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What the ETUC wants in a new European Quality Framework for Apprenticeships

The European Trade Union Confederation has called for a broader range of quality criteria for apprenticeships in a new report. However, the ‘golden age’ of interest in apprenticeships must change to a ‘golden age’ of implementation, writes Jeff Bridgford of Kings College London.

Jeff Bridgford (King’s College, London) reviews the ETUC/Unionlearn’s recently published recommendations for the European Quality Framework for Apprenticeships.

In the last few years there has been a sudden realisation at the national and European levels that apprenticeship training needs to be developed to assist young people in their transition from school to work, but the numbers of apprentices have continued to decline. At its Congress in 2015 the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) reaffirmed its demand for a New Path for Europe with an investment programme of 2% of GDP per year for the next 10 years, to generate around 11 million quality jobs. Work-based and workplace learning should be top priorities for European countries, in order to facilitate the transfer of young people between education and training and the labour market, and to ensure that workers have access to continuing training so as to retain their jobs and improve their skills and careers.

Whilst we are witnessing a ‘golden age’ of interest in apprenticeship training strategy, this needs to be turned into a ‘golden age’ of implementation of apprenticeship training strategy. The quality of apprenticeship and traineeship schemes is a key element and should be improved, particularly in terms of training outcomes, working conditions and labour protection.

To help this process, ETUC and Unionlearn, the education department of the UK Trades Union Congress, one of ETUC’s largest affiliated organisations, has recently proposed a series of quality standards and quality criteria which would form the basis of a European Quality Framework for Apprenticeships.

Based on an examination of the latest developments in apprenticeship strategies at the national and European levels, the European Quality Framework for Apprenticeships comprises twenty different themes as shown in the box:

Themes of the European Quality Framework for Apprenticeships


  1. Definition
  2. Regulatory framework
  3. Social partnership and governance
  4. Equal opportunities for all
  5. Equitable cost-sharing between employers and public authorities
  6. Responsiveness to labour market needs
  7. Formal contracts
  8. Personal development and career opportunities
  9. Pay and social protection
  10. Safe working environment
  11. Guidance and counselling
  12. Quality assurance procedures
  13. Solid learning base
  14. Balance between work-based and school-based training
  15. Teachers, trainers and mentors
  16. Competence-based/duration
  17. Certification and recognition
  18. Progression
  19. Recognition of non-formal learning
  20. Mobility at the national and European levels.


Each theme has a quality standard, set by the ETUC Executive Committee in 2013, along with a series of quality criteria that enable these standards to be measured in a readily understandable way. The quality criteria have been formulated as simple questions which invite the answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’. No philosophical or abstract discussion is required. The more apprenticeship stakeholders can reply ‘yes’ to these questions, the greater the likelihood of a quality apprenticeship system.

The quality standards and criteria are wide-ranging and include important questions that are often overlooked such as:

  • Do apprenticeship schemes offer opportunities for all and in addition include measures to encourage the participation of under-represented groups?
  • If young people are unable to gain access to apprenticeships, are other measures available to integrate young people into the labour market?
  • Are teachers and trainers, working with apprentices in training institutions, required by law to have a formal qualification?
  • Do apprenticeship schemes make provision for the training of in-company mentors?
  • Do apprenticeship schemes recognise knowledge, skills and competence acquired by non-formal and informal learning?

Each theme in the framework provides one or more examples of good practice and in addition an illustration of the general consensus that exists between the various ETUC quality standards and criteria and the European Alliance for Apprenticeships ‘guiding principles’ that have already been adopted by the Council of the European Union.

In this way the European Trade Union Confederation wishes to make a practical contribution to the preparation of a European Quality Framework for Apprenticeships.

The report is available in English, French, German, Italian, Polish and Spanish.

On the basis of this ETUC/Unionlearn report and a further one on cost effectiveness undertaken by BusinessEurope, UEAPME and CEEP, the European social partners produced a joint statement in which they call for a debate with the European institutions and the Member States on joint actions for supporting the provision, effectiveness and quality of apprenticeships and to improve apprenticeships across Europe. For further details, see here.

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