The apprenticeship system in Austria has a long tradition and is more than accepted: the image of VET and the dual system is quite good. 4 out of 5 young people at the age of 16 are either in a VET full-time school or in apprenticeship training. Nevertheless, the competitive situation with school-based VET options, the demographic development with a decrease of young people, and a shortage of skilled labour necessitate policy measures to enhance the attractiveness, image and quality of dual VET.
Competences (federal, regional)
The governance structure of the apprenticeship system involves a large number of actors. The tasks and competences in both the company-based part as well as the school-based part, are divided among several bodies on federal, regional and local levels (link to key feature 1 “Governance”). Leading ministry for the company-based part is the Ministry of Economy, for the school-based part it is the Ministry of Education. The social partners, who fulfil key tasks both regarding contents and administration of apprenticeship training, play a particularly important role.
History of the apprenticeship system
The beginnings of company-based VET date back to the Middle Ages. During that period, trade associations carried out so-called master craftsperson apprenticeships. Towards the end of the 19th century the public sector became involved in VET: The traditional craftsperson apprenticeship was complemented by school-based programmes.
In the period following World War I, major framework conditions were created for apprenticeship training which improved the protection of apprentices.
After World War II the range of provisions of the Trade, Commerce and Industry Regulation Act (Gewerbeordnung, GewO) was bundled in the first draft of the Vocational Training Act (Berufsausbildungsgesetz, BAG), which entered into force in 1969. The 1978 amendment of this Act is basically still valid today. Apprenticeship offices were set up in each province. The IVET trainer exam was introduced, which constitutes a prerequisite for becoming an IVET trainer. And the first steps were taken to list the job profiles, i.e. the in-company training curricula.
The image of VET and apprenticeship in society
At the upper secondary level, the Austrian education system is characterised by a well-developed and differentiated VET system. It consists of full-time VET schools (schools for intermediate vocational education [BMS] and colleges for higher vocational education [BHS]) and dual training (apprenticeships). Almost 80% of an age cohort in the tenth school year opts for a VET programme, with about half attending a school and half an apprenticeship.
Apprenticeship training is established in all economic sectors, particularly in the crafts and trades sector, but also in wholesale and retail, and in the tourism industry.
So, VET is attractive and has a good image in Austria. But there is competition between the different educational tracks in general and between the dual system and fulltime VET schools specifically. Demography with a decrease of young people has even increased this competition in the last years. Besides that, initial VET faces new challenges: The young people who take up an apprenticeship have diverse requirements. Many of them do not have sufficient basic skills after completing compulsory schooling, so they cannot find an apprenticeship place in a company. This fact has resulted in a differentiation of apprenticeship programmes in recent years: Inclusive VET programmes were introduced in 2003 to enable young people with learning difficulties to prolong their apprenticeship period or to acquire partial qualifications. To raise attractiveness and to increase permeability the “Berufsmatura” was introduced in 2008: it offers the possibility to obtain both a VET qualification and the higher education entrance qualification in one combined scheme.
For the Austrian economy the apprenticeship system with its long tradition and a good image always has been the “usual way” to train young people to have enough skilled workers. The Economic Chambers “had their hand on the system” and the Social Partners ensured a relatively smooth development.
The demographic development, a possible shortage of skilled workforce and increasing (youth) unemployment rates, and finally the high number of refugees in 2015 brought VET and the apprenticeship system higher on the political agenda. In 2013 the government decided on an “Education and training guarantee” till the age of 18. And from 2018 on there will be the obligation for all young persons under 18 to either stay in school or do apprenticeship training (Ausbildungspflicht). The VET system with its variety of offers has been identified as a realistic answer to many (new) challenges. Therefore, public money is used for additional supra-company training places or labour service measures.
Apprentices, companies and VET schools involved in apprenticeship training
The Apprenticeship Statistics, which includes key statistical data, are published every year by the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber. For 2015 the following key data can be given:
- At the end of 2015 there were 109,963 apprentices in 29.164 Austrian companies. This corresponds to a decline of 4.4% compared to the previous year with a continuous tendency.
- Two thirds of all apprentices in 2015 were male (72,819), one third female (37,144).
- The 29,164 training companies 2,714 fewer than the year before.
- Distribution by economic sectors: Most apprentices are trained in the crafts and trades sector (42.7%), followed by the wholesale and retail sector (14.4%) and industry (14.1%).
- Clear gender-specific trends are seen in the choice of apprenticeship occupations: Almost half of all female apprentices are trained as shop assistants, as office assistants and hairdressers. The three most popular apprenticeship trades among young men are metal technology, followed by electrical engineering and motor vehicle engineering.
- Although there are approximately 200 apprenticeship trades (cf. the List of Apprenticeships), young people choose few of them: More than two thirds of all female apprentices are trained in the ten most popular apprenticeship trades. Among young men, there is not quite the same concentration on the main apprenticeship trades: More than half of all male apprentices are trained in the ten most popular occupations. (https://www.wko.at/Content.Node/Interessenvertretung/ZahlenDa https://www.wko.at/Content.Node/Interessenvertretung/ZahlenDatenFakten/Daten_zum_Thema_Lehrlinge.htmltenFakten/Daten_zum_Thema_Lehrlinge.html).
For more information:
- Cedefop (2013/2014): Spotlight on VET AUSTRIA. Available at: http://www.cedefop.europa.eu/files/8048_en.pdf
- Economic Chambers (WKO) – on apprenticeship statistics: https://www.wko.at/Content.Node/Interessenvertretung/ZahlenDatenFakten/Daten_zum_Thema_Lehrlinge.html
- ibw (2014): Apprenticeship-type schemes and structured work-based learning programmes. Available at: http://refernet.at/en/component/docman/doc_download/474-atapprenticeshiparticle2014enfinal
- Refernet Austria: http://refernet.at/en/vet-in-austria/statistics
- Tritscher-Archan, S. (2014): VET in Europe – Country Report Austria. Report within the framework of ReferNet Austria. Vienna. Available at: http://refernet.at/en/component/docman/doc_download/486-atvetineurope2014en