Making inclusion work

Using work-based learning to facilitate labour market participation: Overview of our case studies


1.Using work-based learning to facilitate labour market participation: Overview of our case studies

Manuel Souto-Otero

1.1 Introduction

While many Europeans enjoy access to high-quality education and training, others are unable to secure work or training opportunities. In this respect, Europe still faces significant challenges. More than half of the 12 million long-term unemployed in Europe are low-skilled (European Commission 2016a). Some groups are disproportionately affected by unemployment: youth unemployment rose to over 24 per cent in 2013 and was still as high as 18 per cent in 2016 (European Commission 2017a). The overall proportion of 15–24-year-olds in Europe not in education, employment or training (NEETs) stood at 12 per cent in 2015 (Mascherini and Ledermaier 2016), but ranges substantially from 6 per cent in Germany and 11 per cent in France and the UK to 15 per cent in Spain and 21 per cent in Italy. Low-skilled people, older workers, disabled people, immigrants, lone parents, ethnic minorities and those living in more deprived areas are also particularly affected by unemployment (Barrett 2010, EAPN 2017). Labour markets therefore need to become more inclusive and draw on the skills and talents of all, including vulnerable groups (European Commission 2016a:2).

Supporting people, in particular the vulnerable and disadvantaged, in finding and retaining employment has become a key priority for European countries. The European Commission’s ‘Recommendation on the active inclusion of people excluded from the labour market’ linked integration into the labour market with notions of human dignity, social justice and social protection (European Commission 2008).

Education and training cannot bring about greater labour market inclusion on their own, but must be combined with other measures (see European Commission 2017b; Business Europe, CEEP, ETUC/CES and UEAPME 2010) addressing specific barriers faced by different groups.1 Education and training are nevertheless fundamental to achieving inclusive labour markets and reducing unemployment, as recognised in the 2016 EU initiative ‘Upskilling pathways: New Opportunities for Adults’, which aims to help adults acquire literacy, numeracy and digital skills and work towards an upper secondary qualification or equivalent, and the commitment that EU member states made in 2013 to a Youth Guarantee to ensure that all young people under the age of 25 receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, apprenticeship or traineeship within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education (Council of the European Union 2013a; European Commission 2016c).

Gregg (2015) highlights three valuable assets that increase unemployed people’s chances of securing a job: the right qualifications, relevant experience in a similar role and a reference from an employer. WBL can help with all these aspects. Moreover, it can be part of a range of learner-centred strategies to meet the needs of diverse learners (Andersen, Boud and Cohen 2000). This synthesis report reflects on data from seven case studies in five European countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK) that illustrate practical approaches and initiatives being adopted across Europe to make use of WBL as a tool to promote inclusive labour markets. The remainder of the report is organised as follows: section 2 explains the importance of WBL in achieving inclusive labour markets in Europe; section 3 sets out the main themes and success factors identified in the analysis of the case studies; and section 4 presents recommendations based on those experiences with a view to stimulating further debate and action in this area.

1.2. Work-based learning as an instrument to promote inclusive labour markets

According to the OECD (2013:5), labour market inclusion means providing the unemployed and other groups at the margins of the labour market with the support, incentives, skills and training they need to move into employment. It also means providing better opportunities for people in low-paid, insecure jobs to find work that is more stable, rewarding and productive.2 European countries and social partners (see ETUC, Business Europe, CEEP and UEAPME 2015) have acted to promote more inclusive labour markets through preventive measures, reform of their education and training systems – a topic addressed later in this section – and Active Labour Market Policies (ALMPs).3 Recently, cities (Eurocities 2015), NGOs (EAPN 2017) and private employment services (Eurociett 2015) have also devoted attention to the creation of inclusive labour markets through WBL and contributed to debate nationally and internationally.

