Situation of apprentices and transition process in low-threshold training programmes
TTwo-year programmes for the Federal VET Certificate were introduced in Switzerland in 2004 for the purpose of helping young people to enter the labour market. At the same time, the aim was to facilitate transitions to complementary training programmes by standardising their content. Also around ten years ago, the professional organisation representing the interests of institutions for the handicapped (INSOS) launched a practical training course for young people who are unable to attend a two-year VET programme.
Since they were first introduced, the experiences with these two training programmes have been generally positive, as shown by various evaluations (Fitzli et al., 2016; Sempert & Kammermann, 2010). However, as an exploratory study (Hofmann, Duc, Häfeli, & Lamamra, 2016) has shown, there are still grey areas, in particular a lack of knowledge about the termination of apprenticeship contracts in these training programmes and about the extent of professional integration of young people who complete them. Moreover, there is a limited knowledge and acceptance of these training programmes, especially on the part of those involved in working life. The LUNA study (‘Lernende in Übergangssituationen im niederschwelligenAusbildungsbereich’) is intended to shed light on such issues, and in particular to answer the following questions:
- Fit between learners and training programme: How satisfied are learners with their training? How do they perceive their experience at vocational school and at the host company?
- Apprenticeship terminations as indicator of inadequate fit: What are the reasons and subsequent impact of apprenticeship terminations? How these young people be supported more effectively?
- Employment prospects and transitions to the labour market: After completing their training, are thes young people well integrated professionally? Is there enough awareness of transitions to complementary training programmes? Do young people adequately take advantage of these options?
Based on a mixed methodology, the longitudinal study was carried out over a three-year period in the German- and French-speaking regions of Switzerland and focused on six two-year VET programmes (‘carpentry assistant’, ‘housekeeping assistant’, ‘bricklayer’s assistant’, painting assistant’, ‘kitchen worker’, ‘catering worker’) and the corresponding INSOS training programmes. During the quantitative analysis phase, apprentices were asked to fill out a questionnaire at three different times: at the beginning of their training (788), at the end of their training (714) and 8 months after completion of their training (424). Approximately one-fifth of the respondents were INSOS learners. During the qualitative analysis phase, 37 young people were interviewed following early termination of their apprenticeship contract and 28 were interviewed one year later.
The quantitative results revealed major differences in the prior education of learners and significant delays in their entry into vocational education and training. However, the high level of satisfaction with training that learners reported as well as the perception of a relatively low workload, both at school and in host companies, indicate a good match between the training programmes and their different needs.
The results for young people who experienced early termination of their apprenticeship contract paint a different picture. In this study, 21% of learners in the two-year VET programme and 27% of INSOS learners terminated their apprenticeship contract prematurely. The rates vary greatly depending on the sector of activity, between 17% and 28%. The qualitative results show that the reasons for early termination of apprenticeship contracts were similar to those found among learners enrolled in three- or four-year VET programmes (Lamamra & Masdonati, 2009), namely poor performance, difficult or even conflictual relationships at the host company or at the vocational school, poor vocational guidance, and unsatisfactory training and working conditions. Two reasons are added or are particularly strong among learners enrolled in two-year VET programmes: vocational guidance experienced either as an imposition or a lack of choice both in terms of the occupational field or occupation; physical and/or mental health issues either before or during training. These reasons, which are more pronounced in this population segment, strongly call into question the aforementioned adequacy. Indeed, how can one conclude that a given training programme matches the wishes and needs of young people if they only choose it for lack of anything better. The same conclusion applies to the health impact of this choice by default. It should also be noted that INSOS learners are in a special situation: apprenticeship contract termination is often linked to an external factor, i.e. a decision by the disability insurance (DI) office or reorientation towards a two-year VET programme. Finally, young people often mention their negative experiences in connection with the lack of acceptance, or even stigmatisation, of these training programmes. Here again, the adequacy of these training programmes may be called into question.
With regard to professional integration after training, the study shows that 79% of those who complete a two-year VET programme and 86% of those who complete an INSOS programme have a job or subsequently enrol in training eight months after graduation. However, around 20% remain without a follow-up solution. Once again, the situation is more difficult for young people who have experienced apprenticeship contract termination. While most have resumed training, in half of the cases in a more demanding training programme, a sizeable proportion (25%) is still unemployed and without training a year and a half after apprenticeship contract termination, despite support services. This is worrying not only in terms of adequacy, but also in terms of the risk of failed integration in the medium term.
The networks and support services available to young people are critical throughout the transition process, from the choice of occupational field and occupation to entry into the labour market, and in particular when it comes to resuming training after an apprenticeship contract has been terminated. There are many such networks and services, but they appear to be poorly coordinated with each other or intervene too late in the process.
Two-year VET programmes and INSOS training programmes may thus be considered as an appropriate training option for young people coming from very different socio-cultural and educational backgrounds. However, for some they appear to be unsuitable, which can lead to early termination of an apprenticeship contract. Moreover, knowledge and acceptance of these programmes also appears to be insufficient, particularly among companies, but also among parents and young people. Various action steps can be taken to raise awareness of these training options and support services available to young people. One way to achieve this would be improved cooperation between VET professionals, social workers and therapists as well as expansion of individual tutoring services for learners.