The mechanisms in place for the development and updating of apprenticeships varies across Europe but tends to involve a range of key stakeholders including employers, business organisations (chambers etc.), training and education providers, regional bodies and national government. The direct involvement of apprentices in this process is less developed in most instances. For example, recent research by the European Alliance for Apprenticeships indicated that at a national level there is limited evidence of structures in place to represent apprentices .
Available evidence does however highlight the wide range of benefits to the involvement of apprentices throughout all stages of development and implementation of apprenticeships. This is underlined by a recent CEDEFOP report that indicated that centring the policy process around apprentices’ is essential for relevant future skills development .
Further evidence indicates that engaging in a continuous learner feedback loop positively contributes to both learner satisfaction, should companies use feedback constructively, and the quality of learning provided to apprentices, with associated long-term positive impacts on the company as a whole .
Involving Apprentices can embody a range of different mechanisms; from involving them at jobs fairs to involving them in the planning and reshaping of apprenticeships more broadly . It can even entail increasing their involvement in the design and manufacturing process, as seen by the Azubi Car concept created by SKODA academy.
A widely accepted method of involving apprentices is through feedback. Through feedback employers can refine and revise the delivery and structure of their training programmes . In the case of apprenticeships this can help ensure their skills coincide with the needs of the industry which is essential for company success, efficiency and longevity. Engaging with those completing apprenticeships is the best way to ensure this. A conversation between governments, employers and skills providers can be stimulated as a result of the feedback obtained by apprentices, ensuring that skills remain relevant within the automotive sector, which is subject to rapid skill change linked in part to Industry 4.0 .
In a study conducted by the European Commission under the Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Directorate there were 3 types of structures concerning apprenticeship representation identified: 1) Direct Apprenticeship Representation, 2) Indirect representation: wider-scope, and 3) Indirect representation: consultation through wider bodies . Direct representation uses structures to represent apprentices directly. Wider-scope indirect representation gives apprentices a place within the concerned organisational body, but apprentices are not the focus. Lastly, consultation through wider bodies is identified in the absence of the two aforementioned structures and is characterised through informal, ad-hoc consultation of apprentices that is not organized .
Practical examples of specific approaches to apprenticeship involvement include the following:
In Germany apprentices have direct representation in relation to apprenticeship development and there are also extensive examples of the varying ways to involve apprentices through feedback and other forms of representation. The German government places an emphasis on training providers creating a strong feedback culture due to the positive benefits that emerge . An example of this feedback culture is the ARSY, a trainee feedback system used by Wieland-Werke AG . This feedback system focuses on trainee opinions of current experiences rather than evaluating the past, providing a contemporary opportunity to improve the existing delivery and content of training. Additionally, within Germany there are two key organisational bodies through which apprentices are represented, providing a point of access to the system. One of these is the German Work Councils , the other being the German DGB youth, a youth trade union . Both act as a mechanism for German apprentices to articulate their concerns regarding: training quality, employee turnover and working conditions, with the German Trade Union Youth publishing regular reports regarding working conditions in Germany .
Another country that has developed direct and indirect apprenticeship representation structures is England with similar involvement and feedback goals to Germany, but through different mechanisms. In England, the UK government set up a panel of apprentices within the Institute of Apprentices, which is consulted on an ongoing basis regarding the development of apprenticeship content and seeks to represent the needs of a varied range of apprenticeships across the UK, reflected in their diverse panel membership . This is a clear example of engaging apprentices in the policy process so they can have a contributary role in apprenticeship developments. Although the previous example is regarded as indirect representation, the National Society of Apprentices (NSoA) is an example of the UK’s direct representation of apprentices. The NSoA works with training providers and employers, striving to represent apprentices across all sectors and industries . Another government initiative is ESFA Digital. This initiative engages in real-time text conversations with apprentices in order to obtain feedback on whether they are receiving the skills required for job progression, overall support and time to complete training off the job . This illustrates a modern-approach to feedback as the mechanism used - text-messages - is easily accessible, expedient and can be implemented quickly. These were all identified as issues in feedback by apprentices, prior to this initiative’s development, regarding their previous reluctance to engage in feedback . However, set against this, the Trailblazer groups that set apprenticeship standards in England currently lack involvement of apprentices in this process .
A further example of innovative ways of involving and engaging apprentices specific to the automotive industry is the ‘Azubi Car’ programme offered by Skoda Academy which allows students in their final year to design and manufacture a concept car. Those who have undertaken the programme recognise the benefits of engaging in hands-on teaching as it increases the development of workplace skills such as team management and unit cohesion . This programme highlights a different way of involving apprentices. Rather than emphasising surveys and feedback, this programme emphasises real-life relevant workplace engagement that many of the pupils appreciate, demonstrating the potential that giving pupils a sense of real purpose increases their dedication and helps the Academy develop the competences desired .
The European Apprentice Network (EAN) is a Pan-European response to the need to increase the voices of young apprentices and VET students. One way in which the Network has tried to achieve this goal is through the #AskTheApprentices survey which is used to develop agenda priorities, strengthen apprenticeship representation and the overall quality of apprenticeships throughout Europe . This involvement is particularly valuable as the EAN informally consults the European Commission and therefore can disseminate the accumulated information with efforts to positively influence the policy process.
The examples above provide an insight into some of the ways in which apprentices can be involved in the planning, development and refinement of apprenticeships and the benefits of such involvement. But it is clear from the available evidence that there is a need to embed apprenticeship involvement much more widely in all aspects of apprenticeship development and implementation.