The global financial crisis further highlighted the need to make labour markets more inclusive (OECD 2013) and has brought the issue to the centre of the debate. Building on previous experiences, the New Skills Agenda for Europe (European Commission 2016a) has recently outlined a set of actions to try to ensure that people acquire the skills they need for work and to integrate in society, which underline the importance of VET and WBL. The agenda underlines the importance of increasing the quality and relevance of education in a context with high unemployment but where around 40 per cent of European employers, according to Commission estimates, report difficulty in finding people with the right skills to grow and innovate (European Commission 2016a:2). Meanwhile, the EU has predicted a shortage of people with vocational education and training (VET) qualifications in the future (European Commission 2016a).

WBL,4 thus, can be instrumental in achieving more inclusive labour markets. Its importance has since been emphasised in EU documents such as the Bruges Communiqué, the Rethinking Education Communication, the Youth Employment Package and the New Skills Agenda for Europe.5 The Riga Conclusions on deliverables in VET for 2015–20 recommend supporting opportunities for learners to undertake a WBL experience as part of their studies, noting that this would increase the quality and labour market relevance of vocational skills and qualifications (European Commission 2015).6 European countries such as Italy have reformed their education and training systems to include new provisions promoting apprenticeships as high-quality pathways from school to work (OECD 2013). Action continues, as illustrated by the introduction of an apprenticeship levy in 2017 in the UK (DfE 2017), where it is expected that there will be strong demand for workers in occupations that frequently rely on vocational qualifications (Clifton, Thompson and Thorley 2014:12).

Despite these efforts, the supply of WBL in the EU is underdeveloped (European Commission 2013). The Commission has recently called for an increase in opportunities for WBL and an enhancement of business–education partnerships (2016a:13), considering WBL a proven springboard to good jobs and the development of transversal and soft skills such as the ability to work in a team, creative thinking and problem-solving. Currently, just a quarter of students in upper secondary vocational education attend work-based programmes, while general and higher education programmes rarely include any work experience. Providing access to these measures to disadvantaged groups can be even more challenging (OECD 2013).

1.3 Work-based learning as an instrument for the promotion of inclusive labour markets: case study findings

1.3.1 Introduction

The European Commission (2013:5–7) has identified three main WBL models in Europe:

  • Apprenticeships
  • School-based VET with on-the-job training periods in companies (such as internships, work placements or traineeships)
  • Work-based learning as part of a school-based programme

While these are all forms of WBL, they differ in their duration and conditions and the nature of the activities undertaken. Apprenticeships are training programmes in which companies act as training providers alongside VET providers and other education and training institutions. They normally entail formal employment in which a wage or allowance is paid, and are undertaken over an extended period, during which the apprentice is likely to progressively acquire more responsibility. They typically alternate company-based work practice and training, which often takes up more than half of the time, with the acquisition of general and occupation-specific knowledge and skills in VET schools. By contrast, school-based VET may include an optional or compulsory element of on-the-job training in companies, typically representing less than half of the programme’s duration and often a quarter or less, while WBL as part of a school-based programme does not contain an on-the-job component. Instead, real-life work environments are recreated in educational institutions, and collaborative projects with real companies or clients can simulate real-life situations, such as a requirement to complete a real-life project assignment design between an employer and the educational institution. While school-based, this modality still allows for interaction with work environments, developing competencies in ways that cannot be simulated in school alone (European Commission 2013:9) while maintaining the quality-assurance controls and pedagogical support associated with school-based provision.

1.3.2 Background on the case studies Case study characteristics

The experiences of the initiatives covered in the case studies in this collection illustrate different ways in which training and labour market actors (educational institutions, employers and third sector organisations) engage in different forms of WBL to aid the integration of disadvantaged groups (who are sometimes suffering multiple disadvantages) into the labour market. They vary in their duration, from the newly established to initiatives that have developed over decades, and focus, and deal with diverse target groups.

The types of interventions documented in the case studies are outlined in table 1.2 below. All of the programmes aim to get participants into further education, training or work, and there is often an additional emphasis on social integration.

