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Skills and employability

Quality apprenticeships “gold standard” to get youth into decent jobs

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder highlights role of efficient apprenticeship systems in overcoming high youth unemployment.

News | 16 September 2014
ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, International Congress on Vocational and Professional Education and Training in Winterthur.
WINTERTHUR, Switzerland (ILO news) -- “Promoting quality apprenticeships is a top priority for the ILO, since they move youth into decent jobs and help enterprises to find the workforce they need for the future,” ILO Director- General Guy Ryder said at a high-level meeting on professional training in Winterthur, Switzerland.

The International Congress on Vocational and Professional Education and Training was organized by the Swiss Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER) in the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI).

The head of the International Labour Organization (ILO) referred to the urgent need to generate some 40 million jobs for the mostly young people who join the global labour market every year.

“We know we need to create more jobs -- and we know we need to prepare young people for the new jobs being created. It is a moral argument, it is a fundamental matter of social justice, and it is critical for economic growth and productivity,” he said.

Worldwide, more than 70 million youth are unemployed, not taking into account the NEETs (young people who are neither employed nor in education or training programmes).

The link to employment rates

“We have a good idea of what works. Switzerland and other countries with high quality apprenticeship systems have the lowest youth unemployment rates,” added Ryder.

“Countries where apprenticeship systems are strong, youth unemployment rates mirror those for adults,” he said. “Where apprenticeship systems are weak, youth unemployment is typically much higher, reaching three or even four times the adult unemployment rate.”

In Europe, participation in apprenticeships – measured by the number of apprentices per 1,000 employed workers – is highest in Switzerland, followed closely by Germany, Austria and Denmark.

In developed countries, average youth unemployment is over 18 per cent, reaching 40 per cent and more in Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, which were severely affected by the economic crisis.

Ryder said that based on what the ILO had learned about successful apprenticeship systems in Switzerland, Austria, Australia, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere, quality apprenticeships shared some common features:
  • treating apprentices like employees in a well-defined legal framework which protects their labour rights,
  • defining roles of employers, trade unions, training institutions and government agencies to obtain effective partnerships and build-up quality apprenticeship systems,
  • ensuring proper funding by public and private cost-sharing, as well as fair remuneration for apprentices, and
  • offering “earning while learning” opportunities to young women and men across a wide range of occupations – where quality apprenticeships are a “pathway of choice, not a second best.”

“Apprenticeship systems cannot be built by schools alone. Employers alone cannot provide the general and theoretical foundations for applied learning,” explained Ryder.

“Apprenticeship systems work because they link classroom and workplace training. Apprenticeships avoid the problem where the skills in demand in the labour market do not match the skills produced in the education system,” he said.

Ryder said he felt encouraged that training and apprenticeships featured prominently in many of the national employment action plans shared by G20 members at their Labour and Economic Ministerial Meeting in Melbourne, Australia mid-September: “Countries which invest in apprenticeships believe in their future, and need to situate vocational education and training in the wider context of employment promotion.”

Swiss support

The ILO has been working with the Swiss Development Corporation to respond to the surge in interest for information and policy advice in building up apprenticeships.

Switzerland also supports the ILO’s Sustaining Competitive and Responsible Enterprise (SCORE) programme. SCORE is a practical training and in-factory counselling scheme which aims to improve working conditions and productivity in small and medium-sized (SME) companies worldwide.

At the international level, the ILO has supported the startup of the Global Apprenticeship Network – an initiative of the International Organization of Employers, and at a regional level, the European Apprenticeship Alliance, launched by the European Union in 2013 with the active involvement of European-level trade union and employer organizations.