In recent years, the apprenticeship system in the UK has undergone significant change. The Apprenticeship Levy has been introduced and more kinds of apprenticeships have been created—including degree apprenticeships. But in spite of these, UK apprenticeships differ greatly from apprenticeships across Europe. Broadly speaking, how do they compare?

Many of the changes introduced in the past few years to the apprenticeship system in the UK have been welcomed by employers and apprentices alike, and they’re playing a big role in shifting how people think of further education generally. However, much of the bias against apprenticeships still remains, and noticeably fewer school leavers consider apprenticeships as an option in the UK than in countries like Germany or Austria. Of course, this begs the question of what these countries might be doing differently and what the implications of having a stronger apprenticeship model might be.

Apprenticeships in EU countries: the key differences

Germany’s status as Europe’s engineering powerhouse has often been linked to its strong apprenticeship programmes. The nation’s apprenticeship model, known as the “dual system”, combines time in the classroom (with these costs covered by the state) with training alongside a business (paid for by the employer). What apprentices learn in class is reinforced by the practical knowledge they acquire at work, and employers work closely with schools, the chamber of commerce, and the local government to create successful training schemes.

As opposed to in the UK, where apprenticeships are often perceived as salaried jobs that also provide training, apprenticeships in Germany are seen as an integral part of young people’s education. Employers are responsible for the education of apprentices in the duration of their programme, and since 2004, the government and industrial unions have agreed that all businesses except small ones must take on apprentices. As a result, a very high percentage of school leavers (close to 60%) completes an apprenticeship, and dual training is highly respected by students, parents, and employers alike.

Apprenticeships in many European countries are not perceived as a “second-rate” option or as one for those who cannot succeed at school; apprenticeships are a crucial step into the workplace for school leavers and completely central to how employers recruit. This holds true not just in Germany, but also in countries like Austria and Swizerland, which have apprenticeship models similar to Germany’s dual education in place. 

In Austria, 40% of teenagers enter an apprenticeship at age 15 or 16, once compulsory education has been completed. Retention rates for these apprenticeship programmes are extremely high, and 94% of apprentices become employed after the successful completion of one of these programmes. Switzerland’s school leavers often pick apprenticeships as well, and with more than 300 vocational courses nationwide, they have many options to choose from. Both of these countries, like Germany, have low youth unemployment rates. 

The UK’s apprenticeship model: how does it weigh up and what should be done?

While the apprenticeships on offer in the UK are an excellent opportunity for school leavers to learn and make a head start into their career, and many new attractive options like degree apprenticeships have been recently introduced, the reality is that apprenticeships do not have nearly as much traction in this country as they do in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. 

To begin with, not enough people are knowledgeable about what apprenticeships are. According to our research, 55% of parents could not correctly name the different levels of apprenticeship on offer in the UK in 2017. Additionally, 26% of the parents polled by YouGov in 2016 believed that their child was “too smart” for an apprenticeship.

It is unsurprising, then, that most students in the UK would list university as their first or only option. In 2016, almost 70% of school leavers were considering university as a post-school option, as compared to just 14.3% that were considering starting an apprenticeship. And, like parents, 56.5% were unsure of the difference between the apprenticeship levels.

These statistics make for an interesting comparison with Austria, for one. In Austria, not only is the proportion of school leavers choosing an apprenticeship very high, but school leavers begin to receive careers advice early on. Indeed, for students aged 14, a visit to a special careers advice centre has been made compulsory by the government, and Austrian students are introduced to all of the options available quite soon. And apprenticeships, like in Germany, are seen as an admirable option.

Germany, Austria, and Switzerland are often seen as models to emulate in the world of apprenticeships, but the greatest issues in the UK’s apprenticeship model arguably lie not so much in the apprenticeships themselves as they do in people’s general perceptions of them. It is not necessarily that the UK’s apprenticeships are not as valuable as Germany’s, but rather that students, parents, and teachers do not always perceive them to be. And the most effective way to ensure apprenticeship programmes get the attention they deserve is to challenge people’s misconceptions of them, starting with school leavers and their influencers. 

At AllAboutGroup, we are experts at engaging with school leavers and the people around them that help them make vital career decisions. We have various methods to engage with influencers, from bespoke events for your apprenticeship programmes to creating targeted email campaigns for our large network of parents and careers advisers. Parents’ Days in particular are a great place to engage with parents face-to-face and explain both the benefits of apprenticeships largely and of your programmes specifically. 

Ensuring apprenticeships are understood and well-known is a crucial step to boosting their popularity and success on the whole. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you achieve just that, or about our services more broadly, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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