Chapter 4. How long should an apprenticeship last?

This chapter addresses the question of apprenticeship duration: how long an apprenticeship should last. It sets out the importance of duration within apprenticeship design to employers, apprentices and the state, and describes the relationship between duration and skill accumulation. It also explores distinctions between young and adult apprentices in terms of apprenticeship duration, and focuses on tools developed by countries to adapt the length of provision in recognition of the educational experiences, prior learning and vocational experience commonly enjoyed by older workers.


Issues and challenges

The duration of programmes needs to ensure both clarity and flexibility

In some apprenticeship schemes, programmes are the same or at least of similar length. This has the benefit of clarity, but rigidity may mean that the framework will suit some occupations and individuals, but will be poorly adapted to others. At the same time, leaving duration to be agreed on a case-by-case basis may undermine the concept of the apprenticeship itself, as there will be little clarity about what it involves and it may simply refer to any kind of training contract negotiated with an employer. If apprenticeships are of variable length, what criteria should determine the variation? Should duration depend on the targeted occupation? On the qualification level associated with the apprenticeship? Or on the characteristics and background of the apprentice? This section discusses the implications of duration for different stakeholders and sets out a rationale for how duration may be determined, illustrated with examples of international policy and practice.

The duration of apprenticeships affects various stakeholders

The duration of apprenticeship programmes is of concern to employers, apprentices and governments. Employers provide training to their apprentices and benefit from their work during the work placement. Apprentices accept lower wages while in training, but expect higher wages on completion. While apprenticeship training goes on, governments support it in various ways, usually by paying for the school-based component, and often through financial incentives to employers.

The profile of the apprentice population is often diverse and changes over time

The skillset that apprentices have at the start of their programme depends on their background. When new apprentices are teenagers, they typically have a similar schooling background and little work experience. Adult apprentices often bring either relevant work experience or higher levels of general education. Typically, apprenticeship schemes have been built around the needs of the historic target population. However, the profile of the apprentice population within a country often changes over time. For example, in Australia, over recent years the share of teenagers among new apprentices fell from nearly 100% to less than half (Knight and Karmel, 2011[1]). In England (United Kingdom), the share of those aged 25 and over among new apprentices has increased sharply over the past ten years, from 18% in 2009 to 47% in 2016 (Powell, 2018[2]). In Germany, the share of new apprentices holding a general upper-secondary certificate grew from 16 to 28% between 2006 and 2015 (BMBF, 2008[3]; BMBF, 2017[4]). The resulting challenge for policy makers is to ensure that apprenticeship schemes are adapted to the skillset and learning needs of apprentices.

The potential of competence-based approaches is not fully exploited

For apprenticeships, as in other education and training programmes, much attention is given to the definition of a clear learning programme that covers duration and what is learnt as a means of ensuring that all learners acquire the same targeted skillset. However, learners develop skills at different speeds, and sometimes already know some of the course content. In many education and training programmes, there have been efforts to move away from programmes with fixed “seat time” towards an approach in which learning outcomes are the pivotal element, recognising that the time it takes to achieve those may differ from one learner to another. However, despite widespread enthusiasm for competence-based approaches, implementation is challenging, and the potential of such approaches often remains unrealised.

Competence-based approaches can be especially useful to partially-skilled adults

Some adults have vocational skills but no qualifications reflecting these skills. Not holding a qualification creates a barrier to access jobs or to career progression when an occupation is licensed or collective agreements define salary scales linked to qualification requirements. Even in other occupations, holding a qualification that certifies occupational skills will open access to jobs and allow for better working conditions, which would not be accessible otherwise.

Many adults cannot afford to pursue a full-length apprenticeship, but may be willing and able to devote some time to training towards a qualification. This chapter focuses on two such pathways: a shortened version of an apprenticeship, or access to the final qualifying examination usually taken by apprentices. The first will typically suit those who have some of the targeted skills, and the second will be adapted to those who have most of the targeted skills. For some there may be a choice between the two options.

For governments and social partners, the benefits of creating such pathways will be particularly significant where there is untapped potential in partially-skilled labour without recognised qualifications. This includes: unqualified individuals with skills acquired through work experience, individuals with a vocational qualification seeking a career change in a related field, and migrants with skills not recognised in the host country.

