Apprenticeship schemes should be shaped with the active involvement of the people directly concerned – apprentices themselves and their organisations. This is the main reservation voiced by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) regarding the proposed framework for high-quality and effective apprenticeships in Europe, which the EESC otherwise believes will help raise standards for such schemes across the EU.
Youth and parents' organisations, student unions and apprentices themselves are not traditionally seen as natural stakeholders in developing apprenticeships, but since they are the main beneficiaries of such schemes, and they should have a hand in designing, governing and implementing them, says the EESC in its opinion on the proposed Council Recommendation on a European Framework for Quality and Effective Apprenticeships. The opinion was adopted by the Committee on 19 April.
Involving the social partners in this process, as the proposed framework does, is essential, but it is important to enlist the support of these other key constituencies, who can help increase ownership, argues the EESC, which drew on the expertise of the European Youth Forum in defining its position.
The views of apprentices should be taken into account in decisions that may directly affect them and their rights before, during and after their placements. They should have a say in the learning objectives of their placement, and have the opportunity to give feedback on the quality and effectiveness of their apprenticeship, says Imse Spragg Nilsson, rapporteur of the EESC's opinion.
While the proposal focuses on the learning value of apprenticeships, co-rapporteur Vladimíra Drbalová gives the employers' take on the issue:
Apprenticeships should be demand-led, in a beneficial system for both employers and workers, she says.
However, apprenticeships cannot solve unemployment, underlines the EESC. Although high-quality and effective apprenticeships can be very helpful in improving skills and people's chances of finding a job, unemployment is a complex issue that needs to be tackled from different angles.
On the whole, the EESC welcomes the proposed instrument, both in form – a recommendation leaves considerable leeway to Member States to apply it as they think fit – and substance, since it provides a general common understanding of what constitutes a quality apprenticeship and defines its basic components, such as a written contract, rules for remuneration, time spent in the workplace, social protection, health and safety conditions, etc.
Support for SMEs and micro-companies in providing quality apprenticeships is a very welcome provision, and transnational mobility for apprentices is also a plus in the EESC's view.
The EESC offers to monitor the implementation of the new framework in the Member States from the perspective of organised civil society.