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Member states showcase dual education schemes ahead of EU proposals
Five EU member states with successful apprenticeship systems have united to share knowledge with what are described by EurActiv as lagging countries, in advance of new European Commission proposals to promote the schemes as a way to address youth unemployment.
Business federations from Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland held a conference in Brussels on 26th April to determine the best way to present and transpose successful apprenticeship systems to other EU states.
With youth unemployment soaring across Europe, the apprenticeship - or 'dual education' model, is seen as an efficient way of bringing youngsters closer to the job market by building their skills.
"Companies turn teenagers into adults: they get responsibility, trust, use expensive machinery, play a meaningful role and gain self-confidence," Michael Kaas Andersen, managing director of the Danish Vocational Education & Training institute, told delegates.
"They learn the values of adults. You can teach that at school but you cannot teach it firsthand. Some things can only be implicitly understood from experience."
Michael said that in Denmark, selected schoolchildren spend two, six-month stints working as apprentices in companies, while spending four or five weeks at school in between.
Stefan Wolter, managing director of the Swiss Coordination Centre for Research in Education, said major obstacles to apprenticeship schemes included the need for firms to have incentives that make apprenticeship training superior to hiring skilled workers.
Such incentives need to be built holistically into the general framework for education regulation, he said, explaining that it would not be easy for companies to attempt to introduce schemes alone without the support of larger employers networks and the state machinery.
Last year, the EU national leaders addressed country-specific recommendations to seven member states on apprenticeships - including Spain and Britain - highlighting the need to develop better systems.
Representatives of Spanish employers groups present at the meeting said they are currently negotiating with the Danish to see how a successful system can be developed in Spain.
Andrew McCoshan, of the Centre for Education and Industry at the University of Warwick, told delegates that "the UK structure for vocational training is very weak" because too much is left to employers to manage, and due to a culture which values academic qualification more highly.
Current reforms in the UK are seeking to create more uniformity within the apprentice system, he said.
Gerhard Braun, vice-president of the Confederation of German Employers Organisations and the managing partner of Karl Otto Braun group, told delegates: "We have exported [apprenticeships] to India and we are going to export to China. They are paid and receive on-the-job optimal training, practical and suited to what is needed. The transition into a regular job is very easy, there is no gap between theory and practice.
"The employer has many advantages, where there is competition you can get the best people from the schools. We can design training to the company. Employees, schools, the state and social partners must all be involved. Companies must invest in workshops, and so on, but in the end the investment pays."
The EU Commission helpdesk for advice on apprenticeship and traineeship schemes was established in February to provide policy advice on setting up and running apprenticeship and traineeship programmes. It is aimed at policymakers within the member states. In June, the Commission will launch the European Alliance for Apprenticeships. It will bring together business, social partners, government and youth representatives, in an effort to promote the benefits successful apprenticeship schemes and find ways to build them up.
16th May 2013