Traineeships are defined by the European Commission as ‘a limited period of work practice spent at a business, public body or non-profit institution by students or young people having recently completed their education, in order to gain valuable hands-on work experience ahead of taking up regular employment’. This definition is given by the Commission in its December 2012 Communication Towards a quality framework on traineeships, a second-stage consultation of the EU-level social partners under Article 154 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
The Commission goes on to specify five main, partly overlapping, types of traineeships:
- traineeships during education;
- traineeships forming a mandatory part of professional training, such as law, medicine, teaching, architecture, or accounting;
- traineeships as part of active labour market policies;
- traineeships on the open market;
- transnational traineeships.
This second-stage consultation followed a public consultation on a proposal for a quality framework for traineeships, issued as part of the Commission’s Employment Package in April 2012. In their reply to this public consultation, the European social partners asked to be formally consulted on the planned initiative. The Commission launched the first stage of the social partner consultation on 11 September 2012, followed by the second stage in December 2012.
The Commission, in its Communication, highlighted the need for a quality framework on traineeships. The EU stakeholders and institutions identified a range of issues regarding the effectiveness, availability and quality of traineeships. These concern factors such as insufficient learning content, no or low compensation, and unsatisfactory terms and conditions for arrangements other than remuneration or compensation, such as substandard working conditions. The document also pointed to the low level of intra-EU mobility for trainees.
In its December 2012 Communication, the Commission identified the elements that should be included in the formulation of a quality framework for traineeships. These are:
- a written agreement between the trainee and the host organisation, covering all aspects of the traineeship;
- easily accessible information on the rights and obligations of the trainee, the employer and, where relevant, the educational institution;
- well-defined objectives of the traineeship and high-quality learning content;
- guidance from a personal supervisor or mentor, who should evaluate performance at the end of the traineeship;
- open-market traineeships of a specified duration, in order to ensure that traineeships are not replacing regular employment;
- a restriction on successive traineeships with the same employer;
- social protection coverage which is clarified between the trainee and the host organisation;
- a written trainee agreement which should specify clearly what, if any, compensation or remuneration is offered;
- an acknowledgement that an unpaid traineeship may be appropriate in the cases of some traineeships, where there is a mutual benefit of knowledge transfer and learning for both the host organisation and the trainee;
- an obligation on employers and host organisations to increase cooperation with public employment services and other stakeholders to increase the number of high quality traineeships.
The Commission also pointed to the option of issuing a quality label to organisations and businesses that comply with the quality framework or with a more limited set of quality principles. A quality label for specific sectors could also be considered.
The second stage of social partner consultation ran until February 2013. The trade unions argued for a stronger initiative while the employers were concerned about flexibility and the burden on business. However, the social partners did not launch negotiations on a possible agreement under Article 154 TFEU. Therefore, in December 2013, the Commission issued a proposal on a Quality Framework for Traineeships.
This framework sets out a number of principles to which Member States should adhere, such as:
- the conclusion of a written traineeship agreement;
- the inclusion of learning objectives;
- appropriate working conditions, including clarification of whether remuneration is appropriate and if so, the level of remuneration;
- clarification of the rights and obligations of the trainee;
- a duration that, as a rule, does not exceed six months;
- clarification of renewal or extension agreements and written notice arrangements;
- proper recognition of the skills, knowledge and competences acquired during the traineeship.
The framework also aims to promote the cross-border mobility of trainees within the European Union. It is expected that Member States will implement the framework by the end of 2014.