Training measures for young people continued

In 1999, Austria is still experiencing a shortage of apprenticeship places. Therefore, in July the government decided to continue measures inaugurated in 1998, aimed at allowing all school-leavers to participate in formal training, if they so wish. Trade unions and employers take different positions on the reasons for the lack of apprenticeship openings.

On 20 July 1999, the government decided to finance the training of up to 4,000 young people, if they cannot find training places with employers in 1999-2000. This is the same allocation as for 1998-9 (AT9803175N), when 3,600 young people were placed - 2,100 in 10-month training courses and 1,500 in three-year "apprenticeship-foundation" courses. Training course participants must have a ninth-grade school-leaving diploma (the ninth grade is around 15 years of age) and receive about half the regular apprentice's remuneration, while foundation course participants have not usually completed the ninth grade and receive three-quarters of the normal apprentice's remuneration.

In 1998-9, the original idea was to place young people in both training and apprenticeship-foundation participants courses only for as long as it took to find regular apprenticeships for them, and it was believed that the people concerned would have an advantage in the 1999 "hiring season" for apprentices. However, it seems certain that some will not have found a regular apprenticeship by the mid-November deadline, and their courses will thus be prolonged into a second year. No curriculum development will be needed for this prolongation, since the courses are very closely modelled on regular apprenticeships. In Vienna, the area most affected, a number of traditional crafts are being taught as part of the scheme, such as painting, plumbing, and mechanics, but there are also office and sales occupations, and new ones in computing and media. Along with occupational skills, the participants also learn social skills. Each training position costs the state about ATS 7,500 per month. Of this, approximately 80% is spent on personnel costs, evenly split between trainees and trainers. In 1999, the government is expecting to spend about ATS 1,761 million on the scheme, having spent ATS 1,644 million in 1998 and ATS 851.6 million in 1997. The increase in 1998 was due to an extra budget of about ATS 900 million made available by the government under the Austrian National Action Plan (NAP) for employment (AT9802164F), in response to the EU Employment Guidelines.

Some of the 1998 funds may be returned to the government. The NAP contained a clause providing that, in the event of a reduction in the number of new apprenticeships from 1997 to 1998, ATS 100 million would have to be paid into the federal budget by the General Accident Insurance Corporation (Allgemeine UnfallversicherungsAnstalt, AUVA). The number of first-time apprentices in 1998 was 1,123, or 2.8% less than in 1997. The total number of apprentices, however, increased by 3,870 or 3.2%, while the number of establishments training apprentices declined from 40,353 to 39,540, or 2%.

Facilitating access to apprenticeship

A number of measures have been put in place to facilitate access to apprenticeship positions and to encourage employers to provide training.

For those not immediately successful in finding an apprenticeship position, the Public Employment Service (Arbeitsmarktservice, AMS), administered by the social partners, offers coaching. From August each year, they are trained in presenting themselves, given information on openings in occupations they may not have known about, and assisted in ironing out schooling deficits.

Some hope was also pinned on enticing companies to train by creating new curricula tailored to industries and occupations not traditionally part of the apprenticeship roster (AT9801159F). By the end of May 1999, 2,139 apprentices were enrolled in these new occupations, this being about 5% of the total. In addition to 24 new curricula approved in 1998, 19 more are in preparation. The negotiations over a series of further new apprenticeship curricula are deadlocked between the Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB) and the Austrian Chamber of the Economy (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, WKÖ) and also, within the government, between the Federal Ministry of the Economy (Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Angelegenheiten, BMwA) and the Federal Ministry of Labour, Health and Welfare (Bundesministerium für Arbeit, Gesundheit und Soziales, BMAGS).

As a means to absorb the less-qualified school leavers, the 1997 reform of apprenticeship (AT9706116F) created the "pre-apprenticeship" (AT9807197F). In essence, this is a scheme which permits this group to cover the contents of the first year of apprenticeship over a period of two years, and to continue in a regular training position thereafter. However, demand on the part of firms is minimal. Since the beginning of 1998, only 16 pre-apprenticeships have begun, while in July 1999 there were 120 school leavers willing to enter the scheme. There are 500 or 600 school leavers per year who WKÖ believes are absolutely unsuited to training, and who should not be eligible for courses.

Shortages

In spite of the glut of young people looking for apprenticeships, there are industries experiencing problems in recruiting apprentices. One of them is textiles, which had long been considered a "sunset" industry with insecure employment prospects. However, the 1990s have seen the retooling of the remaining plants and a repositioning of their products in high-priced niches in the market. This has been possible only on the basis of pre-existing employee expertise, commitment and diligence, and as a result training curricula have been changed and upgraded. In the west of Austria, textiles training curricula have been consolidated into only six, of which four are almost entirely new and have been, or are being, approved in 1999. At the same time, though, the entry criteria have been raised from the requirement that the eighth grade at school must have been completed, and it is proving hard for the industry to compete for those school-leavers who have completed the ninth to 13th grades. Similar developments are making themselves felt in the electrical and metalworking industries.

For a different reason, hotels and restaurants are also finding it difficult to attract apprentices. The wages are low and often dependent on sales, and work at the weekend and in the evening is the norm. No proposals have been forthcoming to change the situation.

Commentary

Policy-makers, including the social partners, are focusing their attention almost entirely on apprenticeships, but another problem is emerging elsewhere. It concerns those 15-year-old school-leavers without a school certificate or with inadequate grades in the core subjects (German, mathematics and English), who will not be accepted as apprentices by firms, partly because the meaning of the grades themselves has changed, and partly because the demands on apprentices are rising. At the same time, the unskilled manufacturing jobs that would have absorbed this group in the past, and that would have paid decent wages, continue to disappear. In crafts and trades, too, the unskilled occupations are fast vanishing. This has to do with cost: according to an estimate by the Federal Chamber of Labour (Bundesarbeitskammer, BAK), the cost of employing a full-time unskilled painter over three years is ATS 1,183,000, while that of a fully trained, skilled painter is ATS 1,261,000. At such a minute difference in cost, it is hardly surprising the lower-skilled jobs are disappearing. An apprentice painter costs ATS 462,083 over the same period.

The decline in new openings has led to accusations and attempts to allocate blame. The trade unions are blaming companies for not creating apprenticeship positions in spite of the new curricula, and employers are blaming the high cost of apprenticeship. They claim that, on average, an apprentice in Austria costs ATS 11,091 per month, while the cost is ATS 7,871 in Switzerland and ATS 8,119 in Germany. An apprentice mason costs ATS 17,393 per month in Austria but ATS 12,508 in Switzerland and ATS 12,054 in Germany.

There is also some concern that enrolling young people on courses and placing them in companies may be one thing, but finding employment for them after the training period is over may be quite another. (August Gächter, IHS)

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