European Alliance for Apprenticeship – 4th Regional Seminar for Candidate Countries

“Engagement of Small and Medium Enterprises in Work-based Learning”

Skopje, 25 and 26 September 2019

The main purpose of this Seminar was to enable learning and networking among Candidate Countries and EAfA members: Governments, individual employers and employers’ associations, chambers and VET providers. The thematic focus of the seminar was laid on Engagement of Small and Medium Enterprises in Work Based Learning. Type 1 apprenticeship: “Apprenticeship for vocational qualifications and diplomas, upper secondary education diplomas and high technical specialization certificates”.

SMEs are the “backbone of Europe’s economy”, representing 99% of all businesses in the EU. Of these, 93% are micro-enterprises with fewer than 10 employees. SMEs create around 85% of new jobs and provide two-thirds of the total private sector employment in the EU between 2002 and 2010. They are well networked at local level and are key providers of apprenticeships and work-based learning placements. Encouraging the provision of apprenticeships in SMEs has many benefits: for example, in many cases, apprentices are hired by the company after the apprenticeship ends. This provides an important practice-based route into the labour market for young people or those who lack experience. For SMEs themselves, apprenticeships provide an effective means of overcoming the recruitment and retention challenges due to issues such as a scarcity of skilled labour and skills mismatches.  Nevertheless, despite these positive aspects, many SMEs do not have experience of welcoming and working with apprentices and can be wary of the financial and organisational commitments that this may entail.

SMEs have more limited financial resources than their larger counterparts. As the initial costs of taking on apprentices outweigh the benefits, SMEs need to be given a convincing rationale and support for investing in apprenticeships, based on ultimate return on investment. The European Commission notes that “many companies, in particular SMEs, are reluctant to take on apprentices because   they are not convinced that there is a net benefit for them. In addition, employers may find the return on their investment uncertain because apprentices may want to move to another company after their training”

SMEs also have more limited human resources, leading to challenges in relation to work scheduling and tutoring/mentoring. In most cases, the tutor/mentor is the entrepreneur themselves. There will also be a need to adapt the company’s work to the schedules of apprentices, given that apprentices need to be absent from work at certain times in order to attend theoretical training courses, and this can be difficult to absorb in the case of smaller companies. Further, SMEs often do not have a dedicated HR department, which means that it can be difficult to reconcile longe-term skills planning with more immediate and day-to-day operational business concerns. This can make it difficult to plan the input and contributions of apprentices to the organisation. Furthermore, this can be a serious challenge in terms of providing tutors/mentors in the company.  Additionally, a lack of expert capacity in SMEs in comparison to larger companies also means that it can be difficult to get to grips with and keep up with the rules and regulations surrounding VET and apprenticeships.

Finally, the expectations of the future apprentice and the company must be matched as best as possible. This preparatory phase, very often managed by dedicated intermediary bodies such as skilled crafts chambers or chambers of commerce and industry, is of utmost important in order to ensure a successful apprenticeship period in SMEs and even more so in the case of very small enterprises.

Despite the challenges set out above, SMEs can often be more flexible, adaptable and innovative than their larger counterparts and can be willing to engage in apprenticeship training if it is shaped according to their needs.

Accordingly, there are a range of ways in which SMEs can be helped and supported to achieve this such as:

Countering negative perceptions of VET

Reinforcing positive messages and promoting a training culture

Providing the right institutional support for SMEs

Establishing partnership

Encouraging and boosting mobility

Through the EAfA, SMEs have also access to many educational materials related to apprenticeships. The EAfA website, which has an online library of apprenticeship resources, Webinars and online training modules, can be a one-stop shop for companies that want to learn more about apprenticeships, how to implement them and improve the quality of their apprenticeship offer.

1th day of the seminar:

As usual, the seminar started with a welcome session and opening remarks by the Minister of Education and Science  from the Republic of North Macedonia Arber Ademi, the Head of Operations 2, European Union Delegation to Republic of North Macedonia Virve Vimpari and the President of the Economic Chamber of Republic of North Macedonia Branko Azeski.

“Perspectives from the Finish Presidency of the Council of the European Union” by Dari Turunen-Zwiger

Finish Presidency key principles:

Sustainable meeting arrangements

Transparency and active communications

Respect for principles of better regulation

Use and further development of digital tools in the Council Work


  • VET comprises initial and further training
  • VET has many target groups: young people, adults and people in working life who need upskilling or reskilling, unemployed
  • VET is available in institutions (contact, distance, multiform teaching) or as apprenticeship training
  • 146 VET providers
  • National level evaluations with no inspectorate

In Finland VET is not the second choice 42 % of basic school levers choose VET

What changed with the VET Reform?

