What can Britain learn from Europe about apprenticeships?

As we approach National Apprenticeship Week – which runs from March 9 to 13 – the spotlight falls on how to encourage more businesses to employ apprentices and more young people to see it as a route into their future career.

When looking for inspiration to give apprenticeships a boost in the UK we need look no further than our continental cousins. Apprenticeships are a common and successful route into employment for many young Europeans with about two thirds of young Germans taking one on when they leave full-time education.

So what can we learn from Europe? Here’s four lessons for Britain:

Education system: Many European countries use a dual education system. This operates in Switzerland, Denmark, France, Hungary, Germany, Austria, Croatia among others and combines training within a company with vocational work within an educational establishment. In some countries that is a 50/50 split between the classroom and the factory floor. In Germany there are about 350 trades within which you can sign up for an apprenticeship  - ranging from industrial mechanics to baking. This system breaks down the barriers between the workplace and the classroom and boosts their attractiveness to employers and students.

Money: Apprenticeships are a sound financial move and it’s clear in many European countries that everyone is a winner when it comes to cash. In France students do not have to pay tuition fees when signing up to an apprenticeship. They earn a percentage of the minimum wage for their work while training and gain vital professional experience. In return for giving them a chance employers get Government subsidies and are exempt from paying welfare contributions. The funding comes from a combination of national and regional governments as well as employers. Although grants and financial support is available in the UK, in Europe this is a stronger, more established system.

Culture: In Germany apprenticeships are a key part of the economy, with Mercedes-Benz owner Daimler alone signing up 2,000 a year. They’re so widespread that there is actually a shortage of young Germans to take them up. That meant companies cast their net overseas to fill the vacancies – with young Brits offered £700 a month and free language lessons as an incentive to go straight from their A-levels into an apprenticeship in Europe’s economic powerhouse. It’s a sign of the culture surrounding apprenticeships in Europe that they considered important enough to scour young talent from overseas to fill such posts.

Mentors: In Austria the law dictates that a person wanting to teach a young apprentice their trade must be a ‘good citizen’ – with civic qualities and an ethical way of life. In other words, good role models have to be the people who pass on pearls of wisdom. The person within a company who has responsibility for an apprentice is known as an ‘Ausbilder’ and they must also prove they have the professional credentials, with no criminal record.

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