department for Learning and Employability launched Cedefop community of apprenticeship experts. The experts’ independent and voluntary long-term collaboration aims at improving the understanding of apprenticeship schemes in Europe. In 2019-20, community experts engaged in the update of Cedefop European database of apprenticeship schemes. In 2020, community experts, under Cedefop's coordination, contributed to a synthesis report on how the coronavirus outbreak affected apprenticeships in the EU Member States, Iceland, Norway and the United Kingdom, and what steps are taken to address the emerging challenges. In 2020-21 community experts explored the topics of apprenticeship governance in relation to labour market needs and in-company training in apprenticeships (forthcoming publication, 2021).
3.2 Joint Cedefop-OECD symposia on apprenticeships
The joint Cedefop-OECD symposia on apprenticeships bring together policy makers, practitioners and researchers from around the world to consider new research or analysis of practices exploring new aspects, trends, changes in the field of apprenticeship.
The first joint symposium (Paris, 2019) looked at the future of apprenticeship from the perspective of a number of external mega trends - such as socio-demographic changes, new technologies and new forms of work organisation, trends in education and training - and considered how they have affected (or will affect) the design and delivery of apprenticeship and policy approaches towards its provision. The joint Cedefop/OECD publication ‘The next steps for apprenticeships’ (2021) includes 16 papers on the topic, by researchers from Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States.
The 2021 joint symposium is dedicated to the role of apprenticeships in the transitions to greener economies and societies. The event will take place online on 21 and 22 October. Preregistration will open in July.
3.3 Policy learning fora on apprenticeships
With the Policy Learning Fora on Apprenticeships, Cedefop provides countries with an opportunity to exchange evidence and generate knowledge on apprenticeships by reflecting on shared problems in this field, thus supporting policy making at the national and EU levels.
The first policy learning forum (PLF) on apprenticeships took place in 2017 and it was linked to the first thematic country reviews on apprenticeships (TCRs), which Cedefop launched in 2014.
The second policy learning forum (PLF) on apprenticeships (2018) involved all TCR countries and also brought in the experience of other countries to trigger peer learning and discussions
All TCR countries participated also in the third policy learning forum (2020), together with representatives from the countries involved in the bench-learning exercise on apprenticeships organised by the European Commission.
The next PLF on apprenticeships will take place in 2022.
3.4 Policy Learning Fora Community
Until 2020, Cedefop apprenticeship PLF participants included stakeholders from all TCR and flash TCR countries (see 1.2) representing the main actors of apprenticeship systems at the national level: Ministry of employment, Ministry of education, employers’ and employees’ organisations, VET providers, regions.
4. Other activities
4.1 Reporting on VET policies and systems
Cedefop monitors and analyses progress towards the agreed priorities in VET collecting evidence on common trends, achievements and challenges. As part of this work Cedefop publishes:
- country-based information on VET policy developments on work-based learning/apprenticeships;
- synthesis reports in collaboration with the European Training Foundation on progress made in all objectives agreed by EU Member States and candidate countries, including apprenticeships.
This work relies on qualitative and quantitative data provided by Cedefop’s ReferNet and other Cedefop work in this area. It also draws on discussions with Directors General and the Advisory Committee for vocational education and training.
Traditionally, Cedefop provides information about VET systems in the European Union, Iceland, Norway and the UK. Its interactive VET in Europe database showcases 35 VET systems presenting information on several themes including apprenticeships. It contains detailed information about each VET programme type, including share of work-based learning, qualification levels, providers, target groups, etc.
4.2 Support to the European Working Groups (WG) on VET
The Education and Training 2020 Working Group on VET responded to the objectives of ET 2020, Rethinking Education, and the Bruges Communiqué as well as the Riga Conclusions of June 2015. The work of the ET 2020 WG on VET has changed focus every two years. Cedefop has participated in the working group, sharing knowledge and contributing to the review of the WGs final outputs.
- The 2018-20 VET WG focused on “Innovation and digitalisation. Boosting high-quality Vocational Education and Training (VET) and Higher VET”. The Working Group explored the role and potential of innovation, with a focus on digitalisation, both within VET (e.g. new learning environments, teaching styles, use of technologies etc.) and their impact on VET (e.g. industry 4.0, automation, artificial intelligence), in view of more flexible and modern high quality VET systems.
- In the period 2016-18, the ET2020 VET WG focused on teachers and trainers, elaborating 12 policy pointers and identifying inspirational examples to support teachers and trainers in delivering high performance apprenticeships and work-based learning.
- In the period 2014-15, the ET 2020 WG on VET worked on apprenticeships and work-based learning, resulting in a publication on High-performance apprenticeships & work-based learning: 20 guiding principles (12/2015).
As of 2021, the main objective of the Working Group will be to help countries implement the principles and objectives of the Council Recommendation on vocational education and training for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience and the Osnabrück Declaration on vocational education and training as an enabler of recovery and just transitions to digital and green economies.
The framework draws on features that appear to work in more than one apprenticeship system or scheme and summarises key elements they share, to different extents and in different combinations. It also provides a standardised definition of apprenticeship and outlines several areas of analysis, articulated into operational descriptors.
4.3.2 ReferNet articles on long-term international mobility of apprentices
The articles aim at identifying possible or actual enablers and disablers of long-term cross-country mobility of apprentices and where possible, what works and what does not in existing policies, initiatives and projects
4.3.3 ReferNet articles on work-based learning and apprenticeships
The articles provide a national overview of existing work-based learning and apprenticeships in the EU countries, their specific features, main strengths and weaknesses.
4.3.4 IAG-TVET leaflet “Investing in Work-Based Learning”
The leaflet of the Interagency Group on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (IAG-TVET) provides a description of what work-based learning is, why it is important and what can be done to promote it. It also indicates further sources of information on the topic.