Increased globalisation has impacted across all sectors, but particularly in relation to the automotive sector, with increasingly complex and global Supply Chain Management patterns.
As automotive supply chains become increasingly globalised in nature, by contrast apprenticeships tend to be focussed nationally or even more locally, with wide variations in approach, delivery mechanisms, employer involvement and commitment . This poses challenges for employers when choosing whether to participate in the apprenticeship systems of those countries they operate in and for the mobility of apprentices seeking employment across national boundaries. Recognition of apprenticeships by different employers is also a problem in some cases.
Recent research undertaken in relation to the future direction of apprenticeships highlights the challenges this can pose for apprenticeships. The report points out that many workers are employed in companies whose headquarters are in other countries, and hence their employers may or may not choose to participate in the apprenticeship systems of the country of operation.
At present there are a number of aspects of the current apprenticeship market serving the EU automotive sector that impede efficient operation, with a number of factors potentially restricting labour mobility across the EU automotive sector. In particular:
- Some overall apprenticeship models are likely to encourage greater inter-industry mobility than other models. It is possible to split apprenticeship models into two broad types  these being:
- An approach towards apprenticeships that fits the criteria of an education and training system which is aimed at providing people with full competency and capability in an occupation or trade suitable for apprenticeships (Model A).
- Apprenticeship as a type of VET delivery aimed at providing a diverse way to achieve formal VET qualifications by bringing people into the labour market (Model B).
Countries that have adopted an approach towards apprenticeships that fits the criteria of Model A are likely to provide apprentices with greater prospects for mobility between companies than those countries adopting the Model B approach, typified by less regulation and greater variations in apprenticeship length and content.
In relation to those European countries with significant concentrations of automotive manufacturing, most have adopted an approach towards apprenticeships that fit Model B – in other words a model less conducive to international mobility.
Only two of the key EU automotive countries operate apprenticeships through Model A: Apprenticeship as an education and training system. These are Germany and Poland.
A total of seven key EU automotive countries operate apprenticeships through Model B: A type of VET delivery within the formal VET system, these being France, Romania, UK (both England and Scotland), Spain, Hungary, Italy and Sweden.
In the case of the other key automotive sector country (Czech Republic), there is no formal apprenticeship programme in the Czech Republic that includes a contract between the apprentice and the employer and there is no shared responsibility between employer and the school related to the training delivered.
Labour mobility is currently further restricted by the wide inter-country variations, not only in terms of the overall apprenticeship models adopted, but in terms of patterns of school-company alternation, typical duration of apprenticeships, volume of in-company training per year, requirements placed on both employers and wider labour market stakeholders and age and educational level eligibility criteria.
One way of tackling these issues would be to develop a single market for automotive apprentices across the EU by linking regional, national and European apprenticeship initiatives. However, given the diverse national approaches currently in place for the development and implementation of apprenticeships this is unlikely to be practicable, at least in the short term.
One practical approach from a company perspective, enabling recognition across national boundaries is ‘dual certification’. One example of this being successfully implemented is a partnership between the German Chamber of Commerce in Spain and both Volkswagen that developed the first German/Spanish dual certificate and also SEAT.
The programme was developed by a group of experts who analysed the competences covered in both countries as a basis for the development of a three year curriculum for Volkswagen incorporating best practices from both countries. Programmes were developed covering five different job roles. SEAT is also now fully involved in the Dual Certification programme.
Key benefits for employers of this approach include the following:
- It ensures the quality of the programme from both German and Spanish perspectives;
- It increases talent development locally and supports the development, presence, and strength of participating German companies internationally.
- It creates good vocational opportunities and opens alternative pathways for students in areas of skills shortage.
- Continuous quality management and communication with Chambers of Commerce in different countries provides an opportunity to identify best practices and incorporate these into the development of all other applicable programmes.
In terms of benefits, for participating students, for those:
- Interested in working in Germany it provides an opportunity for this career path.
- That aspire to stay and develop their career in Spain, the dual certification ensures training on a high quality programme, particularly for students that want to work for a German company in Spain.
There has been an increasing focus on how to support increased international mobility through the design of vocational programmes and qualifications to improve cross-border mobility in relation to apprenticeships. An event focussing on this issue involving a wide range of apprenticeship stakeholders was held in March 2019 co-organised by the European Commission and the European Parliament .
A wide range of benefits in terms of increased cross-border apprenticeship mobility were highlighted, including as way of apprentices gaining independence, learning new skills (particularly soft skills), and also foreign language skills through international work experience. It was pointed out that the companies involved also benefit, as cultural exchange fosters creativity, reinforces the companies’ skills base and attracts international talent .
However, it was also pointed out that currently, figures from the Erasmus+ mid-term evaluation indicate that relatively few apprentices have taken up apprenticeships in other Member States. In most cases, their cross-border mobility experience is limited to a period shorter than 3 months, while less than 1 % of apprentices spend more than 6 months abroad .
It is proposed that as part of the next Erasmus + (2021–2027) transnational platforms of Centres of Vocational Excellence will bring together VET providers, authorities, companies, social partners and other stakeholders to contribute to the design of vocational programmes and qualifications with a strong element of mobility experience abroad.
What is clear from the analysis above is that working towards an approach towards the development of apprenticeships within the automotive sector that meet the demands of both employers and employees for cross-border recognition at the same time as the need to meet particular national apprenticeship requirements and circumstances remains a challenge.
 See Apprenticeship Schemes in European countries – A cross-nation Review – CEDEFOP 2018
 This included stakeholder groups, such as Erasmus+ national agencies, representatives from the European Parliament pilot project on long-term mobility for apprentices, members of the European Alliance for Apprenticeships (EAfA), the European Apprentices Network, other youth representatives as well as European and national policy makers.
[4, 5] Mobility of Apprentices in Europe, 21–22 March 2019 A contribution to youth employment and competitiveness of businesses; European Parliament, PHS room 5.B1 Meeting report 21-22 March 2019.