5 reasons you should consider an apprenticeship

Dennis Zulu Chief Program Officer

Michael Axmann, Senior Expert in Skills Development Systems at ILO

“You will get the right skills with an apprenticeship!”

Those were my mother’s words when, at the age of 18, I came home with a two-year contract in my pocket for an apprenticeship at a local bank. I’d decided not to go to college right away, because I wanted to get some work experience and start earning some money. Even though I eventually did get my university degree, I still look back on that decision as one of the best career moves I ever made.

Young people weighing their career options ought to consider making the same choice. ILO estimates put the number of unemployed young people at over 74.5 million worldwide. Many of them are college graduates who cannot find work even despite their years of study.


“Promoting quality apprenticeships is a top priority for the ILO, since they move youth into decent jobs and help enterprises to find the workforce they need for the future,” ILO Director- General Guy Ryder said at a high-level meeting on professional training in Winterthur, Switzerland. Learn more

If you’re a young person trying to pick a career path, here are five reasons why an apprenticeship might be right for you:

1. You will learn valuable job skills
There’s no substitute for learning on the job and that’s what you do with an apprenticeship. A good programme should provide workplace training together with other skills like language-learning, computer literacy, entrepreneurship and technical math. That will involve some classroom hours, but you’ll still spend most of your time at the workplace, “learning by doing.” All of the skills you’ll take away will help you get a job in your field, whether you’re a car mechanic, IT specialist, bank clerk, hairdresser, electrician, mason, etc.

2. You will earn a salary
As an apprentice, you will sign an employment contract for a specific time with an employer, which can be up to four years depending on the kind of programme. Your salary will usually go up from one year to the next as you learn new and more valuable skills. So, rather than paying tuition to learn future job skills, you will earn while you learn.

3. You will gain independence
You may think of an apprenticeship as getting your hands dirty at the expense of a traditional education, but consider this: in countries like Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the Netherlands, apprenticeship programmes are quite prestigious. It’s easy to see why: apprentices gain their independence earlier than their peers while learning skills that help them keep it.

4. You will jump-start your career
How many job applications have you completed and how frustrating was it when you were rejected? How many internships have you done and how many times were you not paid for your hard work? Apprentices, by contrast, start their careers when they’re as young as 17 years old. University graduates hunting for jobs in their twenties will envy the paid work experience and retirement benefits that you will have accumulated in the meantime.

“Rather than paying tuition to learn future job skills, you will earn while you learn.”

5. You will open doors
Whatever you decide to do in life, an apprenticeship will open the door to the world of work. You can stick with what you’ve learnt and pursue a future in carpentry, IT services or some other technical field. Or you can go to university and top up your work skills with an advanced degree in architecture, software engineering or city planning. Either way, you won’t regret those valuable job skills, which will serve you for the rest of your life.

Still not convinced? Hear from Benjamin Poredo, a former apprentice from Austria, who went on to become an engineer.

7 thoughts on “5 reasons you should consider an apprenticeship

  1. Thank nyou for this blog!

    From a policy perspective, apprenticeship is a solution to both issues of skills’ market relevance, and information failures related to recruitment; but apprenticeship systems are rare in the Arab region (for instance), often because of insufficient space and capacity for social dialogue at sector level. Even in OECD countries apprenticeships may not have the same impact everywhere. Paris centralized administration is often pointed at as the main culprit in France, for instance. I have the impression that it is more a question of labour market segmentation, of social preferences for certain jobs – apprenticeships often being related to lower skilled jobs that are not favoured. This may change with the recent expansion of apprenticeship programmes in higher end jobs. I find it interesting to keep an eye on countries where it does not work so well as we still need to have a better understanding of the enabling factors, and how to build on existing workplace based learning practices towards more formal apprenticeship systems. This is part of the work we hope to be doing in the coming months under ACI2 –

  2. Thank you very much for this. It was a very interesting read.

    I’m a student in Geneva, Switzerland and finished college last year. I dropped out of university in Psychology since I don’t want an academic curriculum doing research and such. I want a professional job, in which I’d feel great by being useful and being fit into society, friends with my colleagues and happy with what I’m doing. It’s been a year now and school’s starting again, but I don’t have any studies nowadays. I really reconsider doing an apprenticeship now. It’s pretty common to have college graduates going to the more professional / practical curriculum in apprenticeships so I might give it a go.

