What is the European Alliance for Apprenticeships?
The European Alliance for Apprenticeships (EAfA) is a multi-stakeholder platform aiming to strengthen the supply, quality and image of apprenticeships, and also includes initiatives to improve the mobility of apprentices in Europe.
At the launch, a Joint Declaration between the EU Presidency, the Commission and the European Social Partners was signed, acknowledging the aims of the Alliance, recognising the value and benefits of apprenticeships for youth employment, social inclusion, skills matching and economic competitiveness, stressing that apprenticeships are one of the main elements of the Youth Guarantee, and committing to concrete measures to strengthen apprenticeships.
This was followed by a Council Declaration, where Member States agreed to common guiding principles for quality apprenticeships, and individual pledges.
In addition to the European Commission and Member States, companies and business associations, chambers of commerce, industry and crafts, social partners, regional authorities, education and training providers, youth and non-profit organisations, think tanks and research institutes are part of the Alliance through pledges on strengthening the supply, quality and/or image of apprenticeships.
What are apprenticeships?
Apprenticeships are a particularly successful form of work-based learning, which is based on the following principles:
- Apprenticeships are part of formal education and training programmes and lead to a nationally recognised qualification;
- Apprenticeships combine company-based training (periods of practical work experience at a workplace) with school-based education (periods of theoretical/ practical education in a school or training centre);
Most often there is a contractual relationship between the employer and the apprentice, with the apprentice being paid for his/her work.
Apprenticeships differ from other types of in-company learning, such as internships/traineeships, which are often outside formal education and training programmes, and not linked to recognised qualifications. For open market traineeships, a Quality Framework for Traineeships was adopted in 2014.
Why are apprenticeships important?
VET-systems with strong work-based learning, such as apprenticeships, are effective in easing the transition of young people into jobs. By alternating between school and work, the apprentice develops the skills and knowledge that employers are looking for. This benefits the companies which get a better access to skilled workers. Typically, 60-70% of apprentices secure employment immediately upon completion, and training firms usually recoup their training investments by the end or shortly after the training period. Moreover, countries with strong apprenticeship systems tend to have less youth unemployment than others.
What has been achieved so far?
26 EU Member States' and 5 non EU countries have followed up by making national commitments on concrete steps to improve the quality, image and supply of apprenticeships.
84 pledges have been made by companies and business associations, chambers of commerce, industry and crafts, social partners, regional authorities, education and training providers, youth and non-profit organisations, think tanks and research institutes. Close to 200 companies are also involved through the business-led Alliance4Youth.
What was agreed today?
As part of the Meeting of Ministers in charge of vocational education and training in Riga, the Commission and the Latvian EU Presidency organised an afternoon session on the European Alliance for Apprenticeships.
The focus was on how to further strengthen the engagement of the private sector, and 38 new pledges (included in the 84) from companies and other organisations were signed. Ministers also agreed on the Riga Conclusions on five priorities for vocational education and training 2015-2020, including one priority on work-based learning and apprenticeships.
Have apprenticeships recently improved?
An online survey conducted in March-April 2015 among the stakeholders (without Member States) of the Alliance reported on positive developments regarding the supply, quality and image of apprenticeships, and the growing importance of mobility. Almost 3 in 5 respondents reported that they had increased apprenticeship supply, and more than 3 in 5 signalled a further increase in apprenticeship numbers for the next year. By way of example, Siemens had increased the number of apprentices to over 1,500 in the EU by the end of 2014, and the Austrian Economic Chamber was expecting to create 90 new apprenticeships in Bulgaria and 60 in Romania from September 2015.
The Nestlé initiated Alliance for Youth, with close to 200 companies on board, announced in June 2015 that they had provided training and jobs for 50 000 young Europeans in one year, including 16 000 quality apprenticeships or internships.
However, studies have shown that that the overall supply of apprenticeships has gone down in recent years and a need to further boost the engagement of companies in order to expand the number of quality apprenticeship places.
How to get companies, in particular SMEs, on board?
