Apprenticeship Alliances for SMEs (RAISE) Erasmus+ project final event took place in Brussels on 21st June 2018. It has been an opportunity for the partners from Poland, UK, Ireland, France, Spain, The Netherlands and Belgium to present the results of their two years cooperation at European and international level; and encourage the audience, comprising of policy stakeholders, business associations, intermediary organisations, SMEs, young people and youth organisations to adapt, use and share some of the tangible outputs such as a toolkit for creating a regional apprenticeship alliance and an online course and guidelines for SMEs.
Leszek Gracz, project lead (Northern Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Szczecin, Poland) opened the conference with a brief overview of project objectives and main achievements and continued with a more detailed presentation of the six Regional Alliances, created by regional Chambers of Commerce, business associations, employment agencies, SMEs, regional government and interested individuals, within the project timeframe. The six RAISE alliances are to continue their work beyond the project life span. The partners’ experience has been gathered in a Toolkit, providing opportunity for replication in other countries and regions.
Ben Butters, EUROCHAMBRES Policy Director, outlined some challenges, opportunities and solutions for SME-friendly apprenticeship schemes. SMEs lack of knowledge and time, together with the variety of cultures and structures on national level and even “apprenticeship white spots” in some countries are just a few of the challenges. EUROCHAMBRES sees opportunities to engage SMEs in apprenticeship schemes by promoting the opportunities they give to SMES: bringing added intellectual, social, cultural value, enthusiasm, new ideas, perspective and techniques, as well as a potential to grow to name a few.
A survey among 50.000+ companies indicates the skills mismatch as a number one challenge, which may be solved by creating an effective apprenticeship eco-system (such as Regional apprenticeship alliances), create professional intermediary organisations, minimise the administrative, legal and financial burden for the SMEs and filling in the training gaps through support by other organisations. Mr Butters highlighted the need for apprenticeship promotion so that SMEs can have knowledge about it. In reply to questions from the public Mr. Butter has underlined that (i) his organisation works in the field of initial VET rather than continuous training and (ii) shared the opinion of EUROCHAMBERS members that currently VET mobility is not attractive to the companies due to issues with the comparability of the national apprenticeship schemes. A message has been sent to the present policy makers to address the issue with the mobility of self-employed and micro-companies. (Download Ben Butters Presentation)
Giulia Meschino, Executive and Development Manager at EVTA, in her speech about making VET attractive through quality apprenticeships echoed Ben Butters call for promoting the apprenticeship schemes and explaining the benefits and opportunities they bring both to the apprentices and businesses. As a good practice, Ms Meschino gave examples of other Erasmus+ funded projects with focus on transferring knowledge from Germany and Austria to Greece and creating a Quality Framework and a benchmark tool for companies, as well as creating an intermediary network, similar to Apprenticeship Alliances for SMEs (RAISE) (Download Giulia Meschino Presentation)
Henric Stjernquist, Senior Policy and Legal Officer at EURES, European Commission, introduced the reform of EURES and its services and the approach regarding information on apprenticeship opportunities. (Download Henric Stjernquist Presentation)
A panel discussion about good European and international practices for enhancing the apprentices’ employability invited Margaret Reilly, a former school dropout, an apprentice and current successful woman in business, working with apprentices and spreading her knowledge and inspiring story as a VET skills ambassador from Ireland, Dana Bachmann, Head of Unit E.3-VET at DG-EMPL of the European Commission, Liliane Volozinskis, Director for Social Affairs and Training Policy at UEAPME and Murray Wayne Biedler, Project Coordinator at Water Division of UNESCO Science Programme.
The panelists have been challenged by Josep Franci, representing Barcelona Chamber of Commerce and partner in RAISE project, to share their opinion about the importance of the apprenticeships and partnerships to promote them, as well as what would make easier the SMEs involvement in apprenticeship schemes. Here are their messages to the policy stakeholders and the audience at large:
- Margaret Reilly: “Parents, teachers and career guidance teachers shall explain VET opportunities from the first year in school… I enjoyed working…I was like a sponge to learn…Everybody has the ability to do something good. One person can change your life by saying you are good at this.”
- Dana Bachmann: “It is important to promote side by side the apprenticeships and quality, and increase the quality”. Apprenticeship systems can grow through a dialogue between the actors, when they speak to each other. We [at DG EMPL] take our passion from events like this one, where we work with the practitioners, see things happening and good outcomes from EU projects.” The future Erasmus+ programme(2021-2027) foresees longer VET mobility, including international exchange scheme (outside EU) and creating VET Centers for Excellence .
- Liliane Volozinskis: “Partnership is the base for everything. Legal framework and governance are also needed. The apprenticeships are a human led system with a design, structure and framework based on the needs of both sides- the employers and apprentices. Apprenticeships are cost efficient, but some SMEs are not aware of the ROI, as well as that the company is a learning space.”
- Murray Wayne Biedler: “In Africa even if the SMEs are in the mix the skills gaps in the water sector are climbing constantly and there is no information how big these gaps are. The Water centers of Excellence, created with the support of UNESCO Human Capital Development Programme, the EU and AU address some of the main gaps but the progress varies from country to country mostly because of the difference in the policy, infrastructure and finance. When SMEs are involved in an apprenticeship system they have the unique opportunity to take part in the consultation and decision-making process about the skills required in their sector, because the apprenticeships are demand driven.” (Presentation)
This was the final conference for this two years project, though it will be finish really soon partners would like to keep it alive and enlarging the benefits for more SMEs in Europe.
Apprenticeship Alliances presentations about the project:
- Padraic Murphy, Lisburn& Castlereagh City Council, RAISE Toolkit – Download
- Laura Magan, Online Course – Download
- Nynke de Jager, One Stop Shop – Download