All together now for apprenticeships

Two proverbs caught the spirit of the European Alliance for Apprenticeships Seminar for EAfA Partner Countries, 11 – 12 October. “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together,” cited Pilvi Torsti, Director, European Training Foundation (ETF), as she exhorted participants to forge ahead for far-reaching change. Sara Mandis, Policy and Research Assistant, European Apprentices Network (EAN), extrapolated a bit with her reference: “If it takes a village to raise a child, maybe it takes a village to run an apprenticeship.” 

It all boils down to “togetherness,” encompassing everyone from apprentices and their families to EU funders, as Chiara Riondino, Head of Unit, Directorate for Employment, Social Affairs, and Inclusion of the European Commission, put it in her closing remarks. Togetherness takes the prize as the top-ranking keyword to emerge from the two-day event hosted by ETF in Turin, Italy.  

EAfA “unites governments and key stakeholders with the aim of strengthening the quality, supply and overall image of apprenticeships across Europe,” according to the European Commission website. EAfA members include representatives of the public sector, business, and civil society from over 34 European Union members and neighbouring countries. 

A close runner-up for top keyword of the event would be listening, which helps beget and sustain togetherness. During the final session, a young apprentice, attending as an observer, raised his hand to make a statement from the floor. “If you want to make reforms, go ask the students,” he said. “If you want to make reforms, go ask the teachers. They have the solutions." He earned a round of applause. 

Unknowingly, since he only attended Day 2, the young man echoed a statement by a panellist that set the lunch break abuzz on Day 1. “The main challenges are to be open and alert, and to listen,” said Olga Kafetzopoulou, Director for VET & LLL Planning and Development, Ministry of Education, Religious Affairs and Sports, Greece, during a subsequent interview. Listen to stakeholders such as apprentices, VET trainers, employers, and other interested parties and find common ground as a basis to move forward.  

Riondino described how at an international level cooperation between institutions and bodies such as the European Union and the International Labour Organization is also helping countries throughout the globe move forward with apprenticeship at a global levelTthe Council of the European Union recommendation on a European Framework for Quality and Effective Apprenticeshipswhich outlined groundbreaking standards about the rights and responsibilities of apprentices, and similar guidelines have been adopted by The International Labour Organization (ILO) “took inspiration” from that initiative and adopted similar guidelines “with its own principles.” 

 An example of regional togetherness emerged from the Western Balkan Alliance for Work-Based Learning, involving seven countries, as described by Tina Saric, Director, ERISEE. Among other things, the alliance began to develop regional standards of competence for various occupations, together with businesses and educators. Countries identified the key sectors of their economies and then took the lead to develop standards for them – which in general can be easily adapted to the same sectors in neighbouring countries. A novel way to save time and money. 

Every attendee at any conference anyplace anywhere anytime will usually admit that networking is one of the main goals of their attendance. And what could be more about togetherness than networking? But the value of networking can be hard to gauge, even anecdotally. Aidan Kenny, Teachers’ Union of Ireland, did a good job. “This is our second EAfA meeting since COVID,” he said in an interview. “I have to acknowledge, despite all the webinars and online seminars, there is nothing like in-person networking.” He met representatives from Albania, Ukraine and beyond to “hear things from their perspective.” He had serious discussions with six people about potential visits to Ireland to understand how things happen there. 

“Experience-sharing is the most important for us,” said Magda Bolotashvili, Deputy Director General, Georgian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Georgia is still constructing social infrastructure that other free market economies take for granted. “The most important thing is that our vocational educational system involves the private sector and here we have learnt many examples of how this can be done,” she said.  

 Adults are People, Too 

Most national apprenticeship schemes are designed for young people, with upper limits reaching 29 at most. But some observers wonder if apprenticeship programmes should be extended to or established for older people – especially given current and projected labour market disruptions and growing needs for lifelong learning, reskilling and upskilling. 

The EU and others tout the green and digital transitions, but those and other changes could turn some current employees into collateral damage in a bid for progress. “There should be VET for people to have a second chance,” said Riondino. 

“They may have to do a new apprenticeship,” said Kenny. “From a trade union perspective, I ask, ‘What is that process?’” One tool, he believes, should be microcredentials, which can be flexible and accessible. 

Apprenticeships could be part of the mix for older workers, but it depends on their needs and circumstances. “Adding apprenticeships could improve inclusiveness,” said Tatjana Marinkovic, Professor of Applied Studies, Academy of Technical Applied Studies, Belgrade, Serbia. “But when we talk about upskilling people already in companies, short-cycle courses work somewhat better.” 

A Little Bit Easier 

In her closing remarks, Rondino wondered aloud why red-tape must complicate the life of “an incredible success story” such as the Piazza dei Mestieri, a trade school for underprivileged teenagers in Turin, Italy, that many participants visited yesterday. To satisfy Italian regulations, it must split its operations into four entities and keep four sets of books. “How can we make it easier?” 

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