Work-linked training proves an effective remedy
By Elise Mertens | Tuesday 28 February 2012
Austria and Germany are classic examples of ‘apprenticeship countries’, a system that has proved very successful for them. Together with the Netherlands, these two member states have the lowest youth unemployment rates in the European Union. With 7.8% unemployment among the under-25s in Germany, 8.2% in Austria and 8.6% in the Netherlands, these countries are well below the 22.1% European average
(1). According to the European Commission’s DG Employment and Social Affairs, this success results partially from the widespread practice of work-linked training, a system in which young people alternate theoretical training and practice (in companies). In Germany, eight out of ten young people trained under this system find jobs within a year.
In Austria and Germany, this dual system has long been a priority of youth employment policy: it concerns 40% of young Austrians and 65% of young Germans in secondary education. This practice consists of combining theoretical and vocational training and makes for an easier transition between school and work.
According to German Employment Minister Ursula von der Leyen, young people trained through apprenticeships find jobs more readily because they already have one foot in the labour market and are therefore effective workers more quickly once they finish school, unlike graduates who often have only classroom learning. Another significant advantage is that “employers already know these young people, which gives them a lead over the others”.
In Germany, from age 16, young people can choose to work three to four days a week in a company and the rest of the time take classroom training. In Austria, from age 14 they can acquire vocational skills under a training programme that runs from two to four years.
Vocational training in the Netherlands starts at the beginning of secondary education, ie at age 12, and lasts four years. Young people who choose this training scheme can then enter general education or continue to develop their qualifications through secondary vocational education. In the Netherlands, work-linked training is considered a particularly apt solution for combating early school leaving: 60% of young people aged 15 are in work-linked training.
“We know from research that in countries with well-established and highly regarded apprenticeship training, the latter can help to keep youth unemployment down. In contrast, in countries with a strong focus on general education and high levels of employment protection legislation, youth transitions to the labour market tend to be more difficult,” confirms DG Education and Culture. The Commission is convinced of the effectiveness of work-linked training, especially outside the home country. “Placements in enterprises abroad can make a crucial contribution to a successful transition from education to employment. Students develop not only specific vocational skills but also their self-confidence, teamwork and adaptability - all crucial for a successful first step into the workplace.”
NO SINGLE SOLUTION
In addition to their employment policies, these three member states show good youth employment rates because they have developed specific instruments to deal with new threats created by the crisis.
From 2001 to 2010, for example, Austria’s employment and youth training budget rose from €168 million to €580 million.
The three star pupils have also developed an integrated approach so as to act simultaneously on the three priorities in the fight against youth unemployment: training, employment and the transition between the two. One practice that seems to be producing results is lifelong learning, which gives workers more flexibility by enabling them to update their skills in terms of companies’ needs. Another is the youth guarantee programme being tested in Austria: after three months of inactivity, unemployed youth are obliged to enrol in an internship or training course.
According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), it has been demonstrated that those who begin their working life with a period of unemployment are twice as likely to become unemployed subsequently.
Career counselling classes have also been made mandatory in secondary education in Austria to make young people aware at an early age of labour market issues.
Germany has put in place incentives to convince companies to offer at least part-time employment when it is not possible to offer a full-time contract. The Netherlands focuses primarily on the most vulnerable categories, where the number of NEETs (not in education, employment or training) has been on the rise.
Member states with more severe problems can take inspiration from policies implemented in other countries to improve the youth employment rate, but DG Employment and Social Affairs stresses that there is no single solution that works for everyone. Every country has to adopt its own measures suited to its socio-economic situation.
It should also be kept in mind that Germany, Austria and the Netherlands can rely on their strong economies, which have helped make them generally more resilient to the crisis: their employment rate for all categories is above 75%, while the European average is 68.9%.
In Germany, eight out of ten young people completing work-linked training find jobs within a year (1) Eurostat data are available at epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_PUBLIC/3-31012012-AP/EN/3-31012012-AP-EN.PDF