/en/file/work-based-learning-schemes-risksWork-based learning schemes risks
In recent years there has been a lot of emphasis on work-based learning in all its forms. This concerns apprenticeships, internships and volunteering. These forms of skills development are seen as important steppingstones for young and older people to (re-)engage with the labour market and with society. In this blog post I discuss findings of a European Parliament study I was involved with, and I reflect on one specific aspect – that there are societal risks associated with some of the work-based learning schemes.
Young people stepping into employment
Compared to adult workers who have already established themselves in the labour market, young people are more sensitive to the business cycle and periodic economic crises for several reasons, such as:
- lack of work experience
- incomplete education
- more precarious work contracts
- few contacts for job searches (i.e. less social capital)
- being less likely to possess the skills employers are looking for.
When young people are not able to make a relatively quick transition into the labour market after completing their studies, it can inhibit the accumulation of the human, social and economic capital that will help to develop their careers; and the longer the period of disengagement from the labour market (or education), the higher the risk of social and economic exclusion.
Young people with multiple disadvantages, such as having a disability, being a migrant and/or having a low level of educational attainment, are faced with particular difficulties in entering the labour market. They may be particularly at risk of social and economic exclusion.
Work-based learning as a solution?
Work-based learning, and in particular apprenticeships, internships/traineeships, and volunteering, can play a role in easing the transition from school to work. Research shows that both in terms of competences and skills acquired and employment outcomes, work-based learning in the form of apprenticeships, internships/traineeships and volunteering provides a steppingstone to ease the transition from the world of education to the world of work.
Research shows that quality of work-based learning is best assured when a third party is involved, besides the learner and the company (learning venue). This can be a VET provider (usually in apprenticeships) or the public employment service (some forms of internships). There are however many internships and volunteering schemes that are based on a contractual arrangement between the intern/volunteer and the company/organisation and in these cases, less is arranged concerning the quality of the ‘working environment’ and on the quality of learning.
Shifting costs for skills development from government, to employers, to the individual
Evidence shows that these schemes require a beneficial starting point for the interns and volunteers; they need to be able to cover their living expenses while conducting unpaid labour. As internships are usually unpaid or poorly paid, the externalisation of costs for skills development in a particular occupation shifts from the education providers, to the employers, and finally to the individual. In order to obtain the skills the labour market demands that the individual is pushed into making the investment in these skills in the absence of other ways of acquiring them. Investments concern working in the organisation and contributing to the productivity and covering living costs by other means than wages of remunerations. In relation to volunteering a similar shift can be seen in internships where the costs for skills development are borne by the individuals as no payments or remunerations are foreseen.
Work-based learning accessible for all?
The shift in who is responsible for covering the costs of skills development comes with a price: skills development is becoming less accessible for people from economically less advantaged backgrounds. Although skills development in the form of internships and traineeships are an important steppingstone into employment; people with less financial means face more difficulties entering the labour market. People who can afford to self-fund their living costs for a period of time have a better chance to take up volunteering and internships and thereby improve their attractiveness to employers.
While the education systems in Europe strive toward equal access, this provides a case where the transition from the world of education to the world of work is providing better opportunities for those who have the means to get involved in internships and volunteering schemes.
To conclude, both for internships and volunteering it is true that as long as these schemes are not equally available to all young people (due to income inequalities), policy makers should be careful in positioning them as a systematic solution to combat young unemployment and ease transitions into the labour market.
These societal risks need to be considered when thinking about internships and volunteering initiatives, such as the recently launched European Solidarity Corps.
Simon Broek has been involved in several European research projects on education, labour market issues and insurance business. He advised the European Commission, the European Parliament and European Agencies on issues related to education policies, lifelong learning, and labour market issues, and is Managing Partner at Ockham Institute of Policy Support.