Apprenticeship duration should reflect the targeted occupation

Over the duration of an apprenticeship, apprentices need time to develop the targeted skillset, but once they have acquired these skills they have an interest in becoming a qualified skilled worker as soon as possible. Employers, on the other hand, need time to train apprentices on the job and put their newly developed skills to use by engaging them in productive work. This productive work, particularly in the later stages of an apprenticeship, typically compensates for an employer’s earlier investment in training. How long it takes to develop occupational skills, and how those skills can be used in productive work, varies across occupations.

  • The duration of apprenticeships should be adapted to reflect the targeted occupation, in particular how apprentice productivity evolves during training.

  • In occupations that target a more complex skillset, and where more time is needed to master skills, a longer duration will be more appropriate.

Policy argument 1: The duration of an apprenticeship needs to be attractive to both employers and potential apprentices

Employers tend to bear net costs at the beginning and reap benefits at later stages

Early on in apprenticeship programmes, employers make an investment as apprentices know little and spend much of their time learning. As apprentices develop new skills, they can increasingly contribute to productive work and generate benefits for their employer. Firms start reaping net benefits at the point when apprentices produce more valuable output than they cost. This latter period is vital to the apprenticeship programme as it allows employers to recoup much of their initial investment. Employers can reap further benefits at the end of apprenticeship by retaining the best apprentices as skilled workers, thus saving on recruitment costs (see Chapter 1).

Apprentice wages affect the cost-benefit dynamic for employers

Apprentice wages normally represent the largest part of the costs of apprenticeships to employers (apprentice wages are discussed in detail in Chapter 3). The arguments in this section are based on the usual scenario where apprentices are paid less than regular workers. When apprentices earn nearly as much as regular workers, there is less room for employers to benefit from the work of highly skilled apprentices. In some cases, employers may even be keen to have their apprentice graduate quickly so that he or she can dedicate all their time to productive work, rather than spending some of their time at school or college, and so that they are allowed to perform skilled tasks on their own.

How apprentice wages evolve in relation to the productivity of apprentices is important. If apprentice wages increase faster than apprentice productivity, net costs to employers may even be higher towards the end. This is the case, for example, in Austria, where a sharp increase in apprentice wages in the last year of an apprenticeship is combined with slow productivity gains. As a result, employer costs increase faster over the period of an apprenticeship than the benefits from the productive work of apprentices (Schlögl and Mayerl, 2016[5]).

The interests of apprentices must be taken into consideration

If an apprenticeship lasts too long, apprentices spend a long time at the end of the programme learning nothing (as they are already fully skilled) but earning lower wages than they would as skilled workers. At that stage they would be better off working as regular workers. A long apprenticeship with little learning would therefore represent poor quality. The length of apprenticeship needs to be adapted to the targeted skillset: making it too short will fail to attract employer interest, making it too long will not be appealing to apprentices. What “too long” or “too short” means depends on the time needed to learn the skills of the target occupation.

Policy argument 2: The optimal length of an apprenticeship varies across occupations

It takes longer to learn the skills required in more technically complex occupations

The time needed for an apprentice to acquire the productivity level of experienced workers depends on the complexity of the skills involved, how good the firm is at training, and the apprentice’s ability. One way of capturing this is to ask employers their perception of how well and how fast apprentices perform skilled tasks compared to a skilled worker. These questions were part of an employer survey in Germany and Switzerland, yielding data on the “relative productivity” of apprentices. For example, relative productivity of 50% means that it takes twice as long for an apprentice electrician to install a socket than it would a skilled worker. The results show a great deal of variation across occupations (see Figure 4.1), for example, an apprentice in retail can quickly become productive, while a would-be industrial mechanic needs more time to become competent at their job.

Figure 4.1. How productive are apprentices at the start and at the end?
Relative productivity of apprentices, by occupation

Note: Reference year 2009 for Switzerland, 2012/13 for Germany. Relative productivity is defined in comparison to the productivity of a skilled worker in the firm performing the same skilled tasks.

