Promoting quality apprenticeships in the informal economy


In the informal economy, apprenticeships (usually referred to as informal apprenticeships) are the main means of learning skills and acquiring competencies for employment. Informal apprenticeship can be broadly defined as an informal system of skills transfer from a master craftsperson to a young apprentice who acquires skills by way of observation, imitation and repetition while working with the master craftsperson. The transfer of knowledge and skills is based on an agreement (written or verbal) between master craftsperson and apprentice in line with local community norms and practices, and the training is not regulated by the law of a country.


Informal apprenticeships have a number of shortcomings (Aggarwal, 2013):

  • training is neither systematic nor structured and the quality of the training provided by the various skilled craftspersons varies significantly (Haan, 2006)
  • there are generally no training standards or effective quality assurance mechanisms
  • the lack of decent working conditions and occupational safety and health provision
  • the underpinning knowledge is often not adequately provided
  • the agreement between the skilled craftsperson and the apprentice is typically verbal and therefore difficult to enforce, which may lead to exploitation of the apprentice
  • the duration of training could be excessive
  • some master craftspersons charge fees for training apprentices
  • the skills acquired are neither certified nor recognized nationally, making it difficult, though not impossible, for the apprentice to be mobile in the labour market (Hofmann and Okolo, 2013).


To address this issue, it is recommended that the following specific measures are implemented to promote quality apprenticeships in the informal economy (Aggarwal, 2013; Walther, 2008; ILO, 2011; ILO, 2012):

  • customizing the nature of interventions by building on local practice and promoting group-regulating mechanisms through small business associations rather than through public authorities
  • strengthening the micro and small economic units by providing training to master craftspersons in pedagogy and technical and business skills, ensuring access to business development services and microfinance and improving occupational safety and health at work
  • improving the skills of apprentices by supplementing on-the-job training with off-the-job learning covering related theory, technical and business skills and core work skills and possibly by rotating the apprentices in various small businesses
  • promoting the use of written apprenticeship agreements
  • providing vocational and career counselling
  • providing post-training support for wage and salaried employment and self-employment
  • providing incentives for micro and small economic units to offer quality apprenticeships
  • strengthening the capacity of small business associations to function as regulators of apprenticeships, register agreements, assess skills and award certificates
  • facilitating the acquisition of national qualifications through RPL.

There have been a number of positive examples of such strategies, such as a training programme that was introduced in Kenya to upgrade the skills of craftspersons, which resulted in increased sales and profits for the businesses concerned, as well as an increase in the number of apprentices they engaged (ILO, 2012, p. 48). Benin, Burkina Faso and Zimbabwe, among several other countries, also implemented strategies to promote quality apprenticeships in the informal economy. Recognition of skills acquired through informal training provides another way of connecting formal and informal systems, and Tanzania and Bangladesh are examples of countries that are seeking to establish or improve their certification processes, as they move to increase apprentice numbers in both the formal and the informal economies.

Tool for upgrading informal apprenticeships

The ILO has developed a resource guide to upgrading informal apprenticeships in Africa (ILO, 2012).

Resource guide for upgrading informal apprenticeships in Africa, ILO

This resource guide serves two main purposes. First, it provides a set of proven tools for assessing informal apprenticeships. It offers practical “how to” information on the use of assessment tools to examine apprenticeship from the perspectives of industry clusters, communities, training institutions and apprentices. Second, the guide presents a framework of policy options that can be used to strengthen informal apprenticeship systems and address their weaknesses.