What is an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships are a form of work-based learning. Although existing apprenticeship schemes in Europe differ between the Members States, the Council Recommendation on a European Framework for Quality and Effective Apprenticeships [1] offers a unified definition of the key elements that distinguish apprenticeships from other work-based learning schemes. A formal apprenticeship scheme must:

  • Lead to nationally-recognised qualifications,
  • Combine learning in education or training institutions with work-based learning in companies,
  • Be based on an agreement defining the rights and obligations of the apprentice, the employer, and, where appropriate, the VET institution
  • Be financially compensated for the work-based component.

Why are apprenticeships important?

Apprenticeships are good for learners, good for employers, and good for the economy. On the one hand, learners can develop practical skills that employers look for, gain valuable work experience while still being enrolled at school, and find a job upon completion of an apprenticeship. Data from the European Alliance for Apprenticeships even estimates that 60 to 70% of apprentices secure employment in the company where they worked as an apprentice [2]. Vocational Education & Training providers surveyed by the S4TCLF Blueprint consortium have also praised apprenticeships as being highly beneficial for students to develop professional skills and to enhance their employability [3].

For companies, hiring apprentices usually leads to a boost in productivity: a survey conducted by the UK government on the topic highlights that 78% of employers report that apprenticeships helped them improve productivity in their company [4]. Indeed, apprentices are usually very eager to perform well in a field they enjoy and are enthusiastic to apply the skills they have learned at school. But apprenticeships are also a great way for companies to optimize their hiring process. Indeed, apprenticeships can be used as screening devices by only retaining the suitable apprentices after training, substantially reducing the risk of a bad hire and saving on hiring costs resulting from finding, recruiting, and training a new hire. But the most important is that apprenticeships make it immensely easier for companies to find young employees that have just the right skills they need [5].

What role can apprenticeships play in the TCLF industries?

The TCLF industries’ growth in Europe is being hampered by two main factors: (1) distorted prejudices about the TCLF industries and an attractiveness deficit that make it difficult for companies to find qualified workers, and (2) an ageing workforce, leading to a loss of valuable skills and know-how when they retire.

And this is where apprenticeships come into play: because they combine work-based learning and traditional learning elements, apprenticeships are very attractive for young VET learners. Apprenticeship schemes can play a big role in boosting the attractiveness of the TCLF sectors by presenting them viable career paths and making it possible to discover the sectors first-hand. Besides, because apprenticeships are based on experienced workers passing on skills to apprentices, they ensure that skills and know-how that have taken many years of experience to be perfected are transferred from one generation to the next.

However, according to research conducted in the framework of the Social Dialogue project “Implementing best practices to increase the attractiveness of the footwear sector” in 2019, apprenticeships in TCLF companies are not as widespread as they should. One of the first barriers to apprenticeships is linked to one of the defining characteristics of the TCLF companies: their size. Most TCLF companies are SMEs and, as we have seen, formal apprenticeship schemes require several criteria to be met to be fully recognised, and, in some countries, there is much bureaucracy involved. Some TCLF companies can find it difficult to rapidly adapt to these requirements without creating struggles in the company. Most TCLF SMEs also report a lack of capacity and resources to implement apprenticeships and a lack of external support for companies that host apprentices.

Apprenticeships have a lot to offer to learners, the companies training them, and the TCLF sectors as a whole. But there is no one-size-fits-all apprenticeship scheme for all industrial sectors, and the peculiarities of TLCF companies make it so that the widespread model of apprenticeships is not fully compatible with their functioning. This is why there is a great need to develop optimized apprenticeship models that are well-suited to the different types of companies within the sectors and that allow TCLF companies to take on board young workers without disrupting their activities.

Paul Lasserre, CEC


[1] The Council of the European Union. 2018. Council Recommendation of 15 March 2018 on a European Framework for Quality and Effective Apprenticeships. Official Journal of the European Union.

[2] European Commission – European Alliance for Apprenticeships. 2019. Good for Youth, Good for Business. ISBN: ISBN 978-92-76-09822-5 doi:10.2767/040603 KE-03-19-626-EN-N

[3] Lasserre, Paul. 2020. Recent Trends in TCLF VET Collaboration in Europe. Online: https://bit.ly/3qJAJeR

[4]  Government of the UK – National Apprenticeships Service. 2019. Employers’ Guide for Apprenticeships. Online: https://bit.ly/2N8MywB

[5] Moretti, L., Mayerl, M., Muehlemann, S., Schlögl, P., Wolter, S.C. 2019. So Similar and yet so Different: A Comparative Analysis of a Firm’s Cost and Benefits of Apprenticeship Training in Austria and Switzerland. Munich Society for the Promotion of Economic Research ‐ CESifo GmbH. ISSN: 2364‐1428