Source: Adapted from Mühlemann, S. (2016[6]), “The cost and benefits of work-based learning”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 143,


Apprenticeships should last longer when becoming productive requires more time

The optimal duration for an apprenticeship will be typically longer in occupations in which it takes longer to learn the skills required. Evidence in Figure 4.1 shows a picture consistent with this idea: in both countries, apprenticeships last three years in “easier” occupations where apprentices’ relative productivity is highest in the first year; while apprenticeships tend to last longer in occupations which are “harder” according to the first year relative productivity measure.

Only the occupation-specific component underpins variation in length by target occupation

The difference in duration across occupations remains relatively small in the countries illustrated by Figure 4.1 (although in Switzerland there are also two-year apprenticeship leading to a different qualification). One relevant factor is that in both countries, apprenticeships serve predominantly young people, so programmes include a significant general education component, such as literacy, numeracy, science, social studies and civic education. Much of the general education component will be common across occupations, and only the occupation-specific part of the apprenticeship calls for some variation in programme duration.

Policy argument 3: The general skills component and institutional constraints limit the scope for adaptation

Apprenticeships need to be long enough to prepare apprentices for a skilled occupation

Among vocational programmes that combine on-the-job and off-the-job components, apprenticeships are special in that they equip learners with the skillset needed for an occupation, and prepare them for a career. In this respect they are different from courses that develop a narrower skillset, for example training employees or job seekers how to use a particular machine or procedure, although in some countries, apprenticeships have been used for these narrower purposes (e.g. “dual fuel smart meter installer” in England, United Kingdom). Reflecting this, in most OECD countries, apprenticeships take at least two years to complete (see Table 4.1).

Youth apprenticeship programmes include a common component of general skills

In countries where apprenticeships target mostly young people and are part of the initial education and training system rather than building on it, programmes include a significant general education component. General education equips young people with knowledge and skills that are not directly relevant to a specific occupation, but that are applicable in most contexts of work and life. For example, in Germany, apprentices receive a minimum of 4 hours of general education per week,1 amounting to about 480 hours of general education over a three-year apprenticeship (Hoeckel and Schwartz, 2010[7]). In Norway, apprentices receive 588 hours of general education in four-year apprenticeships (Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training, 2011[8]).

Apprenticeships in countries with more adult apprentices tend to contain limited general education

In countries where a large share of apprentices are adults, programmes tend to contain limited general education. For example, in England (United Kingdom), apprentices receive a minimum of 50-100 hours of general education (although some may receive more, depending on the target occupation) (Kuczera and Field, 2018[9]). In Australia, employer-led training packages, which define apprenticeships, contain a relatively limited amount of general education and have been criticised as inadequate (Knight and Karmel, 2011[1]). In the United States, the minimum requirement for registered apprenticeships refers to job-related education, without setting minimum requirements for education that is not occupation specific (United States Department of Labor (DOL), 2018[10]).

Table 4.1. Apprenticeship duration


Programme duration


3-4 years


3.5-4 years (typically)

England (United Kingdom)

On average 15 months (minimum 12 months)


2-3.5 years


2-4 years


2-4 years


4 years (typically, shorter programmes target disadvantaged students)


3 years


3-4 years (2-year programmes target disadvantaged students)

United States

1-6 years, mostly 4 years

Source: Adapted from Kuczera, M. (2017[11]), “Striking the right balance: Costs and benefits of apprenticeship”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 153,;

DOL (2018[10]), United States Department of Labor - Frequently Asked Questions about the Apprenticeship Program,; Solas (2016[12]), Apprenticeship: Real Life Learning,

Institutional rigidities limit scope for adaptation

When apprenticeship programmes include a common general component (e.g. language, mathematics, history), these are typically delivered in schools or colleges. These institutions in turn organise their work in terms or semesters, and some general courses may be shared across different apprenticeship programmes. How apprenticeship programmes are organised need to balance some degree of adaptation to each target occupation and the necessity to ensure efficient delivery of school or college-based components.

