Norbert Schoebel

Apprenticeships and work-based learning: Gaining pace

The ETF interviewed Norbert Schöbel in Skopje during the European Alliance for Apprenticeships regional meeting last September. 

Norbert Schöbel has been working since 2014 as Team Leader in the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Employment of the European Commission. His main task is to promote apprenticeships and other forms of work-based learning. 

How has the European Alliance of Apprenticeships (EAfA) changed since its launch in 2013?

A lot has changed since then.  I think that today, our stakeholders are aware of our joint efforts and good work. Increasingly, we get invitations from our members to organize meetings in their region or their city to show their efforts in a company or training institution. The mind-set of companies has changed as well. Initially, we had to contact businesses to convince them to join the EAfA, but now often they contact us and ask how they could contribute to the work of the European Alliance.

What is the future of apprenticeships and work-based learning?

Although important reforms have taken place in almost all countries, apprenticeships remain a relevant topic in the years to come.  Since March 2018, we have a European Framework on Quality and Effective Apprenticeships and at a global level, the International Labour Organisation has started to work on international standards for apprenticeships. A lot has been done, but there is still a lot to be done. There is huge potential for further improvements.  For instance, we need to address issues like digital apprenticeships, the role of regions and cities in apprenticeships, and also how to contribute to a circular economy. Additionally, we need to empower apprentices to contribute with their ideas.

How can SMEs offer more opportunities for apprentices?

Unlike big companies, SMEs often face some difficulties to train apprentices, particularly in countries where this is not part of their culture.  Therefore, intermediary bodies, such as chambers of commerce, industry and crafts can play a crucial role in supporting SMEs.  They can also work together, e.g. by creating a joint training centre. However, this arrangement often needs financial support from the public sector. Generally, SMEs need financial, and even more importantly non-financial support, e.g. through technical assistance.

How can we make apprenticeships more attractive?

I think it is important to invest more into state of the art equipment and attractive learning environments, wherever the learning may happen. This could for instance start in the premises of a company, as I have seen in a vocational school in the Netherlands. We should also think about finding attractive locations for the school-based learning part. Why not in the heart of our cities? We always talk about dual education, but it can be “triple” education, e.g. in the school, the company and the training centre, or even “quadruple” education, adding an ‘online’ dimension, taking place anywhere.

We are currently meeting outside the EU, in North Macedonia. What are the plans of the Alliance for candidate countries?

All candidate countries are already members of the EAfA. So far, we have been quite successful in organising exchanges between the candidate countries and the members of the European Alliance for Apprenticeships. We could not have done it without the valuable support of the European Training Foundation, which assists candidate countries in their reform processes. Next year, we will review the work done so far and draw some conclusions upon how the cooperation can be  strengthened in view of better training for young people and adults.


Interview by Agustin Millan Company in Skopje, North Macedonia.

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