Modular and shorter apprenticeship programmes

Emerging trends and challenges

Recent years have seen intensive discussion, and some reforms, aiming to make apprenticeship programmes more modular by dividing curricula and assessments into smaller components (Pilz, 2012).

However, the modularization of apprenticeships is controversial. Some argue that the fragmentation of curricula and competencies undermines the more holistic conception of professions, which is such a crucial feature of apprenticeships. The fundamental principle of apprenticeships is to enable apprentices to acquire the competencies needed to work in a given profession through comprehensive on- and off-the-job training, rather than simply acquiring a set of specific skills.

Apprenticeship programmes in shorter and more specific modules have become increasingly common. Some employers and apprentices are in favour of this emerging trend, as the modularization of apprenticeships can offer the following advantages:

  • allow increased specialization, especially in the form of “additional” modularization, where, alongside a set of compulsory modules, apprentices can pursue some specialized elective modules
  • facilitate the update of qualifications, by enabling the modification of individual modules in response to new developments, without having to revise the whole qualification
  • enable certification of part-qualifications, which serves as a mechanism by which those who have dropped out or switched to a different programme, can transfer their credits to another apprenticeship programme (Pilz, 2012)
  • allow apprentices to be exempted from completing selected modules through RPL, as they may already possess the required knowledge and skills to fulfil certain components of the qualification.

In Austria, apprenticeship programmes in some fields, including materials technology, installation and buildings technology, vehicle technology and timber technology, have been modularized since 2006, to allow for the possibility of specialization, in addition to acquiring the main apprenticeship qualification. Following the successful completion of the compulsory two-year core curriculum, apprentices pursue a modular specialization of their choice in the final year. After three years, apprentices can choose whether to take the final examination in their foundation and main modules or continue with their specialized modules for a further half- or full year. The specialized modules are assessed at the end of the programme and listed on the apprentice’s transcript (Pilz, 2012).