The main objective of the SERFA project is to develop tools to support small and medium-sized enterprises to take on apprentices.
For this purpose, it was necessary to identify the framework conditions for apprenticeship recruitment and training in the different countries. Research results show three different trends between countries with a historically well-established legal framework (Austria and Germany), countries which introduced an apprenticeship scheme quite recently (Greece, Slovenia, Spain, Poland) and countries where apprenticeships have a long tradition but are going through a major reform (United Kingdom and France).
Referring to the CEDEFOP definition, the apprenticeship arrangements vary from one country to another as follows:
• Different levels of vocational qualification may be acquired through apprenticeships, from part-qualifications to high level degrees. The duration of apprenticeships also varies from one to four years. There are differences between countries but also within countries depending on the sector and level of the Apprenticeship.
• Arrangements between time in the workplace and time in a training institution also vary. In some countries those arrangements include short-time training periods in the workplace (e.g. Short vocational upper Secondary education in Slovenia) whilst in others there are longer periods of in-company training (e.g. apprenticeships in the UK).
• The systems of contracting differ between and within the countries. There may be (1) a contract between the apprentice and the training company and / or (2) a contract between the training company and a training institution.
• Apprenticeships as a measure of labour market policy or educational policy: in Spain and Greece there is a particularly strong emphasis on the integration of young people in the labour market due to high youth unemployment rates. Nevertheless one goal of apprenticeship in all countries is to smoothen the transition from school to labour market.
In addition, a company survey was carried out among 240 SMEs in eight partner countries to examine the motivation for SMEs' engagement in apprenticeships, their experience of the scheme, the support they received and their needs to facilitate apprenticeship uptake.
The vast majority of companies surveyed (almost 3/4) had a previous experience of apprenticeships.
From a transnational perspective the main motivation of companies to engage in apprenticeship training was the opportunity to train their own workforce according to the needs of the company and implement a long-term strategy to equip themselves with skilled workers on the long-run.
For those companies that had never offered apprenticeship vacancies, the top reasons related to the formal requirements to become a training company (HR, red-tape, etc) along with a lack of time and other business priorities.
Interestingly, the cost-benefit ratio argument was not decisive for not offering apprenticeship training. In particular, countries with a short apprenticeship tradition reported a lack of knowledge of the framework for apprenticeship training and a lack of experience (e.g. Grece, Spain and Slovenia). In Poland a high level of companies did not see a benefit in offering apprenticeship places.
When it comes to support services, companies identified a whole range of support measures as relevant (e.g. funding information, training advice, recruitment assistance, guidance, counselling) providing that these were specifically designed for their individual needs.
Although the results showed no country-specific patterns, the needs of the companies may also be influenced by the institutional settings.
Companies also reported the support should come from the main institutions that are responsible for the administration and implementation of the apprenticeship system.
Across all countries companies wanted support services to be delivered mainly by (1) representatives of employers, (2) authorities at national, regional and local level and (3) training organisations.