Executive summary

Youth unemployment remains a significant labour market challenge across a number of OECD countries. Across the OECD, 13.9% of the youth labour force is unemployed. In several European countries, such as Belgium, France, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, and Spain, the unemployment rate for youth sits above 20%. Many countries are looking at apprenticeships as a key programme response to improve the transition for youth from school to the world of work.

An apprenticeship is a vocational education pathway that combines both workplace and classroom-based learning. Vocational education and training systems vary significantly across the OECD in terms of what level of government (e.g. national or regional) manages the overall legislative and regulatory framework. Countries with well-developed apprenticeship systems, such as Germany, Austria, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland have formalised engagement with employers and other stakeholders through a dual-education system, which provides clear pathways for youth into training. Other countries have less formalised relationships with employers but are looking at ways to better meet their needs through targeted apprenticeship programmes and policies.

In emerging economies, apprenticeship programmes play an important role in tackling informality. Increasing attention is being taken to improve the quality and relevance of apprenticeship programmes, including a focus on formalising traditionally informal training arrangements. Small business associations at the local level can play a primary role in networking small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and providing incentives for people to participate.

The success of apprenticeship programmes depends on robust implementation at the local level. Local governments can play a critical role in developing a community wide vision for training and skills. Apprenticeship programmes can be used as an economic development tool to improve the skills of the workforce and labour market outcomes. Mayors and other local leaders (such as Vocational Education and Training Presidents) can act as “champions” of apprenticeship programmes and lead efforts to reach out to youth and employers to raise awareness of the benefits of participation and completion in a training programme, which is well linked to a quality job.

This joint OECD-ILO report examines best practices in employer engagement in apprenticeship programmes at the local level across nine countries. The case studies provide insights into how national policies are being designed in a manner, which leverages local leadership in fostering business-education partnerships. Issues of system reform, participation from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), specific challenges associated with rural areas and meeting the diverse needs of young people and places are examined. The following key lessons and recommendations emerge from this report:

Key lessons and recommendations

Local leadership can facilitate connections between employers, training providers, and other stakeholders

Local leaders can be “champions” forging connections between employers, young people and training providers to encourage participation and completion in apprenticeship programmes. Mayors, regional development organisations, and other local level government representatives are important actors in reaching out to employers to promote awareness on the benefits of investments in apprenticeship and assist employers (especially SMEs) in navigating the administrative processes to participate as well as the government supports available.

Time, effort and resources are necessary in order to facilitate local leadership. Intermediaries, such as the local chambers of commerce, youth groups and trade unions, can also help to promote ’buy-in’ from local stakeholders.

Mechanisms that facilitate collaboration between local stakeholders can enable the alignment of incentives

Building “spaces” or networks for employers to provide advice is central. Collaboration is often formalised in countries with a long tradition of apprenticeship training. For example, as noted in the case study from Germany, representatives from groups of employers, including the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce, actively collaborate with trade unions and government actors in the process of developing national training regulations that enable apprentices to move between federal states.

However, collaboration can also arise organically through local efforts to promote skills development. For example, the case studies from New Zealand and the United States highlight the role of local leaders, including those from civil society, in building organic and community-driven skills development mechanisms. In these cases, informal partnerships were developed into broader efforts to promote apprenticeship with both local employers and young people.

SMEs will often require specialised assistance to provide apprenticeship places

By virtue of their size, SMEs will require more assistance to provide apprenticeship placements. Specialised incentive mechanisms, including tax exemptions, subsidies, the provision of networks or custom placement assistance, can help to improve SME participation in apprenticeship programmes.

Local organisations can particularly helpful throughout this process by bringing together employers and articulating the benefits of hiring apprentices. For example, local apprenticeship hubs described in the case study from the United Kingdom are quite effective in providing tailored advice to SMEs and helping them access the assistance and services that they need in order to participate.

Apprenticeships must be flexible in their design and delivery to accommodate changing labour markets

At the local level, successful apprenticeship programmes will involve the participation of a number of stakeholders, including young people, employers, civil society and actors from all tiers of government. Apprenticeship programmes should be flexible to meet the diverse and shifting needs of these groups to remain an attractive skills development mechanism.

Flexibility can be incorporated into vocational education and training systems in a variety of ways. For example, incorporating modular components into programmes can take into account past work experience and can enable movement between conventional academic and vocational pathways for young people. This can address perceptions of “lock-in” and path dependency, where young people choose not to pursue vocational pathways because of a lack of transferability to other learning pathways.

Providing options for apprentices, such as intensive courses or part-time arrangements, can provide flexibility for young people and can also better fulfil the demand for employers with more variable or seasonal demand. For remote and rural places, like those illustrated from the case studies from New Zealand and Norway, flexibility in the delivery of vocational training can encourage participation. For example, using e-learning platforms can be useful in helping apprentices complete their course requirements.

Young people who do not traditionally participate in apprenticeship schemes should be targeted

Young people are among the core beneficiaries of apprenticeship programmes and they face specific barriers to participation in the apprenticeship system and thus require customised support and counselling.

Apprenticeship programmes can be targeted to young people living in disadvantage communities to provide them with work experience opportunities that can lead to a quality job. Public employment services can work with the training sector to develop pre‐apprenticeship programmes, which provide a basic skills foundation and smooth their passage into the vocational education and training system.

Perceptions of apprenticeship and vocational education should be improved

Apprenticeship pathways suffer from a lack of “parity of esteem” in many countries, particularly those without a strong or well-developed history of vocational education and training. Perceptions can be improved by enhancing career information and engaging employers in the marketing and dissemination process.

Often, young people and their parents are under-informed about the opportunities that apprenticeship programmes can offer for a stable and long-term career. Local leaders can play a particular role in helping to articulate these benefits through a well-rounded career and information system that presents local apprenticeship opportunities to young people alongside more conventional academic routes.

Emerging economies should continue to support apprenticeship systems as an effective skills development mechanism

Emerging economies often face specific skills development challenges with weak institutions delivering vocational education and training. Informal apprenticeship is the often the core mechanism used to provide young people in emerging economies the ability to learn a trade and enter the world of work.

Apprenticeship programmes can be used to formalise aspects of the existing informal apprenticeship structure by including formal assessment and certification systems, strengthening community involvement and developing standardised contractual arrangements and codes of practice. Actively engaging the private sector in local apprenticeship schemes is particularly important in order for formal mechanisms to become relatively more attractive than informal channels.