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. …