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What England can learn about apprenticeships from competitor countries

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Apprenticeships in England have never been more highly valued by employers and young people, with numbers and completion rates at an all-time high.

But, according to the Apprenticeship Ambassadors’ Network (AAN), many competitor countries are doing as well or better and we need to see what their criteria for success are and what lessons can be learned.

A report by the AAN and The London School of Economics, The State of Apprenticeships in 2010, looked at apprenticeship systems in Australia, Austria, England, France, Germany, Ireland and Switzerland. Sweden was also included because it plans to introduce apprenticeships in order to improve its vocational training arrangements.

It found England has a lower degree of employer ownership of apprenticeships. It has a lower number of apprentices per 1,000 employees: in England and Ireland (11), France (17), Austria (33), Australia (37), Germany (40) and Switzerland (43).

The survey claims England has an untapped market in employer participation. Only 8% of employers offered apprenticeships in 2009, the lowest proportion in the study. Nearly a third did so in Australia and a quarter in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Very large firms with over 500 employees make an important contribution to the demand for apprenticeships. In Germany almost all such companies took on apprentices in 2005, compared with under a third here.

Schools play an important part in apprenticeships, but in England and France schools are often hostile to work-based learning and provide little or no assistance.

But England had the highest average apprenticeship wages and shortest duration of training. In the other countries longer periods of training help to offset the costs of such training. Other countries also have a higher proportion of apprentices training to level three.

Roy Gardner, chairman of the AAN and Compass Group, said: "We can be proud of what we have achieved with apprenticeships in this country, but the message from this study is clear – we can and must do better. Employers must be more involved and proactive in planning and delivering apprenticeships. There must be less bureaucracy and better careers advice in schools. We will continue to work with employers in convincing them of the benefits of apprenticeships and helping them to increase numbers. We will also consult Government and the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) on what changes in administration, operations and planning will make it easier for employers to take part."

Christine Gaskell, member of board, personnel, Bentley Motors, and a member of the AAN, said: ''As part of a large international business with German headquarters there is a real focus on skills. At Bentley, the standard of apprenticeships is as good as it is with our parent company, Volkswagen. Apprenticeships are part of Germany’s very successful dual-education system, and as such form an integral part of many people’s working life.  Finding full-time employment without having completed an apprenticeship is almost impossible.

"Obviously there are differences in the qualification frameworks between UK and Germany. However, there appears to be more of an emphasis on vocational apprenticeships in Germany, having equal standing with the further and higher education system. For apprenticeships to be successful in the UK, it calls for excellent careers advice, total dedication to high quality training and good post-apprenticeship progression opportunities. In addition we have learnt from companies in our supply chain that have also benefited from apprenticeships."