Apprenticeship System

The apprenticeship system in Austria has a long tradition and is broadly 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 school-based VET programme or in dual track programme. 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. Leading ministry for the company-based part is the the Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs, for the school-based part it is the Ministry of Education, Science and Research. The social partners that 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 opt 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.

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: Since 2003 young people with learning difficulties have had the possibility 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.

Purpose

For the Austrian economy the apprenticeship system with its long tradition and good image has always has been the “usual way” to safeguard the supply of skilled labour. The involvement of the social partners in the governance structure of apprenticeship training secures its sustainability and further 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. In 2018 an education and training obligation for all young persons under 18 was introduced  (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 and other active labour market policy 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 2017 there were 106,613 apprentices (minus 0.3% as compared to 2016) in 28,962 Austrian companies (minus 1.4% as compared to 2016). This corresponds to a decline of 0.3% compared to the previous year with a continuous tendency.
  • Two thirds of all apprentices in 2017 were male (71,452), one third female (35,161).
  • Distribution by economic sectors: Most apprentices are trained in the crafts and trades sector (41.8%), followed by the industry (14.2%) and wholesale and retail sector (14.0%).
  • Clear gender-specific trends are seen in the choice of apprenticeship occupations: More than 44% of all female apprentices are trained as shop assistants, office assistants and hairdressers. The three most popular apprenticeship trades among young men are metal technology, followed by electrical engineering and motor vehicle engineering.

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