Chief Executive of Colleges Partnership Dugald Craig describes an exciting cross-Europe programme to make it easier for training providers and smaller companies to work together to develop quality apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships are a particularly successful form of work-based learning, combining workplace-based training periods with college or school-based education: the workplace providing valuable practical experience and skills development, supplemented by theoretical and additional practical skills development in education.


SAPS  (Supporting Apprenticeships between Professional Higher Education and Small and Medium Enterprises) is a transnational collaboration project led by EURASHE (European Association of Institutions in Higher Education) and involves partners from Austria, Czech Republic, France, Lithuania, Malta, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia and Scotland. It is funded by the Erasmus+ Support for Policy Reform Programme.

This strand of the Erasmus+ programme aims to:

  • improve the perception of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs – organisations with 250 or fewer employees) of the benefits of engaging apprentices from educational institutions
  • lower the barriers to cooperation between educational institutions and SMEs
  • establish more regular and structured cooperation between umbrella organisations for professional higher education and advanced vocational education and training (such as EURASHE and its more than 60 member associations and networks across Europe and Asia) and organisations representing SMEs. 

The motivation for initiating the project emerged from various pieces of research that demonstrated the potential of apprenticeships in overcoming the skills mismatch and youth unemployment in Europe. The work of the project and its outputs are consistent with other European Union initiatives such as the European Alliance for Apprenticeships (EAfA) which seek to strengthen the quality, supply, image and mobility of apprenticeships in Europe through national commitments and voluntary pledges from stakeholders.


The SAPS project tackles these barriers through a twin-pronged approach that brought together European experts in managing apprenticeships to develop teaching and learning material for use with SMEs whilst addressing the need for improved procedures at educational institutions to encourage a more open attitude towards apprenticeships. The outputs include a set of booklets in Czech, English, French, German, Lithuanian, Portuguese, Serbian and Slovenian that:

  • facilitate and simplify co-operation between SMEs and educational institutions
  • demonstrate the value of apprenticeships
  • offer advice on recruiting and mentoring apprentices. 

These are supplemented by an Apprenticeship Quality Toolkit  – with guidelines for educational institutions and SMEs on topics including:

  • governance and strategy
  • teaching and learning 
  • operations.  

The toolkit highlights common processes, criteria and requirements, and includes practical tools like checklists and forms.


The final phase of the project will focus on promoting the advantages of apprenticeships to SMEs, and will seek to address and overcome existing barriers that undermine the attractiveness of apprenticeships in the ten countries involved in the project.

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