The design of schemes can build on implicit knowledge among sectoral representatives

The information base used to set the duration of an apprenticeship programme for a specific occupation is diverse. It includes the complexity of the skills required, the usual initial skillset and other typical characteristics of apprentices, and how good firms are at training. There is a great deal of relevant experience and implicit knowledge among employers, workers and vocational schools and colleges. An electrician or a trainer will usually know how long it takes approximately for an 18-year-old apprentice to become sufficiently competent to work as a qualified electrician. The active involvement of sectoral representatives can bring this implicit knowledge into the design of apprenticeship schemes. It is widely accepted that the engagement of employers in the design of work-based learning schemes is key to successful implementation. At the same time, it is important to ensure that the interests of apprentices are also reflected in the design of apprenticeship programmes – this is often implemented through the involvement of trade unions, as well as regulations for quality assurance.

Some flexibility in duration should be allowed to accommodate for different starting points and learning speeds of apprentices

Apprenticeship schemes are typically built around the needs of the main target population. However, some apprentices have a different background, for example, adults starting an apprenticeship in a country with a large youth apprenticeship system. The profile of the apprentice population within the same country can also change, for example through migration, creating a need to adapt schemes to the learning needs of apprentices.

Individuals who have some of the skills targeted by an apprenticeship programme can benefit from the possibility of adjusting the length of the programme to reflect some degree of prior learning. Policy options include:

  • Encourage the possibility of accelerated completion to recognise that some adult apprentices already have many general and occupation-specific skills. This may be supported by creating framework conditions for apprentices with relevant work experience, rather than leaving everything to individual negotiations.

  • Ensure that the package associated with shorter apprenticeships is attractive to both employers and apprentices.

Policy argument 1: Starting points and learning speeds differ

Some apprentices have completed higher levels of general education, whereas others may have gaps in their general skills

In countries with large youth apprenticeship schemes, most new apprentices have a similar schooling background as they have recently completed lower secondary education. Adult apprentices, on the other hand, often have diverse general skills and learning needs. Some spent their teenage years completing general upper secondary education, and therefore already have the package of general skills included in apprenticeship programmes. Others may have left school with lower level qualifications and spent years away from classrooms and will need to refresh or fill gaps in their general skills.

Adults with relevant work experience have some of the targeted occupational skills

New apprentices who are older often have years of work experience, including some relevant to their training. They may have some but not all of the occupational skills for the target occupation, and often will need less time than an average apprentice to master the targeted skillset. For example, an adult training to be a cook with years of work experience in a restaurant may need to spend less time in on-the-job training.

Policy argument 2: Allowing for faster completion can benefit apprentices and the state

Shortening apprenticeships can lower the cost of qualification for apprentices

Pursuing an apprenticeship involves costs for apprentices, in particular opportunity costs – time spent earning apprentice wages instead of regular wages. In some cases, fees further increase costs for learners. For apprentices who already have some of the skills targeted by the programme, being able to complete the apprenticeship faster yields major benefits as it allows them to graduate and start earning skilled worker wages sooner. This can make the prospect of undertaking an apprenticeship more appealing to adults. The alternative to an apprenticeship for an adult is typically paid employment (rather than schooling, as for young people). As unskilled worker wages are typically higher than apprentice wages, many adults cannot afford to invest in their skills because they need to cover living costs and often have family responsibilities. The possibility of pursuing a shorter version of an apprenticeship, in recognition of their pre-existing skills, can make apprenticeship qualifications more accessible to adults.

Shortening apprenticeships can also benefit the state and society more broadly

Shortening the duration of an apprenticeship, in recognition of pre-existing skills, avoids wasting resources on teaching a person something they already know. Measures that allow apprentices with prior work experience to complete faster can also foster equity. They can provide a bridge and encourage those with good practical skills, but limited formal education, to return to education. Facilitating the recognition of skills through qualifications normally associated with apprenticeships can foster lifelong learning: the prospect of acquiring a formal qualification may motivate adults to invest time, energy and money in learning at work, which they may be less keen to do in the absence of some credit for the skills acquired.

Policy argument 3: Barriers that prevent the full use of reduced duration need to be addressed

Several countries allow for flexibility in the duration of apprenticeships

Various countries have created a regulatory framework that allows apprentices with relevant qualifications or work experience to complete their programme faster. The framework sets out the conditions to be met and the reductions allowed in different cases (see Box 4.1).

