International mobility of apprentices in Europe

Mikael Hautchamp, Cécile Courreges, members of IGAS

In the mission letter dated April 27, 2022, the General Inspectorate for Social Affairs (IGAS) was instructed by the Minister of Labor, Employment and Integration to evaluate the development of European mobility for apprentices in Europe. This is a subject that has been covered by recent reports (Gauzere and Borel IGAS Report, 2017, Jean Arthuis report, January 2018), for which there exists broad consensus with respect to its goals and benefits. The main task here is to report on barriers to the development of European mobility and make proposals to significantly increase the number of apprentices who benefit from European mobility.
The backdrop to this mission is a situation in which the number of apprentices participating in mobility schemes remains modest despite the total number of apprentices having increased dramatically following the apprenticeship reform that was brought in by the law of September 5, 2018 to ensure people’s freedom to choose their future career (see 2.1). This law overhauled the financing system and the responsibilities of the various parties involved in professional training. It made accessing demand for apprenticeships easier and liberalized the training offered. It created incentives for employers, including a one-off support payment for hiring apprentices, supplemented by special support for hiring apprentices, a scheme which was widely expanded as part of the support offered to address the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis and subsequently as part of the recovery plan, particularly its “a solution for every young person” component.
Following 5 trips to different regions and 3 trips to European countries, interviews with nearly 300 people, including apprentices from a wide range of sectors, and a review of studies on the subject, the keys points noted were as follows :
 At this stage, European mobility for apprentices is marginal in considering the stated goals, compared to other types of learners (those undertaking professional training as part of their secondary schooling and students) and compared to that of some of our European partners. The periods spent abroad are very short and the various parties involved (apprentice training center, companies, the apprentices themselves and their families) have to navigate an environment full of pitfalls. The number of apprentices who participated in mobility schemes in 2018-2019 was 7,820, which, when compared to the 368,968 people who started an apprenticeship in 2019, gives us an apprentice mobility rate of 2.1%.
 Paradoxically, the legal and financial ecosystem created by the law of September 2, 2018 has added to the difficulties rather than resolving them and disrupted the momentum that allowed progress to be made in the area of mobility, progress that the COVID-19 pandemic had brought to a halt for two years.
 There is a strong demand from training centers, schools, companies and industry to see the system reformed in a way that ensures better support and greater simplicity to enable the targeted development of mobility schemes that are viewed favorably by the young people, trainers and apprenticeship supervisors who participate in them. A 2018 study conducted at European level of 8,000 young people aged 15 to 30 shows, in particular, that 90% of those surveyed feel that it is important to have the opportunity to spend a period abroad during their studies.
 Now that we are emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic and schemes involving travel are resuming, current circumstances are ideal for this. The actors that emerged from the 2018 reform are stepping up their activities, apprenticeships, which have undergone a radical image change, are now a key component of our educational system, and recruitment challenges in companies call for efforts to increase the appeal of training in certain sectors.
The obstacles encountered thus far by mobility schemes for apprentices are numerous, especially with regard to long-term mobility, which offers the greatest benefits yet is currently very limited, particularly for levels III and IV. The first reason for these obstacles is the wide range of different educational models within Europe, especially where professional education is concerned ; the second is the currently inadequate legal framework for mobility, especially long-term mobility : contracts being put on hold, coupled with the fact that apprentices are treated as students in matters of social protection, makes most forms of long-term mobility unfeasible, as the apprentice no longer has a salary and lacks sufficient protections. Another key obstacle to mobility stems from a system of assistance and financial support that is ineffectual, disparate and inadequate in terms of volume : it does not provide enough financing for mobility advisors, who are nevertheless key personnel in achieving mobility goals, and does not offer enough support to apprentices who have limited means to cover their expenses. Similarly, the difficulties in recognizing the skills acquired during periods spent abroad are a major obstacle to promoting mobility among apprentices, a possibility that even the potential beneficiaries of such schemes are not often aware of. Lastly, some companies, both large and small, and particularly in sectors under pressure, are reluctant to participate in mobility schemes, as allowing an apprentice to leave for a few weeks or months would constitute a loss of manpower.
To address these challenges, the mission has drawn up a list of around twenty proposals divided into five topic areas : legal, financial, organizational, academic and governance.
Some of these proposals provide a basic foundation for the creation of a framework that is conducive to apprentice mobility, such as revising their legal status (proposals 1, 2, 3), harmonizing financial support from skills operators (OPCO) (proposal 4), developing a better system of organization (proposals 9, 10, 11, 12, 14) or ensuring better governance of this ecosystem (proposals 19, 20 and 21).
Other proposals may be implemented depending on the chosen development scenario. The mission therefore proposes three alternative scenarios based on objectives for apprentice mobility development that are more or less ambitious in their scope.
The first scenario involves aiming to increase the number of apprentices involved in European mobility from the current 2% to 8% (i.e. 75,000 apprentices), which is the objective set by the European Union in its 2020 recommendation. This is an ambitious objective that can only be achieved in the medium term by mobilizing resources to finance mobility advisor positions in all apprentice training centers (CFA) and fully compensate apprentices participating in long-term mobility schemes for their loss in earnings (proposals 5, 6, 7, 8). Measures will also need to be taken to adapt apprenticeship training pathways by developing apprentices’ language skills, introducing compulsory periods abroad for certain qualifications (proposals 15, 16) and ensuring better recognition of the learning acquired during these periods abroad (proposals 17 and 18). It will involve the launch of a communication campaign aimed at the general public (proposal 13).
For the second, intermediate, scenario, the objective is to have 30,000 apprentices involved in mobility schemes in Europe each year, i.e. just under half of the European target but equal to the number of apprentices participating in mobility schemes in Germany just before COVID. This will not require as much funding for mobility advisors (proposal 7 downgraded), nor as large a budget to compensate for losses in earnings, but will nevertheless require major efforts to increase the number of apprentices participating in mobility schemes by a factor of around 4 (proposals 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 13, 15, 16).
Finally, the third scenario is the least ambitious, aiming to have 15,000 apprentices participating in mobility schemes, which is the objective set by the government in 2017 and carried over during the French Presidency of the European Union (FPEU) in the first half of 2022. This is a short-term objective which, beyond the basic requirements, will involve reduced funding for mobility advisors (proposal 7 downgraded) and a modest budget to compensate for losses in earnings. This scenario could be achieved without implementing proposals 5, 6, 7, 8, 13, 15, 16, 17 and 18.
All of these proposals should help to support the positive trend that has developed since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing importance of the actors that emerged from the law passed in 2018, which requires an ambitious, well-financed and simplified framework to ensure that all the expected benefits of European mobility for apprentices are delivered.
There is strong demand among companies in particular for a simplified legal framework and adequate financial support to allow them to promote mobility schemes that will help their employees and future employees to develop their skills in a current economic environment in which companies’ increasingly global outlook, especially medium-sized companies, makes it necessary for their employees to acquire international experience as early as possible during their training through participation in mobility schemes.


CFA Centre de formation d’apprentis (apprentice training center)
OPCO Opérateur de compétences (skills operator)
UIMM Union des industries et métiers de la métallurgie (Union for Metallurgical Industries and Professions)
EU European Union
FPEU French presidency of the European Union
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