From the budding employees gaining valuable skills that will set them apart, to the employers that can start training team members in much-needed skills early on in their careers, apprenticeships provide a win-win scenario for both sides of the coin.
And it’s with that in mind that the European Commission (EC) recently announced its proposal for a European Framework for Quality and Effective Apprenticeships, which aims at increasing the employability and personal development of apprentices and contributing towards a highly skilled and qualified workforce responsive to labour market needs.
“Over the last decade, Europe has witnessed a major financial economic crisis, dramatic increases in unemployment and now a steady return to a path of growth,” explains Ben Butters, the policy director of Eurochambres. “Throughout this turbulence, employers consistently list a lack of skilled workers among their top challenges. For Chambers, effective vocational education and training (VET), including a strong and effective work-based learning component, is one of the key tools to address this persistent and socio-economically damaging mismatch between the supply and demand of skills and competences.”
He explains that this is why Eurochambres has, for several years, called for further measures at EU level to implement robust apprenticeship schemes across the member states. “However, does this framework respond to this call? Well, yes and no. The framework rightly emphasises the important role of apprenticeships in easing the transition into work and how they help young people to acquire the knowledge, skills and experience needed by the labour market. It additionally points out that effective apprenticeships can facilitate adults’ subsequent career progression.”
Importantly, the framework sets out 14 criteria to define quality and effective apprenticeships. “Although these criteria are not exactly in line with Eurochambres’ expectations, they address many of the key components to ensure that apprenticeship schemes benefit both employers and learners,” Mr Butters says. “As such, the criteria should provide valuable guidance to many member states.”
Explaining the idea behind apprenticeships in more detail, Dana-Carmen Bachmann, Head of Unit for VET, Apprenticeships and Adult Learning, DG EMPL, European Commission describes that the concept is built on a combination of learning in a school or training centre, and training in a company or workplace.
Ms Bachmann explains that the framework has two sets of criteria. “The first seven criteria relate to the necessary learning and working conditions, including the right to a written contract and pay or compensation, clearly defined learning outcomes and pedagogical support, a strong workplace component, social protection and respect for work, safety and health conditions. The next seven criteria relate to the necessary framework conditions, such as having a clear regulatory framework, providing support for companies, and having quality assurance. The importance of a partnership approach, involving key stakeholders such as the chambers, is built into the framework. Our proposal builds on previous work of the European Social Partners, Governments and other stakeholders. It is now up to the member states to discuss our proposal and agree on a final text,” he says.
On his part, MBB CEO Joe Tanti remarks, “Here in Malta, the Chamber of Commerce is a strong supporter of work-based learning activities such as internships, apprenticeships and work placements. Our members consider apprenticeships an effective tool to improve the skill set of young people. In this regard, the Malta Chamber continues to build strong links with the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology.
“From MBB’s experience and close collaboration with the University of Malta, we are fully aware of the benefits derived when employing young people. To this end, we believe that training experiences should become more structured and formalised and also that cooperation between businesses and academia should be further enhanced” explains Mr Tanti. “
Apprenticeships have a particularly central role to play in helping young people acquire the skills that will boost their career opportunities and contribute to economic growth. Mr Tanti continues, “I believe that apprenticeships are effective not only in making young people employable but also to become increasingly intrapreneurial within the organisation. Apprenticeships give our youth a chance to develop practical competences within services and manufacturing and a better understanding of the working environment.
Looking to the future of the EC’s work on apprenticeships, Mr Butters explains that Eurochambres is satisfied that the crucial socio-economic role of smaller businesses (SMEs) is factored in, with one of the 14 criteria focusing specifically on the need for adequate support to SMEs. He goes on to say that Chambers across the EU manage nearly one million apprenticeships per year and are especially instrumental in ensuring the involvement of SMEs. “They are impressive figures, but the picture is more complex than that, reflecting the patchwork of approaches to apprenticeship schemes at national and sub-national level. While many policy decisions in this area cannot be taken at EU level, it is important that the commission uses every tool available – political and practical – to enhance apprenticeship schemes and thus tackle the skills mismatch. This is why Eurochambres will remain heavily involved, not just in policy discussions like the new framework, but also through hands-on measures, such as our on-going ‘AC4SME’ project to involve more SMEs in apprenticeship schemes.”
Meanwhile, Ms Bachmann underlines that the framework will help young people to kick-start successful careers– and the numbers do look good. “Typically, two in three apprentices get recruited directly following their training and this sometimes goes up to 90 per cent. We also see that countries with strong apprenticeship systems tend to have lower levels of youth unemployment. What we want to do with this framework is identify the success criteria in setting up apprenticeship schemes, so that more people can benefit from them.”
Of course, it’s also important that the businesses engaging in apprenticeships get a lot out of them – and there are several ways that this can be achieved. “First of all, I truly believe that businesses should cultivate a culture of mentoring in place,” Mr Tanti says. “For a successful apprenticeship, trainers who are assigned to trainees need to be qualified, and have a passionate interest in coaching young people.
“Through our experience, training needs to be well-managed and conducted in the most organised and efficient manner. Businesses should challenge all students, so they may reach their fullest potential. This is not only important to ensure that apprenticeships yield to a positive employment outcome, but also to help boost the business’ productivity level. Additionally, it is also vital that businesses communicate effectively with their apprentices. Businesses should provide clear and constructive criticism during the training process. Once they finish the programme, trainees should have a good understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.”
Finally, Mr Butters concludes by underlining how things should proceed. “The new Framework for Quality and Effective Apprenticeships is certainly a step in the right direction, but there is much more work to be done.”
This article originally appeared in Issue 33 of Business Agenda