A different way of implementing flexibility is to adapt a general competence-based approach. Under such schemes only a theoretical or typical duration is defined, and an apprentice moves to the next stage of their training not after a pre-defined period of time, but when they have developed the required skills. Such approaches are used in Australia and in some programmes in the United States (see Box 4.2).

Employers may be reluctant to support a reduced duration if it means they lose out financially

Adjusting training duration in response to individual needs is possible in various countries, but barriers sometimes prevent its fuller use. Research in Australia found that the lack of employer support was a barrier to competency-based completion. Money seemed to be a major issue: faster progression means faster wage rises, and early completion means paying skilled worker wages instead of apprentice wages (Clayton et al., 2015[13]). Competence-based completion removes or reduces the period when apprentices are highly productive but receive an apprentice wage. However, this period is essential for employers, as the benefits during this time compensate for the costs incurred at the beginning, when apprentices were mostly learning and producing little.

Box 4.1. Shortening apprenticeship duration


Adults aged 25 or more may complete an apprenticeship through two alternative pathways – an individual assessment decides which is the most suitable. Those with some relevant work experience or prior qualification follow a shortened basic course (school-based vocational education and training), a shortened main course (combining school and company-based training), and up to two years of on-the-job training. Those with at least two years of relevant experience follow only a shortened main course.

Source: MHES (2017[14]), Admission to Vocational Education and Training (VET),


Adults aged 21 or more may have their training time reduced. Those with a secondary qualification (Mittlere Reife) can obtain a reduction of six months. Those with a general upper-secondary school-leaving exam, adults aged 21 and above, and those already holding a vocational qualification may obtain a 12-month reduction. An apprentice may take the final qualifying examination earlier if both the training firm and the vocational school attest above average performance.

Source: Mühlemann, S. (forthcoming[15]), Apprenticeship Training for Adults: Theoretical Considerations and Empirical Evidence for Selected OECD Member Countries.

United States

An apprentice can be awarded credit of up to 1 000 hours per year for prior learning and demonstrated competences. Apprentices must pursue at least half the time of the regular programme, with a minimum duration of six months required.

Source: Jones, D. and R. Lerman (2017[16]), Starting a Registered Apprenticeship Program

Box 4.2. Competence-based completion


Apprentices may receive credit for existing skills and prior work experience. If an apprentice can demonstrate that they have acquired the required skill level, they may progress to the next stage of their training or complete the programme. Competency is assessed first by the “registered training organisation” (training provider). Then the training firm needs to confirm that the apprentice is able to apply the same skills in the workplace.

Source: Australian Government (2017[17])Australian Apprenticeships,

United States

Registered apprenticeships may be competency-based or hybrid (others are time-based). In competency-based schemes, apprentices may complete faster or take extra time to develop the required competences. These schemes still have to comply with certain requirements regarding time spent on each major process. Hybrid apprenticeship programmes combine time-based and competency-based elements.

Source: DOL (2018[10])United States Department of Labor - Frequently Asked Questions about the Apprenticeship Program,

Employers may support early completion if it does not have wage implications

The situation is different if early completion does not have wage implications. An apprentice who passes the qualifying exam continues to receive the wage set in the initial apprenticeship contract, i.e. lower than a qualified worker wage. In this case, there are no incentives for the employer to oppose reduced training duration. However, some of the benefits to individuals (a fast track to skilled worker wages) also disappear. Sometimes employers might support reduced training duration despite higher costs, for example, an adult apprentice may learn faster, be more mature and therefore more productive at work, so compensating for the higher costs. Employers may also be keen to fill a skilled worker vacancy, and faster completion can help them achieve that earlier.

Exploiting the potential of reduced duration requires that it works for all parties involved

One option is to let the apprenticeship market decide, and allow individual apprentices with relevant work experience to approach employers and negotiate a package (wages, time allocation, etc.) that is different from the standard apprenticeship package. In countries where apprentice wages (or apprentice minimum wages) are defined collectively (e.g. by occupation at the regional or national level), another approach is to define special conditions for apprentices who have relevant work experience – this may involve a different apprentice wage scale over the shortened duration of the apprenticeship. The key objective is to ensure that the package associated with shortened apprenticeships is attractive to both employers and individual apprentices.

