Many countries with apprenticeship-based systems of VET face a shortage of apprenticeships. Some countries, including Denmark and Norway, address this supply-demand mismatch by offering alternative school-based routes to vocational qualifications for students not able to secure an apprenticeship. Other countries offer no alternative routes, but focus instead on pre-vocational education and training to prepare students for apprenticeships. This paper discusses the effects on the VET system of a recent Norwegian attempt to organise alternative training primarily as workplace training. Unlike the more established Danish system of alternative training, which relies primarily on school-based training in learning centres, Norway has attempted to make alternative training as similar to apprenticeship-based learning as possible. Most training in the pilot projects takes place in the work environment of a company, rather than in vocational schools. Our paper shows that the students in the pilot projects experience many of the learning and motivational benefits offered by workplace learning in general, and apprenticeships in particular. In certain circumstances, such schemes can improve the chances of completing VET despite for young people without an apprenticeship. However, such training schemes also generate important dilemmas. In particular, there is a risk that full-scale implementation of a system of alternative workplace-based training could reduce the number of new apprenticeships, potentially undermining the apprenticeship model on which Norwegian VET is based.
This paper asks: what are the e ects on the dual collective training system of o eringalternative training organised mostly in the workplace? There is an obvious dilemma here which our Norwegian case illustrates well. Using the workplace as a learning venue can under certain circumstances have positive effects on student motivation and completion compared to school-based training, although the evidence on that account is mixed. On the other hand, the study indicates that workplace-based alternative training may weaken companies’ incentives to provide apprenticeships. Some employers may decide to take on students in unpaid, alternative training posts instead of offering them apprenticeships. Alternative training has the potential to alter collective training institutionsby gradual `micro’ decisions, as companies may opt out of the collective system, or never enter. In the short run, it is more likely to happen in industries where the normative commitment to the collective system is low initially, for instance retail trade, which in turn may hamper efforts to expand apprenticeships into the service sector. In industries with a stronger commitment to apprenticeships, companies may use alternative trainingas a `trial period’ for considering whether to offer an apprenticeship. Our study suggests that negative incentive effects will differ between industries, depending on how deeply apprenticeship is rooted and how fast a student/apprentice can become productive. The above dilemma is recognised by the national stakeholders and influences attempts to re-organise alternative training in Norway. The stakeholders have hesitated to create a fully-edged alternative to apprenticeships because the main model with apprenticeships, although not flawless, is generally regarded as the best model. In order to not compete with the main model, alternative training has had to be somewhat of a second-best pathway, but at the same time, decision-makers have wanted to include the most important factor of the dual collective system: the workplace-based training. A consequence of avoiding institutionalising is local, ad-hoc, solutions with poorly-planned elements of workplace training. But even with such ad-hoc solutions, our study indicates that workplace-based alternative training may have negative effects on companies incentives to provide apprenticeships.
Contrasting the Norwegian experiences with the Danish system is useful in order to analyse how different forms of organising alternative training may have different system effects. Alternative education and training in Norway and Denmark differ along two important dimensions:
1)the learning venue:whether education and training takes place mostly in a workplace or mostly in a school, and
2)the degree of institutionalisation: whether alternative education and training is a clearly organised and predictable elementof the VET system or not.
In the Norwegian case, the learning venue is the workplace, but the degree of institutionalisation is low. Alternative training is organised in an ad-hoc fashion when it becomes clear that the number of apprenticeship places is insucient. Generally, it has not been made clear to students and others whether alternative training will be organised within a trade until a late stage. In contrast, the learning venue in Denmark is mostly the school and the degree of institutionalisation is high. Training centres are responsible for organising training and the availability of such alternatives is well known. Compared to alternative school-based training, alternative workplace training has a potential to improve students’ motivation and completion, but is also the organisational form that has the largest potential to reduce the supply of apprenticeships. However,the general low degree of institutionalisation of alternative training in Norway maylessen both the potential positive and negative effects. Lack of regulation of alternative training may weaken the quality of training in the workplace and increase the danger of exploitation. On the other hand, uncertainty about whether alternative training will be offered reduces potential negative effects on companies’ and students’ incentives. The volume of the alternative training scheme has also so far been low, which has limited displacement e ects. A highly institutionalised system of alternative training that takes place in the work-place seems likely to have a huge disruptive potential for the apprenticeship system. If there are to be any system of alternative training and especially if it to any extent incorporates workplace training, close cooperation between the employers committed to the apprenticeship system and government seems essential. In the Norwegian case, the local training offices, which are usually owned jointly by a group of businesses and take care of many functions regarding apprenticeships, could potentially play a role in securing the quality of alternative training and limit displacement effects.