The workers’ organizations (Labour 20 – L20) and employers’ organizations (Business 20 – B20) have called on the G20 Member States to endorse actions to promote apprenticeships. In cooperation with global workers’ and employers’ organizations, they have developed Key Elements of Quality Apprenticeships (ITUC, 2013).
While apprenticeships have a history that goes back for millennia, they are continuously evolving and innovating in response to emerging demands in the labour market. New technologies, demographic change, globalization and new ways of organizing and managing human resources are changing employers’ skills requirements in multiple ways. Nearly everyone now expects their careers to evolve over time, supported by continuous learning. A wide range of other learning opportunities, including higher education, actively compete with apprenticeship. New e-learning technologies are changing the ways in which skills can be acquired.
While country circumstances vary significantly, the ongoing transformation in the world of work is changing the face of apprenticeships everywhere. The stereotype of apprentices – a male teenager learning a manual trade with a private sector employer – is often now far from the truth, with many more female apprentices engaged in a wider range of occupations throughout the public and private sectors, and undertaking apprenticeships at higher and even at tertiary level.
Although some of the traditional features continue to characterize apprenticeships today, apprenticeships can and should be used much more widely. In fact, apprenticeships can be found throughout the public sector, in service industries as well as in manufacturing, in non-manual occupations, offered at both higher and tertiary level. In response to the rapid changes taking place in the labour market, apprenticeships are increasingly being used to train for occupations other than the traditional trades and crafts. In some countries, a large proportion of apprentices are female. For example, in England, men and women have roughly equal representation among starting apprentices. Some starting apprentices may be incumbent workers, so that the apprenticeship becomes a vehicle for upskilling and reskilling. While some apprentices may work side by side with just one self-employed mentor and guide, others work in organizations with hundreds of thousands of employees. In some cases, apprentices pursue their apprenticeship with several employers in rotation.
In addition to the multifaceted nature of apprenticeships, transformations in the world of work are creating unprecedented challenges, which are not readily addressed by the conventional forms of apprenticeship. For instance, traditional forms of apprenticeship may not be feasible for the growing economic sector of self-employed persons. There are also cases in which apprenticeship programmes have evolved to such an extent that they are no longer recognizable as apprenticeships. For example, some apprenticeship programmes are shortened to a few months’ duration. In many countries, there is therefore now an increasing tension between the demand for innovation and the need to sustain the fundamental features of traditional apprenticeships through establishing a precise definition.