Why boosting apprenticeships presents a win-win situation for everyone

Companies, youngsters and society as a whole can all reap the rewards of properly organised apprenticeships, argues Denis Pennel

There are currently around 3.7 million apprenticeship students in Europe | Photo Credit: Fotolia

By Denis Pennel

20 Nov 2017

The European Commission’s recent proposal for a European Framework for Quality and Effective Apprenticeships is an important initiative.  It will help increase the employability and development of young people across the continent while also enhancing the skills and quality of Europe’s working population.

Apprenticeships are a policy priority in the EU, especially with youth unemployment at around 17 per cent. There is wide consensus that getting young people into a structure where they can learn a trade and gain a foothold on the career ladder is a crucial step in securing their future and avoiding a return to the high levels of youth unemployment seen in some parts of Europe following the 2008 recession.

Apprenticeships present an effective instrument combining formal and informal learning, mixing desk-based study with on-the-job experience. This combination particularly benefits those youngsters transitioning from education into work.


Evidence suggests that countries with strong vocational education and training and apprentice systems have lower levels of youth unemployment. In Switzerland for example, 70 per cent of high school graduates enter apprenticeships in ‘new collar’ fields such as IT, banking, healthcare, hospitality and advanced manufacturing.

There are currently around 3.7 million apprenticeship students in Europe. Some member states have a long tradition of apprenticeships such as Germany and Austria where combining classroom and company learning is well-established not just in engineering but also in service industries. Other countries have more fledgling schemes which they would be wise to develop as data shows that once their traineeship is completed, 60-70 per cent of apprentices transition directly into a job.

However, establishing the right framework is key. We must guard against situations that exploit young people, or allows them to be used as cheap labour with no educational structure.

Apprenticeships need to be legally established, with a contractual relationship between employer and apprentice, including a provision for salary, and their completion must lead to a nationally recognised qualification.  The Commission’s 14 key criteria will ensure the quality and effectiveness of apprenticeship schemes.

"Dual learning schemes, which combine work-based learning and formal vocational training, are particularly valuable for medium to low-skilled young agency workers"

The employment industry plays a key role in increasing transparency and access to apprenticeships and the Commission has recognised and applauded its role. The UK employment industry national federation, REC, for example has more than 1000 people in its apprentice scheme.

UK government data suggests that apprenticeships boost business productivity by an average of £214 (€240) per week, with 90 per cent of apprentices remaining in employment upon completion – 71 per cent with the same employer.

Dual learning schemes, which combine work-based learning and formal vocational training, are particularly valuable for medium to low-skilled young agency workers and are well developed in the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Italy and Germany.

National policy makers have recognised the contribution of private employment services in providing dual learning and have allowed the industry to offer specific apprenticeship contracts in markets including Denmark, the Netherlands and Portugal.

Through its corporate members the sector is also involved in a number of aligned European initiatives such as the European Alliance for Apprenticeships (EAfA). This unique platform brings together governments and key stakeholders such as businesses, social partners, chambers of commerce, vocational education and training providers, regions, youth representatives and think tanks.

"I am convinced that properly organised apprenticeships present a win-win situation"

Its goal is to strengthen the quality, supply and image of apprenticeships and promote mobility and its success lies in the implementation of national commitments and the pledges of partners and stakeholders on-the-ground. The Alliance promotes youth employment, supports the aims of the Youth Guarantee scheme, and reduces the disparity between skills supply and demand.

The Alliance has mobilised a wide range of countries and partners in creating quality apprenticeships. EU member states, EFTA countries and EU candidate markets are working together and sharing best practice with strategic support from experts such as Cedefop and the European Training Foundation. The Adecco Group has joined EAfA with its Adecco Way to Work™ programme pledging 5000 apprenticeships in Europe by the end of 2017.

It commits to fight youth unemployment and boost the employability of young people through valuable work-based training opportunities. We need more stakeholders to join the alliance and make pledges that will create further apprenticeships and facilitate the integration of young people into Europe’s labour markets.

I am convinced that properly organised apprenticeships present a win-win situation. They benefit companies, youngsters and society as a whole.

Companies reap rewards through a net profit on their investment which provides them with a fully trained worker, familiar with their organisation; Students benefit by learning valuable workplace skills in a professional environment; and society is rewarded with a skilled workforce able to meet the needs of today’s labour markets.

Read the most recent articles written by Denis Pennel - Reconciling diverse forms of work with stability and social rights