What role can the private sector play to make work-based learning and apprenticeships scalable and sustainable?

Takeaways from the World Bank’s S4YE – GAN Apprenticeships Series 

Why it matters?  


The 2010’s have disrupted the way work, education, learning and society at large will be organised. The future is trending but it is more unpredictable than ever before. Machine learning is a reality and data is the fuel propelling self development of algorithms and new programmes. Climate change is a reality that affects us all, and impact of which is increasingly visible. Demographic imbalances are real too. By 2030 the world population is projected to grow to 8.5 billion of which 2 billion will be old and increasingly urban. These and the many other phenomenon that have set the socio-economic transition in motion; call for a shift in the way we educate them, skill them and prepare them for the future. 

Work-based learning and apprenticeships designed in partnership with the private sector are the top solution to bridging the talent gaps and to create a steady supply of future ready workforce. 

My takeaways from the World Bank’s S4YE – GAN apprenticeships webinar 

(1) Make ‘Future fit’ education policies: Work-based learning and Apprenticeships have to be integrated / adopted/ adapted both at the system and institutional level. All talk about future readiness of the workforce is incomplete without an innovative mindset in policy making. #WBL and #apprenticeships requires have to be a global response such that employers start to take this as a ‘way of doing business’.  

>> In response to President Obama’s #upskill summit in April 2015, Zurich North America launched its apprenticeship programme for the insurance sector. Traditionally, insurance sector does not attract young people. Zurich studied the various models of engaging young people for training  – traineeships, student assistantships, unpaid internships – and concluded that apprenticeships could actually incentivise the participation of young people. They developed a unique #WBL programme to attract youth from local communities, to not only service these communities but to attract local talent. The company benefited from the diversity of the workforce. Launching innovative products to service the local communities.  

business case


(2) Talent war is impacting productivity, apprenticeships create a win-win: Companies need innovation, innovation needs talent and talent needs right skills, right opportunities. #WBL and #apprenticeships fill this talent gap when young people are engaged within the right framework, for example a work contract that compensates for their work and time, and provided the right pathway to grow with the business. This becomes more important for smaller companies who rely on local talent innovation and growth. 


>> LeGrande Ecole de’l Alternance in France has created a GEA model which offers workplace solutions based on the needs of local companies. This model ensures that the certification is recognised and leads to a job, thus making work-based learning attractive for companies and young people. 

>> Transdev, France also has a similar model for various sectors of industry where they design apprenticeship programmes based on a thorough analysis of sectoral workforce needs and skills demands of companies.



(3) SMEs are the backbone of apprenticeships :  This is widely discussed and understood across #apprenticeships and #wbl community. However, the apprenticeships business case for SMEs needs careful re-evaluation. It has to be easy for small businesses to participate in these trainings, without the fear of dealing with red tape and huge paperwork. In many countries, the lack of an ecosystem that encourages SMEs to take on young apprenticeships is the number one reason for their lack of interest. The TransZed Alliance, for instance, has developed several tools that allow SMEs to move from a ‘HR requirement and costs’ to ‘adapting culture of learning’ mindset. They are working with companies to not only assess the business ROI of #wbl but also the long term impact in terms of product innovation and sustainability. 



(4) WBL yields positive ROI,  changes attitudes: Several studies / papers are available that corroborate that companies gain net benefit by employing young people as apprenticeships. Several research studies have been conducted in Germany, Switzerland, UK, Netherland, US to quantify these benefits. 

>> In the US, for example, one research indicates that for every 1 USD spent the companies have a return of 1.47$. The Rolls Royce Apprenticeship programme, invests in the learning and development of young  people, so that they can gain from the experience and acquire qualifications without debt and with an eye on the future.  

>> for the learner #wbl is an opportunity to enter the labour market without compromising on their education goals and aspirations. Intel, Costa Rica has designed a #HigherApprenticeship programme for STEM students who often struggle to get an entry into the labour market without any work experience. They adopted the #dualmodel and created a programme that offers 3 days of study and 2 days of work experience, especially in sectors that are projected to grow in the next 10 years. To ensure that students complete both programmes, they have set clear performance parameters for the students. This model created a win-win for all three companies, university and trainees and changed the attitude of STEM students towards #apprenticeships. 


What’s missing in the global dialogue on #apprenticeships and #WBL?

(1) More SMEs to be involved and on the forefront: they are the backbone of #wbl, but where are they in the global dialogue? More small businesses and companies have to be engaged and offered global platforms to share the benefits of engaging young talent. Social partners, such as unions, have to be given their due share. 

(2) Global dialogue on #WBL and #apprenticeships is incomplete without developing country perspectives and contexts. Informal apprenticeship models have to rediscussed and debated in light of changing labour market dynamics, for instance platform and gig economy and 

(3) Larger corporations have to look at the potential of #wbl and #apprenticeships beyond talent strategy. They have to hand-hold and in some cases ensure the readiness of the supply chain for training young people.

(4) It’s always #learnerfirst : Apprenticeships and WBL have to be equally incentivised for learners. The issue of image of TVET is an important hurdle in promoting the idea. The campaign has to reach every young person who is starting their journey of skills, education and work in the future. 

If you want to know more about the business case for companies to invest in vocational training, check out my webinar co-organised with BIBB

Further Readings :

  1. Trends shaping the future of work 
  2. Business Case of Investing in VET : https://www.bibb.de/govet/en/72902.php
  3. Can machines really learn
  4. Adecco Training : acteur majeur de la transformation de compétences
  5. Tools for Quality Apprenticeships: a Guide for Enterprises
  6. The President’s Upskill Initiative , Example of Companies’ Commitments 


This article is based on the views/comments shared during the Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE) – ‘Insights from the Private Sector’ ongoing web series that facilitates dialogue between youth employment practitioners and private sector companies around the world. Full details of the webinar are available on S4YE and GAN webpage. 

Views expressed by the author are their own and do not represent those of their institution/s.

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