The capacity of enterprises to undertake an apprentice contract - renewal of the apprentice system?

Hanne  Shapiro

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The capacity of enterprises to undertake an apprentice contract - renewal of the apprentice system?

It is the declared goal of the Danish government that 95% of all young people must complete an upper secondary education. Upper secondary VET qualifications play an important role in achieving this goal. In this connection it is also a central challenge to achieve a sufficient number of apprentice places, as the number tends to be linked to financial fluctuations and, in more recent years, to the broader restructuring of the labour market driven by globalisation and increased automation in many job functions.

  • First, the project builds on a hypothesis that that there is a large unexploited number of apprentice places in Danish enterprises based on a micro data analysis, The analysis shows that there are enterprisers that are approved to take apprentices, but they have never done so.
  • Second, there are enterprises that could be approved, but have never applied for approval.
  • Third, there are enterprises that should to take on apprentices but have stopped taken them in or decreased the number of contracts signed.

The project included an in-depth analysis of micro-data gathered by the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions. Based on this analysis a number of enterprises were interviewed in depth, and a survey was carried out among a large sample of enterprises. An analysis was also carried out in countries with apprentice systems or where VET qualifications entail a substantial on-the-job placement scheme.

Since the beginning of the current financial crisis, the Danish Ministry of Education has offered all enterprises a financial incentive of DKK 50,000 to sign and complete an apprentice contract. However, the analysis clearly shows that this policy instrument is insufficient insofar as some enterprises would sign contracts anyway. A substantial number of enterprises indicate that they prefer students to have the opportunity to learn specific skills that will ease their introduction into the company before they start in a company placement. Many enterprises have a substantial lack of knowledge about the VET reforms of recent years, which open up for much more flexible contractual arrangements that accommodate different production cycles and time horizons.

The international comparative analysis shows that apprentice- and work-based VET-systems are fundamentally challenged by the impact of global restructuring leading both to an increasing demand for skills above the upper secondary VET-qualification level as well as de-skilling in some sectors - particularly in some service sectors. The renewal of VET-programmes to meet the skill demands in new knowledge-based and technology-intensive globalised sectors is slow to materialise, maybe because there is not an in-depth understanding of the patterns of skills demand in more globalised enterprises and value chains.

The conclusions of the report have been fed into the tri-partite dialogue on renewal of the Danish VET system.