A single act of Vet

Flexible application and admission system

Personal competence development plan

A single competence-based method of completing qualifications

Learning at workplace with training agreement or apprenticeship

Funding system encouraging effectiveness and outcome

Labour policy education as part of the VET system

A single licence to provide education and award qualifications

164 broad-based qualifications instead of 351

 Norbert Schöbel then updated EAfA news and informed of possible dates and locations of next year’s meetings:

February: EAfA stakeholder meeting: agenda set by EAfA members Brussels

May: Learners perspective Barcelona (tbc

September (tbc): EAfA ETF Regional Seminar for candidate countries incl. association with neighbouring countries Serbia

October (tbc): Role of the regions Committee of the Regions, Brussels, supported by German Presidency

November: Circular economy and sustainability Berlin, European Vocational Sills Week


Engagement of SME’s in WBL: expectations from the stakeholders

4 stakeholders briefly explained the VET education situation in their countries:

Matilda Naco, Executive Director, Albanian Tourism Association, Albania

Siniša Kojić, Director, Secondary vocational school Kragujevac, Serbia

Zoran Jovcevski, Advisor, Vocational and education Center “Goce Delcev”, North Macedonia

Ayfer Aydoğdu, Quality and Technical Training Specialist, Turktraktor, Turkey

Ksenija Djukanović, Senior Advisor, Chamber of Economy, Montenegro

Lack of qualified workers, lack of student interest, lack of communication between companies and schools, work-based learning, good projects, some companies are neither motivated nor able to promote VET training, Government business dialogue, innovation, flexibility, teacher’s training, public-private partnerships, resources needed, funding and holistic approach, were some of the subjects covered.

WBL in Republic of North Macedonia by Nazihtere Sulejmani and Lepa Trpchevska

429 mentors have been trained in companies where pupils attend practical classes, of which 400 are certified mentors

Instruments and criteria have been developed for: Recording and grading the preparedness of the students for WBL realization; Monitoring, grading and recording the WBL realization; Monitoring, grading and recording the WBL process;

Instruments and criteria have been developed for checking the practical competence of the candidates in the non-formal learning

Guidelines on Summer Internship (with support from the Education for Employment Project) have been developed

Schools meet companies (regional project supported by CulturContact)

Curricula with presence of practical training: 40% in three-year education and 50% in two-year vocational qualification;

Compulsory practical training with an employer: at least 1/3 of the total number of classes for the practical classes in the three years must be compulsory performed in real working processes in appropriate companies.

Programs autonomy: for 10% to 20% of the contents are left to the instructor to program himself/herself according to the needs of the surrounding.

Defined results from learning and grading criteria in curricula

In four-year of technical education, 27.820 students attend practical classes, of which 9.324 (33.53%) attend practical classes with an employer, under guidance of a mentor

Being “young” in North Macedonia

What do they want to learn at school? (Sample = 800 young people)

Something applicable/practical:  17%

Foreign languages:  16%

About life and work skills:   9%

Computer skills: 7%

Don’t know: 6%

Have no answer: 14%

Nothing:  15%

Other (vocational skills, sport, science, deepening knowledge and art)

Key findings in the area of education: (Cross-Sectoral Youth Assessment in Macedonia, USAID 2019)

The high levels of enrolment don’t match with the attendance and the attainments of students.

Underinvestment in education contributes to aging infrastructure, outdated materials, inadequate teacher training, supervision, and salaries.

Political appointment of school management, frequent turnover.

Perception that grades and university entrance can be bought.

Pedagogy and curricula mismatched with 21st century life and jobs

Social norms and education system elevate academics over vocational training.

Work-based learning is desired but is poorly managed.


Classroom-based life skills programming delivered by youth volunteers.

Regular mentoring and support program for academically struggling students.

Improving school based mental health services.

Possibility for students try out their ideas.

Greater and more active inclusion of students in teaching activities

Conclusion: We want to talk to adults and to peers and innovate. This means that we need each other in order to make changes

Site Visit – Group A: Auto transporting VET School – Boro Petrushevski

Business and education school with 81 teachers and 586 students in 42 classes. It’s a multicultural and ethnical institution with bilingual education in Macedonian and Albanian.

Have Peugeot as a social partner for 20 years, which has a workshop and a sales stand on the school premises. Within the School there is also an official Vehicle Inspection Centre and a Driving School, where students learn.

Learning English is free as well as a driving license for students who are old enough to have it.

Entrepreneurial spirit

Systematically regulated practical work

Good integration between companies and school through Memorandum

Contract, practical work and possibility for improvement of the skills of teachers

through training in the companies.

2nd day of the seminar:

Work-based learning in the economic reform agendas of the Candidate Countries


Support for people on the ground

Social dialogue

Tackle skills gap Reforms in different areas

Labour and social policies

Economic reform program in each country

Reform agenda

Improving the link between Education and Labour Market

Policy Guidance

Evaluation and impact assessment

Workshop: How to improve the engagement of SMEs in WBL?

ESB Networks in Ireland – Michael Fitzgerald technical training and development Manager




A very diverse discussion table with representatives from Northern Macedonia, Montenegro, Ireland, Serbia and Turkey.

ESB Networks has been an educational partner since 1923. It employs 8,000 people and trains groups of 100 learners in a 4-part, three-part program. After 4 years an interview is made with each of the apprentices by the company HR and about 90% are chosen to stay in the company or its subsidiaries. Each year they receive about 7,000 applications for the 100 open positions.

After a lengthy discussion in which the pros and cons of the engagement of SMEs in WBL were listed, it was concluded that the need to create close collaboration between large companies and SME’s was one of the main points of the topic under discussion. Their experience, organization and financial capacity will certainly be a huge help to small and medium entrepreneurs. Motivation of small business owners, demonstration of the benefits that such learning can bring and support from various areas by local and national authorities were also mentioned.

Apprenticeships in the Candidate Countries

Each candidate country made a presentation of their work with the apprenticeships in WBL: supporting legislation, business school partnerships, key actions, funding, international dimension, future planning.

The seminar ended with the admission of new EAfA members and the closing session.


Skopje, 24 and 25 September 2019.


Hermínio Corrêa

Parents International


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