Apprenticeships depend on the willingness of companies to engage with VET schools and training centres, and to invest in the future skills of young people. Larger companies are more likely to be active in this type of training. Across the EU, 44% of companies with more than 250 employees offer apprenticeships, compared to only 22% of companies with 10-49 employees.
At the same time, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), including micro-enterprises are the backbone of the European economy providing around 2/3 of private sector employment in Europe. They can face more difficulties in providing apprenticeship placements due to a lack of resources and personnel to supervise apprentices, as well as expertise to manage administrative requirements.
Supporting companies, and in particular SMEs, is crucial in order to boost the supply of apprenticeships across Europe. Member States have increased efforts focused on targeted support and enabling measures for SMEs involvement in apprenticeships along three lines of action: 1. financial incentives; 2. infrastructure and non-financial support; 3. support to in- company trainers.
The Education and Training 2020 Working Group on Vocational Education and Training (VET) has developed a Guidance Framework on ‘Support for companies, in particular SMEs, offering apprenticeships', which will be published in 2015. The aim is to help Member States introduce or reform support for companies, in particular SMEs and micro enterprises, taking part in apprenticeship schemes. It includes seven principles:
1. Supporting measures that make apprenticeships more accessible to SMEs
Institutional setting with intermediary bodies, matching services
2. Finding the right balance between the specific skills needs of training companies and the general need to improve the employability of apprentices
Formal procedures for approval of training companies, involvement of social partners
3. Sharing costs and benefits that motivates training companies, VET schools and training centres as well as learners
Sectoral training funds managed by social partners, non-financial support
4. Focusing on companies having no experience with apprentices
Subsidies for an initial period, support through tailored training guidelines
5. Supporting companies providing apprenticeships for disadvantaged learners
Individualised coaching or mentoring, specific equipment eg for hearing impairment
6. Promoting systematic cooperation between VET schools, training centres and companies
Regular contacts/visits between all parties, theme specific or general partnerships
7. Motivating and supporting companies to assign qualified trainers and tutors
Recognise their identity and work, support their competence development
What funding and support is available?
The Alliance does not provide funding itself. However, a number of relevant funding schemes are available for apprenticeship projects.
- The European Social Fund supports setting up or improving apprenticeship schemes
- The Youth Employment Initiative supports the delivery of the Youth Guarantee
- Erasmus+ supports mobility, strategic partnerships, and policy reform.
- The European Investment Bank can provide loans to companies to set up new apprenticeship schemes.
- EURES and Your First EURES Job are being modernised i.a. to include apprenticeships.
- Drop'pin@Eures is a website for concrete apprenticeship and training offers, and for facilitating partnerships between companies and organisations.
Under the Erasmus+ programme, 10 projects on apprenticeship reform led by national authorities in charge of apprenticeship are being implemented in 2014-2015. A specific opportunity for projects that will support for small and medium sized enterprises to engage in apprenticeships, targeting chambers, enterprises, VET providers and other relevant organisations is foreseen for the autumn.
How can organisations join the Alliance?
An organisation can join the European Alliance for Apprenticeships by making a short pledge, and sending it to firstname.lastname@example.org. It could be about up-scaling an existing programme or initiative, launching a new partnership or pilot scheme, starting apprenticeships in a new country, facilitating mobility, working on quality, building awareness and attractiveness or other relevant actions.
All pledges are published online.
As a member of the Alliance, an organisation benefits from being part of a European network on apprenticeships, sharing experiences and learning from best practices. It gains easier access to information on guidelines, practical tools, reports and funding opportunities, and is invited to relevant workshops and events. It can also increase the visibility of its work and initiatives in the area of skills and apprenticeships.
By joining the Alliance an organisation commits to contributing to better quality, supply and/or image of apprenticeships. They must provide information on the activities and results of its pledge at least once a year through an online survey.
Return on investment for enterprises (EENEE report no. 19)
 Apprenticeship and Traineeship Schemes in EU27: Key Success Factors