Allow access to the final qualifying examination of an apprenticeship

Some individuals have acquired through work experience most of the skills expected of apprentices by the end of their training. Often some gaps remain and individuals may need to top up their existing skills with targeted courses or book learning, so that they have the same skillset as apprentices who have followed the standard programme.

  • The final examination used to assess apprentices at the end of an apprenticeship can be used to check whether these individuals have acquired the targeted skillset, allowing them to obtain the qualification without pursuing the apprenticeship programme.

  • Access to the final examination used in apprenticeships should be allowed to candidates who did not pursue the programme but can, because of relevant work experience, plausibly succeed at the examination.

Policy argument 1: Final examinations in apprenticeships can be used to validate skills regardless of how they were acquired

Some individuals have most of the skills targeted by an apprenticeship programme

For adults who have acquired most of the skills targeted by apprenticeships, even a shortened version of an apprenticeship may seem too long. For them, a more suitable path may involve topping up skills and filling in any gaps through targeted preparatory courses, and then taking a test to verify that they hold all the skills required. Potential beneficiaries include adults who have developed their skills through work experience, dropouts from apprenticeships, former apprentices who failed the final examination, and migrants who have worked in the target occupation abroad but whose qualification is not recognised in the host country.

Several countries allow access to the final apprenticeship examination

Under this model, a person may take the final qualifying examination without following the standard (or even adjusted version of) the apprenticeship programme. They are not apprentices, but they obtain the certification to which an apprenticeship normally leads. This is mostly used in countries with a long-standing tradition of apprenticeships (see Box 4.3). One reason might be that these countries have a well-developed standardised assessment that underpins the credibility of this route. In Austria, 15% of apprenticeship completers obtained their qualification by directly proceeding to final examinations in 2012 (Dornmayr et al., 2013[18]). In Norway 36% of apprenticeship qualifications (journeyman certificates) were delivered on the basis of an experience-based examination in 2015/16. Among adults aged 25 and above, experience-based examinations accounted for 47% of delivered qualifications (Bratsberg, Nyen and Raaum, 2017[19]). Such examinations were most common in health and childcare and construction, which together accounted for over 60% of experience-based examinations (Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training, 2016[20]). In Germany, 6% of all apprenticeship examinations were awarded following direct access to the examination in 2009. Over two-thirds of those who directly accessed the final examination were entitled in recognition of their work experience (BIBB, 2011[21]). In Switzerland, 3% of vocational qualifications were awarded following direct admission to the final examination in 2015, but among qualifications delivered to adults (aged 24 and above) direct admissions accounted for a quarter of qualifications (SERI, 2017[22]).

Box 4.3. Direct access to the final examinations associated with apprenticeship


Individuals aged 18 or over may directly apply for the final apprenticeship examination without enrolling as an apprentice. For this they must have relevant work experience, which means that they are very likely to hold skills similar to those of apprentices in the targeted occupation. Such skills can be acquired through internships, non-formal training in a company, other practical experience, or enrolling in schooling.

Source: Mühlemann, S. (forthcoming[15]), Apprenticeship Training for Adults: Theoretical Considerations and Empirical Evidence for Selected OECD Member Countries; Dornmayr, H. et al (2013[18]), Lehrabschlussprüfungen in Österreich,


Individuals may take the final assessment of regular apprenticeship programmes without completing the programme itself (Externenprüfung). For this they must have worked in the target occupation at least for one and a half times as long as the length of the apprenticeship, and they must have performed skilled tasks. Relevant school qualifications may reduce or replace the required minimum work experience. Candidates may prepare for the assessment by themselves (e.g. taking tests from past years) or follow preparatory courses.