Table 1.1

Main features of the case studies



Year of establishment

Target group

Selected themes^

Case 1: Centro di Formazione Professionale e Inserimento Lavorativo (CFPIL)



People with disabilities (mental disabilities in particular)*

Career journeys and recognition

Case 2: Écoles de la deuxième chance (E2C)


1997 (first E2C school)
2004 (network)

Young people (16–25)/NEETs who are unqualified/low qualified and (long-term) unemployed**

Career journeys and recognition

Case 3: Talent Match



Young people (18–24)/NEETs, with a particular focus on ‘hidden NEETs’***

Motivation, commitment and engagement

Case 4: Webforce3



Open to all, but particularly used by young people (16–30) who have dropped out of school and adults

(30–55) made redundant from ICT jobs due to skills obsolescence****

Sustainability and scalability

Case 5: First professional experience (FPE)/Pinardi



Low-qualified young people/NEETs without professional experience†

Information, guidance and mentoring

Case 6: INSerimento Integrazione Nordsud inclusionE (INSIDE)



Asylum seekers, refugees and beneficiaries of international humanitarian protection (accommodated in the SPRAR network‡).

Personalised, holistic approach

Case 7: Targeted VET & work-based learning for newly arrived refugees and migrants (WBLRM)



Refugees and immigrants

Information, guidance and mentoring

Note: Order follows year of establishment.
*The centre hosted around 1150 people between 1981 and 2010.
**The network is currently made up of 42 schools, which in 2015 hosted around 15,000 young people on 107 sites.
***The programme aims to involve 29,000 people in the period 2014–17.
****The programme enrolled 500 people in 25 training centres in 2016.
†Pinardi has trained 200 young people, working with five partners and 34 workplaces.
‡SPRAR: Sistema di Protezione per Richiedenti Asilo e Rifiugiati (Protection System for Refugees and Asylum Seekers). The project focused especially on young people.
^For additional details on themes see section 1.3.3 below.
All case studies include more than one theme, often centrally; the theme highlighted should thus only be taken as a theme of which the case study provides a good illustration, rather than the main theme of the case study.

Table 1.2

Types of interventions documented in the case studies


Type of intervention

Case 1: Centro di Formazione Professionale e Inserimento Lavorativo (CFPIL)

• Provision of training in a wide range of sectors, amongst which manufacturing features prominently

• Duration of training is limited to 3 years

• Participants aged 15–17 spend one day per week at CFPIL, the rest of the time being spent at school

• Participants aged 18 and over spend 20 hours per week at CFPIL, plus possible internship time

• Financed through operating grants and project funding (local, regional, national, European)

• Main funder: Province of Varese

Case 2: Écoles de la deuxième chance (E2C)

• Course offers are linked to programmes specified by national public employment policy

• Courses last 6–9 months on average

• Alternating scheme: classroom-based teaching plus internship

• The internship must represent half of the overall training programme

• Public programme not run by government but linked to the ministry of labour

• Financed through national and regional funding

Case 3: Talent Match

• Not targeted at specific sectors

• Aims to develop soft, basic and employability skills

• Programme runs for 5 years, including development phase. Duration of training varies by project within the programme from short training courses to apprenticeships

• Also varied in terms of employer engagement approaches, from agreements on work experience placements to employer subsidies

• £108 million in funding from the Big Lottery Fund

Case 4: Webforce3

• Exclusively focused on the ICT sector, specifically web development

• Short, intensive training programmes (generally 3½ months)

• The theory portion of the programme lasts for 3 weeks

• Financed by private and public sources (private companies, banks, City of Paris, participants)

Case 5: First professional experience (FPE)/Pinardi

• Intensive training programme in key sectors for the Spanish economy (tourism, leisure and catering, logistics)

• Examples of positions covered are events assistant, housekeeper, kitchen porter and logistics and customer service roles

• The training programme is based on a period of at least 16 weeks as part of a company’s workforce

• Start of the initiative has been financed through philanthropic donations, not linked to public sector initiatives

Case 6: INSerimento Integrazione Nordsud inclusionE (INSIDE)

• Main sectors: hospitality, food, manufacturing

• Provides an individual endowment of €5,500 and internship opportunities, as well as skills assessment, tutoring, career guidance and coaching for job search

• The maximum duration of the internship is 6 months at 20–30 hours per week

• Public and private agencies can be ‘lead proponents’; selected through a call for proposals, they need to be accredited at the regional or national level for labour market mediation or the provision of labour market-related services.

