The OECD has asked seven questions about apprenticeships. What are the questions and what does international experience tell us the answers are?

Why this paper?

Published this year, the OECD’s review highlights “…rising concerns over both stubbornly high levels of youth unemployment and the unpredictability of the modern working world.”

It also points out that countries with strong vocational systems are able to integrate learners into the labour market very effectively, and make “the fullest use of the workplace as a powerful learning environment.” They are also able to open pathways for further learning and personal growth. You can download the review from the link above. There’s a ‘Powerpoint’ presentation there too.

The review argues that “apprenticeships and other forms of work-based learning are experiencing a revival, in recognition of their effectiveness in easing school-to-work transition and serving the economy.” However, apprenticeships only work well when they are “attractive to both apprentices and employers.” The paper looks at apprenticeships by asking and trying to answer seven important questions. This article focuses on four of them.

Should employers receive financial incentives for providing apprenticeships?

The review concludes that the balance between costs and benefits is particularly relevant to discussions over whether employers should receive financial incentives to provide apprenticeships. It argues that there is a strong case for public investment in apprenticeships but it also suggests that governments should be wary of universal tax breaks or subsidies aimed at employers. Well-designed and implemented levy systems and targeting measures to increase how quickly apprentices develop skills and become fully productive are, they suggest, a better way to go. In addition:

 “Measures such as actions to help improve the quality of in-company training and reducing administrative costs can make a difference and are especially important for smaller employers.”

How long should an apprenticeship last?

Apprenticeship duration is affected by both the difficulty of skills being learnt and the characteristics of the learner. Getting duration right is important to ensure that apprenticeships are attractive: too short and employers lose out on the cost-benefit balance of taking them on, too long and apprentices are exploited. Apprenticeship duration also needs to be responsive to the higher levels of skills and experience that older workers often bring with them. The review points out that robust assessment systems serve to build greater equity and efficiency into apprenticeships.

How to ensure a good learning experience at work?

On-the-job training is a critical element of any apprenticeship, but it cannot be assumed that employers will have the capacity to train well. Governments or social partners can require or encourage apprentice supervisors to undertake training themselves, and help managers to design work practices to maximise apprentice learning within productive tasks. Final apprenticeship examinations should recognise the importance of on-the-job training by going beyond tests for theoretical and technical knowledge and skills. In this case assessments should also address the fuller demands of the associated occupation, such as personal interaction or social skills. Simulations and role-playing exercises with examiners are innovative means of testing the full range of knowledge and skills required by an apprenticeship.

How to attract potential apprentices?

If apprenticeship systems are going to be successful, apprenticeships must be attractive to a wide range of people. Attractive apprenticeships develop the knowledge and skills that employers demand and offer a genuine gateway to skilled employment. Where the quality of apprenticeships is poor, people will “vote with their feet” and not participate. However, in the case of younger people, potential apprentices and their families often have a poor understanding of what apprenticeships actually have to offer. Career aspirations are shaped by a range of factors: gender, socio-economic status and migrant background. Career guidance services need to help young people make informed decisions. Schools need to take “a proactive and strategic approach to careers guidance which begins young, broadens ambitions, and ensure that regular encounters with independent and well-trained career guidance professionals are the norm.” Effective guidance also needs to give young people the chance to find out for themselves. Approaches to do this include career talks and job shadowing and explaining clearly what occupational and learning pathways are open to those contemplating an apprenticeship.

But I want more!

VOCED Plus has a Pod dedicated to apprenticeships and traineeships. Lots of good stuff there, so check it out!