Source: BMBF (2017[23]), Externenprüfung: Voraussetzungen, Beratung und Vorbereitung,


Candidates may obtain an experience-based trade certification (praksiskandidat) by taking the trade or journeyman's examination without pursuing an apprenticeship. The candidate must demonstrate comprehensive competence in the field and cover the objectives in the curriculum. The length of the candidate’s work experience in the field must be equivalent to the length of the apprenticeship period plus 25%, and the candidate must pass a theoretical exam. Relevant previous education is recognised as practical training.

Source: Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Education (SIU) (2016[24]), “Vocational education and training in Europe – Norway”, Cedefop ReferNet VET in Europe reports,; Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training (2016[20]), Skoleporten,


Adults with relevant work experience may access the final qualifying examination of an apprenticeship. This requires five years of work experience, of which professions determine a minimum period employed in the target occupation. While variation exists between professions, typically a minimum of three years employment in the occupation is required. Cantons provide advice to applicants about how to prepare for the examination, with preparatory courses available in some occupations. In all occupations, adults may pursue additional training by attending vocational schools or inter-company training centres.

Source: SERI (2017[22])Berufsabschluss für

Rigorous assessments are the foundation of qualifications delivered without a mandatory training programme

When a qualification is delivered without programmatic requirements, its value in the labour market will depend on the credibility of the underlying assessments. Designing and implementing valid and reliable assessments is challenging, as skilled jobs require a very wide range of skills and knowledge (see Chapter 5 for a discussion of assessments in apprenticeships). In practice, measuring all the relevant learning outcomes can be very difficult, so it is reasonable to give some attention to other tools that can testify to a person’s skills (such as the length and content of workplace experience and training courses pursued), at least as an adjunct to an examination that will inevitably leave some things out.

Policy argument 2: Such tools can help adults obtain a vocational qualification

Access to the final examination may offer second chances to low-qualified adults

In Norway, two-thirds of those who obtained a VET qualification based on experience-based examinations between 1998 and 2015 lacked an upper-secondary qualification at the outset. Research also found that those pursuing experience-based examinations had a similar socio-economic background to adults without upper-secondary education. Conversely, adults who pursued a regular apprenticeship programme had a similar socio-economic background to young people who had completed an apprenticeship. Data analysis drawing on nearly 20 years of register data suggests that experience-based examinations therefore serve as a tool to reduce educational inequalities (Bratsberg, Nyen and Raaum, 2017[19]).

Direct access to final examinations can serve as an alternative to regular apprenticeships

Direct access to final examinations offers a highly flexible route to an apprenticeship qualification. For example, a person might hold a regular (i.e. not apprenticeship) contract with their employer and prepare for the examination through learning on the job and off the job (e.g. preparatory courses). This arrangement might suit the profile and needs of adult learners and their employers: if training an adult under the apprenticeship framework is unattractive to employers, it may be preferable to offer access to the final examination supplemented by some preparatory courses. This might particularly suit the needs of adults in search of a vocational qualification in countries where the apprenticeship system is designed around the needs of young apprentices. This alternative pathway to an apprenticeship qualification is based on similar dynamics to regular apprenticeships in countries where most apprentices are adults. In these countries, apprentice wages tend to be higher or may even exceed the going minimum wage. For example, apprentice pay is much closer to unskilled pay for apprentices aged 18 and younger, and equal to the minimum wage for apprentices older than 19 in the United Kingdom; and in Canada, apprentice pay exceeds the minimum wage (Mühlemann, forthcoming[15]).


This chapter asks how long an apprenticeship should last and finds that duration should reflect the difficulty of the skills being learnt and the characteristics of the learner. Apprenticeship duration matters to the apprentice, employer and the state, and benefits are found when there is both clarity and flexibility in programme length. The duration of an apprenticeship needs to be adapted to the targeted skillset and reflect the cost-benefit analysis of both the employer and the apprentice: making it too short will fail to attract employer interest, making it too long will not be appealing to apprentices. The engagement of social partners in apprenticeship design can make it easier to balance different interests. For young apprentices, an apprenticeship forms part of initial education, and provision typically includes a significant proportion of general education alongside the learning of technical skills. By contrast, adults, including new migrants, often come to an apprenticeship with strong general education or relevant work experience, which deserve recognition. Countries have developed approaches to shorten the duration of apprenticeships for such learners or allow them to progress directly to a final qualifying exam. Such tools, when based on robust assessments, serve to build greater equity and efficiency into apprenticeship systems.