• Intern receives an allowance €500 per month; lead proponent for the provision of support receives €2,000 for 64 hours of support; hosting organisation for tutoring activities receives €500 for 16 hours of support

• Publicly funded with €4.5 million from the National Migratory Fund of the interior ministry

Case 7: Targeted VET and work-based learning for newly arrived refugees and migrants (WBLRM)

• Includes various publicly funded initiatives

• Prospects for Young Refugees is managed by the Federal Employment Agency and delivered by local employment agencies and job centres. It provides orientation on the German training and employment system to young (under 25) refugees and asylum seekers who due to personal circumstances find it challenging to enter apprenticeship or employment in Germany, have little or no professional experience and no initial vocational training recognised in Germany. Typical duration is 4–6 months at 30 hours per week. Geared towards crafts and housekeeping.

• The Vocational Education Programme for refugees is managed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, which funds over 60 projects around Germany. It targets young refugees over compulsory schooling age and companies willing to offer VET opportunities to refugees, ­and operates in areas of the skilled crafts sector where recruitment is difficult. The initiative provides vocational orientation and tasters of VET in skilled crafts and aims to attract 10,000 refugees by 2018. The programme lasts for 13 weeks

• The Rhineland-Palatine integration chain combines several programmes for refugees and is an initiative of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Labour, Health and Demographics of the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate. It supports both refugees and employers in Rhineland-Palatinate in the simplification of labour market integration. It combines identification of competencies, information, guidance and counselling, individualised support and skills development through courses and job shadowing. The development of an understanding of German culture, society and labour market rules and ways of working are essential parts of the initiative

Various case studies note that disadvantaged groups have traditionally been excluded from participation in standard school-to-work transition schemes, which tend to target individuals who are closer to integration, such as those who have already achieved a qualification (see also EAPN 2017). In this context, it is essential to review and learn from initiatives that particularly target disadvantaged groups. Approaches to WBL

The broad approach to pedagogy presented in the case studies is not centred on education that leads to work, but is rather about fusing education and work as a gradual process to aid labour market integration. A hands-on approach to learning can be beneficial for people who are disenfranchised or disaffected with traditional learning methods.

Specific approaches differ across the case studies depending on the objectives of the initiative, the needs of its target groups and the level of commitment that can be obtained from other stakeholders, especially employers: beneficiaries’ contact with the world of work can vary from a few days to several years. In some cases, the duration of the training is adapted to the duration of typical projects for that profession in the labour market. Theoretical training is often provided, but often this is highly targeted to sector-specific topics – for example, being associated with production methods or processes. Ample opportunities are provided for beneficiaries to apply theory in order for them to see the relevance of the knowledge and skills that they are acquiring. This acts both as a way to facilitate and monitor learning and as a motivational strategy. Results and impact

The extent of the assessment of results and impact depends on a project’s degree of development and the quantity of available evidence. Few projects are evaluated – an exception is the Talent Match evaluation, which is assessed throughout the life of the programme. Case studies provide information on outcomes in terms of numbers of participants starting or completing a programme or, less frequently, completion rates. However, there tends to be scarce information about the causes of non-completion drop out.

Positive labour market outcomes act as a motivational tool for participants. The initiatives analysed are obtaining good results in terms of distance travelled towards employability for groups that are far from the labour market. Several case studies note a win-win outcome from WBL: those beneficiaries who complete the programmes have improved their skills and employability, and the organisations where they have trained or worked now have employees with specialist skills relevant to the needs of the company. In some cases, the employment outcomes reported are also highly positive. Employment rates following participation in the initiatives were reported in some cases at around 50–60 per cent, and the Webforce3 case study argues that available data suggests it has helped the majority of participants to find a new job, with over 85 per cent of participants having had a positive employment or training experience after leaving the programme.7 While this seems high, strong evidence on the net impact of the initiatives is scarce.