    My point of view on why I’m so lost at the moment is that, after high school, seeing that I have really nice grades, the most common thing that teachers and such do is send the child to college, without asking him what he truly wants to do and in most case, the kid doesn’t even know what comes up after college. You only have two choices after college: University (which is really academic) or ETH (which is focused on sciences but is extremely hard if your skills in maths and physics aren’t good enough). My parents, which are Filipino and don’t speak french very well, don’t know much about the school system in Switzerland and thus, I went to college without knowing exactly what I wanted to do. What I had in mind is that “after college, I’ll be just fine”. Which today isn’t the case. I’m struggling to find my true path, my true vocation in which I can find happiness. I do research everyday on what jobs, what trainings I should do. I tried IT Technician but eventually failed after a few weeks since I didn’t have the basic IT knowledge to make it through, and I wasn’t really seeing myself coding and learning all those languages in Computer Science. So here I am again, pretty lost. I seek guidance at the “Cité des métiers” and with the help of social advisors to get back on my feet but it really is hard. I feel like disappointing my parents and it’s hard to know that when all they did was raising me well, with a silver spoon in my mouth. I do want to have a great job, a great salary and give them back what they gave to me, but it’s hard to do so when you’re struggling to find your way.

    PS: Apprenticeships are also seen, for most people, as someone who doesn’t want to study and find it “idiotic”. Looking at my situation nowadays, the trully smart people were those who chose what they wanted to do, and they did well. I don’t understand why going in “College” is seen to be so good for parents and such while other schools and apprenticeships are “dumb ways”.

    For all the other people struggling like me after college, don’t be too hard on yourselves. You don’t “waste” time. Well, I felt like wasting time when I wasn’t doing anything and just looking for what I could do and eventually fail, but keep in mind that failure is the best way to learn something. Take your time, seek guidance, even if your parents or other people are pressuring you, just go where you want to go, do what you can do, and just find happiness. You’ll have to wake up every single morning to go to your job, which can be a pain if you hate it. So why not seek a job in which you can fullfil your life? It’s easier said than done but take your time, get help and eventually you’ll find what you’re looking for.

    • Dear cRoss,

      thanks for your response to my blog. Don’t let anybody tell you that apprenticeships are “idiotic”, they are not!

      Keep in mind that more than 60 % of the young people between 16 – 24 years in Switzerland go through an apprenticeship at one point in their work life and most of them benefit from it like I did in my career in Germany. You will at least have one job for a while that will let you start a career, while others are still looking to overcome that work-inexperience gap.

      Keep in mind that almost 90% of the young people in Switzerland who finish an apprenticeships do find skilled work after the apprenticeships and then they take these (usually well paid) jobs in banks, crafts, services and industry

      Tell those people that call apprenticeships “dumb ways” that one day you will get a head start when you make CHF 6,000 or more per month when they are still jumping from one (maybe even unpaid) internship to the next.

      Heads up, cRoss, apprenticeships are for winners!


      Michael Axmann

      • Thank you for this piece . I hope a lot of young graduates can take a cue from this . Apprenticeships and internships is the way . it gets you busy , your mind is engaged, you gain work experience , you learn all the soft skills employers look out for in a prefered employee and you are just closer to your dream job and desired paycheck .
        fantastic piece

  3. Dear Michael, thank for this piece. I have a burning question. Working in India, we see that apprentices are often used to replace regular workers, for long periods (certainly longer than the period to master a skill) obviously against reduced wages. The Government of India is now launching a large programme to promote apprenticeship, but it might fuel the abuse. I understand apprentices cannot be used for production targets, after all they’re learning! To make things even more suspicious, the government will subsidize wage components. This of course would mean even cheaper labour. Are there any other countries where apprentices are being wage subsidized? Thanks, Coen

    • Dear Coen,

      I am just on my way to Asia and I can understand your question very well, because we see that still relatively often that apprenticeships are not designed in the right way, not only in India, but in many countries in Asia and elsewhere.

      What is really important for us in the ILO in order to address what you are talking about is to work with government ministries , employers AND trade unions to make sure that our ILO quality apprenticeship programmes exclude what you are talking about: exploitation and cheap labour.

      There are certain countries that have encouraged apprenticeships through wage subsidies, such as Denmark in the past. However, wage subsidies tend to send some of the wrong messages, namely that employers do not need to worry to take apprentices. It is always better to have employers pay for decent apprenticeship wages and they will, if they really want to address skills gaps and mismatches in their companies, in their sectors and in the economy as a whole.

      Hope that answers your questions.

      Best, Michael Axmann

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s