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UK seeks to learn from Austrian apprenticeship system

13. February 2012

Austria's highly successful apprenticeship programme that provides careers for thousands of young people has become the subject of close examination by UK education bodies.

Apprenticeships, or rather the lack of them, are making big news in Britain at the moment. With high youth unemployment, a lack of skilled workers and a struggling apprenticeship system, the UK has been looking to the system in Austria to see what they can learn.

Efforts to study the Austrian training structure have included a included a recent visit by Ed Milliband to the UK subsidiary of Austrian company, Liebherr, in Sunderland. Mr Milliband was able to see the Austrian apprenticeship system in place, discuss the merits of the programme and meet apprentices, all of whom spoke highly of the work-study based system.

Senior education officials from Austria have also been invited to the UK to share their knowledge and experience. During Apprenticeship Week in February, the National Apprenticeship Service, the government agency for apprenticeships in the UK, invited Thomas Mayr from the IBW in Austria to come and talk to a group of top learning providers, training institutions and apprenticeship developers from companies such as Rolls Royce, Siemens and the MOD.

Mr Mayr also came to the UK last October where he spoke at a seminar on apprenticeships at the Austrian Ambassador’s residence in London which was held in conjunction with the WorldSkills competitions. The seminar was designed to showcase the successful Austrian system and to celebrate the successes of its young apprentices who were, at the time, competing in the WorldSkills competitions in London. The seminar was very well attended and attracted a wide audience including some of the UK’s leading vocational education academics, government policy makers, journalists, company development managers and directors from the UK’s leading training providers.

So why is the Austrian apprenticeship structure so successful and why are people so keen to learn from it? It seems that the merits of the system can be attributed to several key factors. The first is that Austria has a very strong tradition of apprenticeships; vocational education is strongly embedded into the education system as a respected route for young people to take and about 40% of all teenagers go straight into apprenticeship training after compulsory education.

It is also the norm for most Austrian companies to take on and train young people as apprentices and the companies themselves are heavily involved in the training system as it is they who foot a large part of the bill for the costs.

It is not just tradition however that ensures high success rates. Most manual, technical or trade specific jobs in Austria demand that employees have completed apprenticeships and Master Crafts (“Meister”) VET qualifications are a pre-requisite for setting up and running a business.

It seems, therefore, that the UK can benefit from studying how things are done in Austria. With the recent news that over a million young people are now out of work, efforts to improve the UK system will be very welcome.

If you would like to know more about the Austrian apprenticeship system please email us on and we will be happy to tell you more. Further information in the form of brochures and reading material are also available on request.