With regard to longer-term effects, various initiatives gather information on occupational status six months or one year after participation. In the UK, the Talent Match programme has funded an external evaluation that applies a common data framework across the 21 projects funded. However, there is generally a lack of developed evaluation systems that use standardised indicators (on learner and training characteristics, competencies acquired, completion rates and employment rates) and control groups. This hampers the possibility of assessing the net benefits of WBL and comparing the effectiveness and added value across initiatives.

Employment rates are likely to be varied depending on the nature of the target group of the initiative and how far participants are from labour market integration at the start of their involvement. Outcomes also need to be examined with reference to contextual factors such as new labour market requirements. For example, CFPIL reported that the employment rate of people who had gone through the programme during its first 20 years was 80 per cent, but that this has now fallen to around 50 per cent due to the higher level of productivity and competence now required in the labour market (which is difficult to achieve for people with some types of disability) and technology or automation substituting for labour in routine – and increasingly also more complex – work tasks.

Some case studies also underlined the need to better evaluate the social returns and ‘soft outcomes’ such as integration into society, improvement in everyday life and greater independence and proactivity.

1.3.3 Main themes

Analysis of the case studies points to several main themes and success factors, which are reviewed in the following sections.

  • Commitment and motivation
  • WBL and employer engagement
  • A personalised and holistic approach
  • Career journeys and recognition
  • Sustainability and scalability

Arguably, these themes are applicable to various types of education or training. The case studies underline their relevance in the case of WBL, and detail a range of specific forms that they can take in relation to this area. Commitment and motivation


Recommendation: Improve the transparency of initiatives and the connections between different schemes and levels of government to avoid wasteful duplication and build on local and regional good practices. Develop information on complementary initiatives from different public and private sector bodies. Identify underserved areas.

Political commitment, stakeholder co-ordination and flexibility

The motivation to establish or enhance initiatives for the inclusion of specific groups in the labour market is often related to social and political priorities. For example, the E2C case study noted that ‘[i]n 2013, for young people having left the education and training system in 2010, the youth unemployment rate amounted to 22% … the highest level ever observed in Céreq’s school-to-work transition surveys’. Public debates in France have thus recently focussed on youth unemployment, as they have in Spain, which also has one of the highest rates of youth unemployment in Europe, and the UK, where the case studies also document youth-related initiatives.

Similarly, recent increases in migration and demand for international protection have raised the profile of projects such as INSIDE in Italy. Significant rises in applications from asylum seekers have also occurred in Germany. This, coupled with a requirement for refugees and immigrants to support themselves rather than rely on social security, has made the provision of WBL, language and cultural integration courses for these groups a priority in the country, as noted in the WBLRM case study. A key question in this regard, reviewed later in this report, concerns the sustainability of pilot projects associated with specific target groups in times of shifting political priorities.

Local flexibility was reported as crucial in some of the initiatives. Local flexibility is grounded in the existence of different local needs, and different approaches to tackle those needs. Local flexibility enables experimentation to find out what works in different contexts and for whom. The most flexible initiatives reviewed adopted a ‘test and learn’ model, whereby it is possible to change workplans and partnerships in the project as it evolves, and feedback on what works and what does not in the local area becomes available. This requires a significant degree of trust between stakeholders and between those funding the initiative and those in charge of their delivery.

The co-ordination of governmental actions with those of other stakeholders is important to avoid duplication and leverage key resources such as funding and expertise. The case studies underline how, given the range of initiatives that currently exist at different levels (national, regional and local) to meet the needs of disadvantaged groups, it is crucial to co-ordinate the work of these different levels of government, and also co-ordinate their work with relevant stakeholders such as chambers of commerce and employment agencies in order to avoid redundant or parallel structures and the fragmentation of efforts.