[17] Australian Government (2017), Australian Apprenticeships, (accessed on 30 August 2017).

[21] BIBB (2011), Datenreport zum Berufsbildungsbericht 2011, (Data Report for the Report on Vocational Education and Training for the Year 2011), Federal Institute for Vocational Training, Bonn,

[4] BMBF (2017), Berufsbildungsbericht 2017, (Report on Vocational Training 2017), Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Bonn,

[26] BMBF (2017), Duale Berufsausbildung Sichtbar Gemacht, (Dual Vocational Education Made Visible), Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Bonn,

[23] BMBF (2017), Externenprüfung: Voraussetzungen, Beratung und Vorbereitung, (External Examination: Requirements, Consulting and Preparation), Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Bonn,

[3] BMBF (2008), Berufsbildungsbericht 2008, (Report on Vocational Training 2008), Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Bonn,

[19] Bratsberg, B., T. Nyen and O. Raaum (2017), Fagbrev i voksen alder, (Vocational Qualifications in Adulthood),

[13] Clayton, B. et al. (2015), Competency Progression and Completion: How is the Policy Being Enacted in Three Trades?,

[14] Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science (MHES) (2017), Admission to Vocational Education and Training (VET), (accessed on 30 August 2017).

[18] Dornmayr, H. et al. (2013), Lehrabschlussprüfungen in Österreich, (Final Apprenticeship Examinations in Austria), Institute for Research on Qualifications and Training of the Austrian Economy, Austrian Institute for Vocational Training Research,

[25] Eurydice (2018), Germany. Organisation of Vocational Upper Secondary Education, (accessed on 12 February 2018).

[7] Hoeckel, K. and R. Schwartz (2010), OECD Reviews of Vocational Education and Training: A Learning for Jobs Review of Germany 2010, OECD Reviews of Vocational Education and Training, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[16] Jones, D. and R. Lerman (2017), Starting a Registered Apprenticeship Program, Urban Institute,

[1] Knight, B. and T. Karmel (2011), “Apprenticeships and traineeships in Australia”, in Dolphin, T. and T. Lanning (eds.), Rethinking Apprenticeships, Institute for Public Policy Research, London,

[11] Kuczera, M. (2017), “Striking the right balance: Costs and benefits of apprenticeship”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 153, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[9] Kuczera, M. and S. Field (2018), Apprenticeship in England, United Kingdom, OECD Reviews of Vocational Education and Training, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[6] Mühlemann, S. (2016), “The cost and benefits of work-based learning”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 143, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[15] Mühlemann, S. (forthcoming), Apprenticeship Training for Adults: Theoretical Considerations and Empirical Evidence for Selected OECD Member Countries.

[24] Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Education (SIU) (2016), “Vocational education and training in Europe – Norway”, Cedefop ReferNet VET in Europe reports 2016,

[20] Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training (2016), Skoleporten, (accessed on 16 September 2016).

[8] Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training (2011), Fag- og timefordelingen i grunnopplæringen Kunnskapsløftet,

[2] Powell, A. (2018), “Apprenticeship statistics: England”, Briefing Paper, No. 06113, House of Commons Library,

[5] Schlögl, P. and M. Mayerl (2016), Betriebsbefragung zu Kosten und Nutzen der Lehrausbildung in Österreich, (Company Survey on Costs and Benefits of the Apprenticeship Training in Austria, Interim Report), Austrian Institute for Vocational Training Research (öibf), Wien,

[22] SERI (2017), Berufsabschluss für Erwachsene, (Professional Qualifications for Adults), Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation, Bern,

[12] Solas (2016), Apprenticeship: Real life Learning, (accessed on 12 February 2018).

[10] United States Department of Labor (DOL) (2018), United States Department of Labor - Frequently Asked Questions about the Apprenticeship Program, (accessed on 5 March 2018).


← 1. Apprentices spend at least 12 hours per week in a vocational school (Eurydice, 2018[25]), about a third of which is general education (BMBF, 2017[26]).

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