Apprenticeships – a common understanding

A European framework for quality and effective apprenticeships is on the EU Council of Ministers’ table

On 5 October 2017, the European Commission proposed 14 criteria to ensure a common understanding, right across the European Union, of what makes for quality and effective apprenticeships: seven criteria concerning the learning and working conditions and another seven for the framework conditions (see boxes).

Well-designed apprenticeships that combine learning in school and training on the job, have proved effective in helping the transition of young people from education and training into work: 60-70% of apprentices (90% in some countries) move directly into a job.

Since 2013, the Commission has worked with Member States and stakeholders to promote the supply, quality, image and mobility of apprenticeships through the European Alliance for Apprenticeships.

Also, the Youth Guarantee, adopted by the EU in 2013, seeks to ensure that every young person receives an offer for a good quality employment, training or apprenticeship within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. It is crucial to secure the quality of offers.

As far as traineeships are concerned, the issue of quality was addressed by an EU Recommendation of 2014 (see Social Agenda n°46). This new Framework will do the same for apprenticeships.

With the European job mobility portal EURES due to start advertising apprenticeship offers across Europe in 2018, it is all the more important to have a common EU-wide understanding of what is meant by “quality and effective apprenticeships”, while respecting the diverse systems and traditions in this area from one EU country to another.

In this endeavour, the European Commission can count on the European social partners, knowing that apprenticeship is by definition part of their core business. In 2016, they agreed on a joint statement entitled “Towards a shared vision of apprenticeships“. It built on a report by the trade unions on quality, and on employers’ work on effectiveness. This in turn paved the way for a tripartite (employers, trade unions and governments) opinion of the Advisory Committee on Vocational Training (ACVT). A newly established European Apprentice Network, representing the apprentices themselves, also supports the idea of quality apprenticeships.

Quality and Effectiveness

The EU Framework covers the dual goal of ensuring both quality and effectiveness for apprenticeships. For example, the Commission proposal recommends that apprenticeships be based on substantial learning on the job, with a focus on learning outcomes and on quality work and health and safety conditions.

There should be cost-sharing agreements bringing all the stakeholders together: the companies, which offer apprenticeships, the learner (who does not get a full salary) and the national, regional or local authorities, who can provide incentives, both financial (especially for small and medium-size enterprises) and non-financial (e.g. in the form of awareness raising campaigns).

No matter how good the framework for apprenticeships, its implementation ultimately depends on employers’ commitment to take apprentices. In countries like Germany and France, apprenticeship numbers have been decreasing and efforts are being made to turn the tide. In a number of other countries, such as Hungary, Slovakia and Spain, efforts are being made to introduce and build up apprenticeship provision.

Once the Framework is adopted by the EU Council of Ministers, the Commission will suggest indicators for each criterion which can be used by Member States when implementing the Framework. In addition, through the European Alliance for Apprenticeships, the Commission will strengthen its support to the Member States and stakeholders involved. A new set of Apprenticeship Support Services will boost knowledge sharing and networking opportunities and provide “bench-learning”: A combination of benchmarking and mutual learning which has been experimented with success by the European network of Public Employment Services.


More Information:


EU funding

Fourteen criteria that EU countries and stakeholders should use to develop quality and effective apprenticeships, are contained in the proposal for a European framework put forward by the European Commission on 5 October 2017.

Seven criteria for learning and working conditions, covering issues such as a written contract, earning outcomes, pedagogical support, the workplace component, pay and/ or compensation, social protection and work, and health and safety conditions.

And seven framework condition criteria, dealing with a regulatory framework, the involvement of social partners, support for companies, flexible pathways and transnational mobility, career guidance, awareness raising, transparency of offers, quality assurance and graduate tracking.

The Commission supports the implementation of these criteria through EU funding: the European Social Fund alone contributes up to € 27 billion to education and training.

At least 390 000 apprenticeships have already been offered under the EU Youth Guarantee and a new ErasmusPro initiative aims at supporting 50 000 placements of vocational learners in companies abroad, up till 2020 (see Social Agenda n°49).


Source: Social Agenda number 50, January 2018.

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