We live in a world where for too long, and in too many countries, vocational education and training (VET) has been the poor cousin of national strategies to provide young people and adults with the knowledge and skills they need – and employers demand. That is why vocational education has often been seen as a provision fit only for ‘other people’s children’ against the gold standard of academic routes culminating in university study. But evidence from countries with high performing vocational systems tells us that they provide a very effective means of integrating learners into the labour market and for opening pathways for further learning and personal growth - and there are signs that things are changing.

A new wave of interest has emerged in response to rising concerns over both stubbornly high levels of youth unemployment and the unpredictability of the modern working world. Increasingly diverse and interconnected populations, rapid technological change in the workplace and in everyday life, and the instantaneous availability of vast amounts of information mean that work that can be automated or digitised can now be done by the most competitive individuals or enterprises, wherever on the globe they are located. Knowledge and skills have become the global currency of the twenty-first century, with a rising premium on those social and emotional skills that are best learnt at the workplace. So across the globe, governments are turning afresh to VET and introduced programmes aimed at enhancing its attractiveness. They aim to improve progression from VET into either skilled employment or higher level learning by harnessing the unique capacity of the workplace experience to develop skills of genuine value.

This new report builds upon landmark OECD studies into upper secondary VET (Learning for Jobs, 2010) and post-secondary provision (Skills beyond School, 2014) to focus attention on apprenticeships as a uniquely important form of work-based learning. Rooted in real life workplaces, apprenticeships actively engage employers to ensure the value of skills development, but more needs to be done to ensure high-quality experiences. The aim of this report is to lift the bonnet on the design of effective apprenticeship systems. Addressing fundamental questions like the duration of an apprenticeship and how much an apprentice should be paid, the report provides a framework for policy makers and practitioners working across the world. This synthesis report follows six focused studies which were generously supported by Australia, Canada, Germany, Norway, Scotland (United Kingdom), Switzerland, the United Kingdom (Department for Education, England/UKCES, UK Commission for Employment and Skills), and the United States and the European Commission.

This is an important time for vocational education. It is now widely accepted that the skills that are easiest to teach and test are also the skills that are easiest to digitise, automate and outsource. VET systems must rise to the challenge of this changing landscape if they are to remain relevant to the needs of learners and employers. This study furthers our ability to conceptualise and make sense of the changes now being encountered, enabling confident responses to emerging challenges. Looking forward, new data, including further results from the OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) and Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA), will help countries to compare the extent to which they have succeeded in ensuring that VET emerges as an attractive opportunity for all learners.

picture Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills, and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General OECD

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