Two trainees in a Spanish workshop are wearing welding helmets while welding an unrecognisable object.

Spain could reap benefits of apprenticeship training

Measures introduced three years ago for in-firm apprenticeship training have resonated only marginally among Spain's companies. Less than five percent of all trainees are receiving in-firm training in addition to their vocational education. Our study shows that Spanish firms are ignoring this opportunity at a disservice to themselves.

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Model calculations suggest that apprenticeship training can result in net benefits for firms by the end of training or in the medium-term when trainees are hired, which allows firms to save on recruitment and hiring costs. 

The apprenticeship training system characteristic of German and Swiss models has been hailed for ensuring low youth unemployment rates and a sufficient supply of skilled workers. Establishing this model in Spain, where youth unemployment is currently well above the EU average of 20.7 percent at 49.2 percent, could help reduce these figures.

"Everything stands or falls with the willingness of firms to provide apprenticeship positions. But the skepticism among entrepreneurs as to whether it's worth it, still seems great," says Clemens Wieland, an expert in vocational education at the Bertelsmann Stiftung. The German foundation cooperates closely with the Spanish Fundación Bertelsmann (Barcelona) which focuses on combating youth unemployment.

The recent study commissioned by the two foundations could help counter this skepticism. Education economists conducted a cost-benefit analysis for 10 occupations in various sectors. The results show that there are training programs in all occupations capable of generating net benefits to employers before the end of a training period. Three-year hotel management training programs are particularly profitable for Spanish companies. Calculations show that at an average standard training wage of €300 per month, employers in Spain can yield a net profit of €13,000.

But even when involvement in apprenticeship training ultimately generates costs instead of profits for a firm, the investment can pay off in the long run. A two-year chemical laboratory assistant training program can incur net costs of €6,000. These costs, however, can be recouped if the firm employs the trainee directly after graduation, thereby saving on high costs associated with recruitment and hiring. In Germany, saved recruitment and hiring costs can amount to a sum more than three-quarters of total net training costs.

The study's cost-benefit analysis shows that for all six sectors of the Spanish economy examined (i.e., chemical, automotive, food, banking, retail, hotels), three-year training programs are generally more worthwhile than two-year programs. This is because as an apprentice's productivity increases with each year, they will obtain their highest added value in their last year of training.

Experts from both foundations will discuss the findings of their study on October 20 at a conference in Palma de Mallorca with political and business leaders. A follow-up international conference will be held in Brussels on November 10. Battling youth unemployment will continue to be a central theme of the German-Spanish Forum, a Berlin event organized by the Bertelsmann Stiftung for November 17.