National definitions of quality apprenticeships

There is no single, standardized definition of apprenticeship training used across countries, but varied approaches that have been developed over the years to correspond to national needs (box 2).

The Brazilian definition highlights the link between theory and practice and progression through a structured programme, as well as the importance of an apprenticeship contract. In Germany, the 2005 Vocational Training Act puts the emphasis on systematic training linked to a specific occupation. The Fijian definition highlights the contractual link between the apprentice and the employer, and the acquisition of the skills required to carry out a particular type of employment. In South Africa, the emphasis is on the combination of on-the-job and off-the-job training, assessment and the requirements to practise in a particular occupation. In the United States, the emphasis is also on the balance between on-the-job and off-the-job training, as well as on the ways in which apprenticeship programmes are organized.

Box 2 Some examples of national definitions of apprenticeships


An apprenticeship is a process for the methodical technical and vocational training of adolescents and young people, developed through theoretical and practical activities organized in tasks of progressive complexity. These activities are implemented through an apprenticeship contract and based on programs organized and developed under the guidance and responsibility of qualified entities (Brazilian Ministry of Labor and Employment, 2013).


An apprenticeship should, ‘through a systematic training programme, impart the professional skills, knowledge and qualifications (vocational competence) which are necessary to engage in a form of skilled occupational activity in a changing working world’ (Federal Ministry of Education and Research, 2005).


An apprentice is ‘a person, including a person under training, who is bound by a contract to serve an employer for such period as the (Fiji National Training) Council shall determine ….. with a view to acquiring knowledge, including theory and practice in an employment in which the employer is reciprocally bound to instruct that person’ (Fiji National Training Act, 1973).

South Africa

“Modern apprenticeships are a combination of on-the-job training and related classroom instruction, in which apprentices learn the practical and theoretical aspects of the designated trade. Apprentices need to do a trade test at the end of their training at the Institute for the Development of Learnerships and Learnership Assessment (INDLELA), after which they will be certified, if successful and be recognised as artisans within the relevant industries in terms of the applicable Bargaining Council agreement” (Department of Labour, Republic of South Africa).

United States

“Apprenticeship is a combination of on-the-job training and related instruction in which workers learn the practical and theoretical aspects of a highly skilled occupation. Apprenticeship programs can be sponsored by individual employers, joint employer and labor groups, and/or employer associations” (United States Department of Labor, 2017a).

Table 1 provides a comparison of some elements of the definition of apprenticeship in Latin American countries.  As may be observed from the table, most of the countries combine on-the-job training and off-the-job training, and nearly half of them have a job contract; however, few of them undertake an assessment and certification of competencies/ qualifications, which are widely recognized by employers in their recruitment processes (Fazio et al., 2016).

Table 1 Comparison of some elements of the definition of apprenticeship in Latin American countries

Country A job (contract/
agreement between
employer and
With structured training
(defined training plan)
On-the-job + off-the-job
Assessment and industry-recognized
certification of
acquired competencies/
Brazil Yes Yes Yes No
Chile Yes Yes No No
Colombia Yes No Yes No
Costa Rica No No Yes No
Mexico No Yes Yes Yes
Peru Sometimes Yes Yes Yes
Source: Fazio et al., 2016

The key to understanding a Quality Apprenticeship system is to examine the way in which the definition of apprenticeship is interpreted and then implemented in a given country, either via additional legal texts and regulations, collective bargaining agreements, or on the basis of experience and practice. It is this perspective that will be further developed in greater detail throughout this Guide.