Vocational education and training has the potential to contribute to reducing Europe’s high level of youth unemployment, boosting growth by providing relevant skills for the labour market, promoting a culture of lifelong learning, countering social exclusion and promoting active citizenship.
The contribution of work-based learning as integral part of vocational education and training to supporting youth employment and economic competitiveness is widely recognised. Countries with strong and attractive VET systems, and notably those with well-established apprenticeship systems, tend to perform better in terms of youth employment. Many countries are currently either newly introducing or reforming their apprenticeship systems. The European Union supports Member States in their reform efforts to deliver concrete results on the ground.
The 'Riga Conclusions' adopted at the Meeting of Ministers in charge of Vocational Education and Training, the European Social Partners and the European Commission on 22 June 2015 include five medium-term deliverables (MTD) to be focused on for the period 2015-2020. The first of the MTD reads as follows "promote work-based learning in all its forms with special attention to apprenticeships by involving social partners, companies, chambers and VET providers as well as stimulating innovation and entrepreneurship".
The New Skills Agenda for Europe adopted on 10 June 2016 focuses on improving skills. As part of this approach, it highlights that partnerships between VET providers and businesses on apprenticeships bring benefits for individuals and enterprises alike. These include better skills matching due to more ownership of curricula, increased productivity, new knowledge and experience gained by apprentices and a potential pool of new employees. Currently just a quarter of students in upper secondary vocational education attend work-based programmes, while general and higher education programmes rarely include any work-based experience. VET-business partnerships can unlock this potential.