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Apprenticeships at SMEs: How to work with Professional Higher Education Institutions?

In this blog article we host, an initiative of the SAPS project funded by the Erasmus+ Support for Policy Reform programme, which aims to improve the perception of SMEs of the benefits of engaging apprentices from Professional Higher Education (PHE) Institutions; lower the barriers to cooperation between PHE Institutions and SMEs; and establish more regular and structured cooperation between the umbrella organizations for PHE in Europe (EURASHE members) and organizations representing SMEs.

Embracing the apprenticeship culture and starting an apprenticeship scheme in a company is not difficult. However, it might not be very intuitive for an SME who has never done it before, so below are a few hints.

Focus on the needs

When you think of apprenticeships, you probably think of a way to help students acquiring skills by practising their theoretical knowledge. And that is true. However, it is only one aspect of it. Another being the knowledge they bring into you company and transfer into your staff. Rather it is more important to focus on that: What knowledge and skill gaps does your company face? What updated – or brand new – knowledge could benefit your business – both immediately and in the near future? We recommend you to make a list and reflect on it: in which department of your company would you integrate a person with each skill and knowledge you identified as needed/useful? What tasks – or challenges – could be assigned? This could be a good start giving an idea of the apprenticeship placements you can open.

Identify potential partners

Potential partners are educational organizations that can provide apprentices that match the apprenticeship placements you open. Look at the list of knowledge and skill gaps: In which kind of educational organization are these knowledge and skills taught? Which education level and technical/scientific area? In which study programmes? It is important to look at the closer educational organizations and identify the ones that offer those programmes and could be potential partners. If you face difficulties to find educational organizations, you can contact their national regulatory body or association and they will help you. You can also browse the Learn2Work database of educational organizations to find potential partners (

Get in touch and negotiate

Select the most suitable partners and contact them. Keep in mind both the interlocutor and the momentum are important. Browse their website – if they have a dedicated department to deal with apprenticeships that will be your contact. If not, check if there is a department that seems to be dealing with communication and partnerships with the world of work. Another approach is to contact directly the Director/Coordinator of the study programme or the Lecturers of the subjects you’re interested in. You can contact them any time, but the best is to do it at the end of a given school year, so they can consider your placements when planning the subsequent year. Ask for a meeting, introduce your company – it might be a good idea to invite them to visit your facilities – and present the knowledge and skill needs you have identified. Discuss openly any concerns you have and how to address them. During the negotiations, be firm regarding your needs, but also flexible and open-minded to new ideas, as sometimes a potential partner might have a different proposal of knowledge and skills to offer you, which you have not thought about yet, but that can truly benefit your company.

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