Adult entrants to apprenticeships

Emerging trends and challenges

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.

Some 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, are listed below (OECD, 2014; Kis and Windisch, 2018):

  • Austria: Adults with relevant work experience that amounts to at least half of the duration of a regular apprenticeship (direct applications accounted for 15 per cent of the awarded apprenticeship qualifications in 2012).
  • Canada: Candidates with a sufficient number of working hours in the trade – typically one-and-a-half times the apprenticeship period.
  • Germany: Adults who have been performing skilled tasks for at least one-and-a-half times the apprenticeship duration; school qualifications may also be taken into account (in 2009, 6 per cent of the successful final assessment candidates had followed this route).
  • Norway: Candidates must have five years’ work experience and must pass a theoretical exam (approximately one-third of certificates were awarded on the basis of experience-based certification in 2015).
  • Switzerland: Adults with five years’ relevant work experience, including three years in the target occupation.
  • United States: Three kinds of apprenticeship are available:1
  • time-based – in which an apprentice’s progress is measured by the number of hours spent in on-the-job training and related training instruction (RTI)
  • competency-based – in which the apprentice’s progress is measured by his or her demonstrated ability to apply the necessary knowledge, skills, attitudes and critical thinking to accomplishing relevant job functions
  • hybrid – in which part of the apprentice’s progress may be measured in hours and part through the demonstration of competency.

The options for accelerated completion of apprenticeship programmes and direct access to final assessment are particularly relevant to those working in the informal economy, who may have the relevant skills and working experience but who are denied access to apprenticeship qualifications. Similarly, migrants who possess foreign qualifications that are not recognized in the host country need RPL procedures in place so that their competencies and experience can be formally taken into account when entering apprenticeships.

While the mechanisms mentioned above are not apprenticeships as such, they have a role to play in enhancing the inclusiveness of apprenticeships and, therefore, should be considered as an important element of apprenticeship systems.