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Work based learning and apprenticeship

February 5th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

I have always been interested in the potential of work based learning. Although much of what I have written about is informal learning, formal work based learning programmes also seem to me to be important. Apprenticeship is probably the largest such organised form of work based learning. And, if speakers at last weeks INAP conference in Vienna are to be believed, apprenticeship programmes seem alive and kicking. Indeed, some countries like Italy, have witnessed a dramatic increase in apprentice numbers in the last five years.That is not to say that apprenticeship training is without problems – especially in those countries which have developed mass university education, like the UK, apprenticeship lacks prestige. Drop out rates are sometimes alarmingly high. Quality of apprenticeships may vary. School or workshop based training may lack authenticity.Apprenticeship programmes are probably strongest in the German speaking countries. In Germany and Switzerland some two thirds of all young people embark on apprenticeship training, in Austria around 40 per cent do so. In Germany and Switzerland occupations prepared for by apprenticeship cover all economicsectors i.e. in craft, industry and trade, liberal professions, and services. In Austria, apprenticeship prepares predominantly for artisan-type occupations and full-time higher level vocational colleges prepare for associate professional and technical occupations. Apprenticeship in the German-speaking dual-system countries is structured by the concept of Beruf and apprenticeship training can only be provided in a recognized occupation. The Beruf or professional occupation is defined by a coherent set of skills that combine together to form both an occupational and a social identity (Steedman, 2005).A major threat to the future of the apprenticeship programmes -and one that is not limited to the German speaking countries is a lack of training places. Moral responsibility to provide training opportunties is no longer sufficient motivation for employers who are concerned at the cost of training. Of course one answer coudl be large state subsidies but this seems hardly realistic.On my way back from Vienna I talked to Lars Heinemann from the University of Bremen who is working on a project called IBB 2010. Lars has just completed a major study into apprenticeship (I will provide link as soon as I have one). Essentially, the IBB project has developed a complex statistical tools for looking at the cost and quality of apprenticeship. Initial results suggest vast differences in the cost. Cost is far lower in the craft trades. The major variable appears to be whether training takes place in a training workshop or directly in the workplace. Where training takes place in the workplace, apprentices contribute more to the production process (or services) and thus the overall cost to the employer is lower. Now the project is looking at what practices could be transferred – both to improve quality and to reduce costs.I think this is important work. Only last week I lambasted UK prime minister Browns announcement that Mac Donalds amongst others are to become awarding bodies for qualifications gained in their workplaces. the reason I guess for this is to address precisely the same problem that faces the German speaking countries – a lack of willingness on the part of employers to provide training. But I think the German answer sounds potentially much more appealing in maintaining broader training programmes and refusing to let companies take over the curriculum.

One Response to “Work based learning and apprenticeship”

  1. Of course the UK is taking WBL learning seriously as it tries to achieve the recommendations from the Leich report. The main focus is on Foundation degrees and supporting the learners on 14-19 apprenticeships to progress to Foundation degrees and then on to study for degrees etc.

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