What is an apprenticeship? Comparing the occupational coverage of apprenticeships in England, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark.

10 November 2022 Daniel Sandford Smith

The Richard Review of Apprenticeships took place ten years ago and one of the most far reaching of its recommendations was to refocus apprenticeships on teaching the knowledge, skills and behaviours associated with an occupation tested through a final assessment, rather than thorough the completion of a number of sector focussed qualifications.

The linking of apprenticeships to single occupations rather than sectors makes it possible to compare the labour market coverage of apprenticeships in England with other countries that also use occupational competence as the aim of apprenticeships. A new report by Andrew Norman examines which occupations in the labour market are covered by apprenticeships in England, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and Denmark.

For each country, the analysis maps apprenticeships to four-digit Standard Occupation Classification (SOC) codes and compares coverage with the equivalent English apprenticeship standards mapped by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IFATE).

The chart above shows that England is something of an outlier:

  • Apprenticeships in England cover far more of the labour market than in other countries, meaning that there are also considerably more apprenticeship standards in England than in the other countries
  • England has significant numbers of apprentices in managerial and professional occupations than the other countries where there is much greater focus on technical and skilled trade roles.

Coverage of these more skilled roles means that English apprenticeships are available at a greater range of levels, RQF 2-7 compared to other countries where most apprenticeships are at level 3. International reviewers were keen to point out that there is vocational education and training beyond level 3, but it just not called apprenticeship. This may be part of the reason why England has such a high proportion of older apprentices ~ 50% over 25, compared to 13% in Germany.

In a sense none of this should come as a surprise, England has designed apprenticeships to enable upskilling and reskilling as well as the more traditional entry route into the labour market. Perhaps 10 years on from the Richard Review there would be value in exploring whether apprenticeships are the best mechanism for fulfilling these different training needs.

Read the full report here.