Adapting apprenticeships to the needs of SMEs

Emerging trends and challenges

SMEs often lack sufficient resources to provide apprentices with the full range of on- and off-the-job training and they may face specific barriers in recruiting apprentices. Furthermore, they may not be able to afford the fixed costs involved in fulfilling the formal requirements of the apprenticeship system, which weigh more heavily on smaller enterprises.

In light of the specific challenges facing SMEs, countries have developed various strategies to support SMEs and enhance their participation in apprenticeships. For instance, two main approaches can be found in Germany. In the first, a number of employers may take on apprentices between them, sharing the responsibility of training provision, so that the apprentices obtain the full range of on- and off-the-job training required. The second approach is to allow employers the option to arrange certain parts of the training at other enterprises which have the relevant facilities and expertise (Poulsen and Eberhardt, 2016).

In some countries, enterprises can also seek support from intermediary organizations, which group smaller enterprises together in the delivery of apprenticeship training. A few examples of such intermediary organizations are illustrated below (Field et al., 2010):

  • In Australia, Group Training Organisations (GTOs) are not-for-profit enterprises but are supported by the Government. GTOs employ apprentices and allocate them to host employers, who are required to pay a fee to the GTOs. In addition to recruiting apprentices, GTOs also support enterprises in administration, management of on- and off-the-job training, and rotation of apprentices among participating employers to ensure that apprentices acquire the full range of experience.
  • In Norway, training offices (TO) (opplæringskontor) are owned by employers and are usually related to specific trades. They aim to facilitate apprenticeships by identifying potential training companies and supporting employers and the staff involved in apprenticeships. While many TOs organize the theoretical part of the apprentices’ off-the-job training, some may also sign apprenticeship agreements on behalf of smaller enterprises.

In Switzerland, host company networks (Lehrbetriebsverbünde) group together enterprises to share the responsibilities of apprenticeship training. This arrangement is especially aimed at maximizing the training potential of those companies that are too small and/or specialized to cover all the competencies specified in a defined VET curriculum as a singular entity, but may be able to offer the full spectrum by joining forces to train apprentices as a group. Usually, one enterprise or a separate organization takes the role of coordinator and organizes the coaching, training and rotation of apprentices between various companies during their apprenticeship.