- What are the differences between apprenticeships and other forms of work-based learning?
- What are apprenticeships according to the ILO?
- Are apprenticeships only for advanced economies?
- Are apprenticeships only for youth?
- Do apprenticeships only offer training in manual occupations?
- Can apprenticeships be found in the digital sector?
- What is the role of apprenticeships in the future of work?
- What are the challenges confronting apprenticeships in the future of work?
What are the differences between apprenticeships and other forms of work-based learning?
Apprenticeships are a unique form of technical vocational education and training (TVET), combining on-the job training and off-the-job learning, which enables learners from all walks of life to acquire the knowledge, skills and know-how required to carry out a specific occupation.
The table below summarizes the typical differences between apprenticeships and other forms of work-based learning:
What are apprenticeships according to the ILO?
Apprenticeship programmes are organized in many different ways across countries and as such there is no single, standardized definition of apprenticeships. The ILO promotes the concept of a Quality Apprenticeships, which are defined as “a unique form of technical vocational education and training, combining on-the-job training and off-the-job learning, which enable learners from all walks of life to acquire the knowledge, skills and competencies required to carry out a specific occupation. They are regulated and financed by laws and collective agreements and policy decisions arising from social dialogue, and require a written contract that details the respective roles and responsibilities of the apprentice and the employer; they also provide the apprentice with remuneration and standard social protection coverage. Following a clearly defined and structured period of training and the successful completion of a formal assessment, apprentices obtain a recognized qualification.
The ILO approach to successful Quality Apprenticeship systems is based on the following six key building blocks:
Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Austria, Denmark and some other European countries are known for well-established apprenticeship traditions. This might create an impression that only advanced economies can implement apprenticeship schemes. However, some developing countries (e.g. India, South Africa, Tanzania, Bangladesh, and Dominican Republic) also have good examples of apprenticeship programmes, but they are not well publicized.
Furthermore, apprenticeships are also commonly found in the informal economy of many developing countries. Informal apprenticeships serve as an important training mechanism in the informal economy. Based mostly on an oral training agreement, a young person acquires the skills of a trade or craft from an experienced craftsperson while working in a micro or small enterprise. Such arrangements have many shortcomings but remain a valuable source of training. The ILO has produced a resource guide for upgrading informal apprenticeships systems (ILO, 2011).
As both learning and career pathways are becoming more complicated, the prevailing perception of apprenticeships, which involves a young person acquiring the competencies needed for a particular lifelong career, is increasingly irrelevant and misleading. In view of the new patterns of learning and working, it is important to situate the apprenticeship model within the framework of lifelong learning, so that it can support the reskilling and upskilling of individuals from all walks of life. The extension of apprenticeship opportunities to adults and older workers would require corresponding adjustments in apprenticeship systems and programmes. In particular, adult entrants to apprenticeships may already have considerable work experience and, therefore, possess some or even all of the skills and knowledge necessary to perform the job.
For adults who already have some of the required skills, many apprenticeship programmes offer the possibility of accelerated completion, or even direct access to the final qualifying examinations without undergoing apprenticeship training. The latter option is typically limited to adults who have acquired most of the required competencies through relevant work experience. Depending on individual needs, they may also pursue preparatory courses or additional training to strengthen their practical knowledge and skills prior to the examinations.
To read more about some examples of the conditions in various countries that allow direct access to the final examination or assessment associated with an apprentice qualification, without having to pursue an apprenticeship, please refer to the “Adult entrants to apprenticeships”.
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 (Powell, 2019). 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.
Apprenticeships have the potential to reduce the skills gap by equipping individuals with the skills needed to adapt to the emerging digital economy, especially first-time jobseekers and those whose jobs may become obsolete during this transition. In fact, apprenticeship programmes are already no longer confined to traditional manual occupations, as their scope to provide an effective and efficient training model is also being increasingly recognized in the technological sector.
In an attempt to better equip students with the skills needed in the digital economy, some universities have started to incorporate apprenticeships into their degree programmes. Through a combination of work placement and part-time study, these new apprenticeship models offer students the chance to attain a bachelor’s or master’s degree qualification while completing an apprenticeship. This collaboration between industries and higher education can attract top talents to participate in apprenticeships and respond to the actual needs of companies, especially in terms of digital skills. The curricula of digital apprenticeships typically cover a variety of digital skills, including cyber security, big data, software engineering, digital banking, IT skills for the automotive industry, etc. To find out some examples of these new apprenticeship model, please refer to “Addressing rising demand for digital skills to be delivered through apprenticeships”.
Historically, apprenticeships have been considered primarily as a means of facilitating the school-to-work transition for young people. However, rapid transformations in the world of work are placing new demands on both youth and older workers to acquire new and update existing skill throughout their working lives.
There is a growing recognition that occupation-specific technical skills alone are insufficient to ensure lifelong employability. Apprenticeships can empower youth to keep pace with a fast-changing world of work by helping apprentices to develop broad-based soft skills, or transferable skills, such as learning to learn, communication, teamwork and digital skills, in order to build a strong foundation that enables workers to keep pace with the fast changes in the world of work. For example, in Germany, apprenticeship programmes aim to provide apprentices with full vocational capacity, also known as comprehensive action competence, in a wide range of activities so that they cope with the constantly changing requirements of working life (BIBB, 2014).
What are the challenges confronting apprenticeships in the future of work?
The rapid 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.