Beneficiaries: motivation, empowerment and responsibility

Motivation and responsibility are presented in the case studies as both a precondition for learning and a factor associated with appropriate behaviour in a work and learning context. For this reason, several of the cases examined participants’ level of motivation in their recruitment processes or in the early stages of the project, sometimes making (further) participation conditional on the results of these early appraisals. The provision of support or even certain rights (for example to reside in a country, receive training or work), are linked in some of the case studies to the fulfilment of certain obligations (conditionality). Rights are seen to have responsibilities associated to them.

Empowerment, by enabling individuals to make their own choices and gain control over their own lives, can have strong motivational effects. Some initiatives involved beneficiaries extensively in programme and project design to ensure their relevance (an example of this is the Talent Match initiative). In some cases, beneficiaries have also been made partly responsible for the allocation of a portion of the initiative’s funds. As CFPIL reports,‘The project is both of the person, having a say in the choice and definition of the objectives of the project, and for the person, being the ultimate beneficiary of it.’ This is in contrast with the previous experiences of many beneficiaries, who had been given little choice in their educational decisions, resulting in them following inappropriate educational paths and in disengagement from education and training.

The initiatives further underlined the importance of challenging people in their learning to give participants confidence in their own abilities and achievements. For this, it is important to monitor the development of competencies, not so much as a judgement exercise but as a way of building an individual’s self-esteem. Provision of information is also important to support the decision-making process of beneficiaries – a topic to which this report returns below. WBL and employer engagement


Recommendation: Close contact with employers in WBL activities develops skills and attitudes, enhances connections for employment and raises awareness of the value of training experiences. WBL can also provide vital income to vulnerable groups.


Recommendation: Employers can provide job shadowing, taster sessions or work experience, mentoring and mock interviews, leading to raised awareness of beneficiaries’ labour market preferences and the value of their WBL training experiences.


Recommendation: Promote opportunities for substantial employer engagement at the project or programme level: labour market intelligence, job brokerage, planning and design of WBL initiatives, development of the training offer, evaluation and improvement.


Recommendation: Having a dedicated officer as a single point of contact for employers can help to build strong relationships. Professional advice may also be necessary, for example to support employers in dealing with complex legal frameworks applicable to the provision of WBL to vulnerable groups.


Recommendation: One size does not fit all. Employers with a wide range of profiles were seen as attractive and provided valuable contributions to the initiatives reviewed.

Employer engagement, which can take various forms, is often a time-consuming task, but also a fundamental task. The case studies suggest that having a dedicated officer as a single point of contact for employers can also help to build strong relationships. Employers are often recruited through marketing, on-going dialogue, planning consultations and joint design of actions by specialist programme staff (see also below in this section) to align those actions to employers’ business and corporate social responsibility objectives. This relationship-building must be combined with actions that ensure the preparedness of beneficiaries who are referred to employers: failure to do so can harm relations with an employer (and future collaborations for the provision of WBL) very quickly.

Employer engagement may be facilitated by subsidies, corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies or the existence of unmet employer recruitment needs. Some projects facilitated the involvement of employers in WBL through the provision of thorough pre-screening of candidates, based on employer requirements. Professional support may be necessary in engaging employers, for example to support them in dealing with complex legal frameworks applicable to the provision of WBL to vulnerable groups such as asylum seekers or people with certain types of disability. In these cases, external counsellors from chambers of commerce or equivalent organisations can be helpful in bridging gaps and supporting both the employer and the learner. Counselling of the company and the learner is beneficial not only in the setting up of the WBL experience, but also throughout the delivery of WBL to monitor and quality assure progress.

Employers are fundamental for WBL as they provide opportunities for training and employment. In this respect, the case studies documented a range of variants in which WBL is being used. Alongside the distinction between apprenticeships, school-based VET and work-based learning as part of a school programme – already referred to in this report – the case studies document practices such as job shadowing, provision of taster sessions and work experience, which can be undertaken prior to, and inform decisions around, longer WBL.

Employers also collaborate by supporting activities such as mentoring of participants during (or in the run up to) WBL experiences and participation in activities such as mock interviews, which develop beneficiaries’ awareness of the value of their WBL experiences and put them in a better position to capitalise on such experiences to achieve labour market integration. The case studies show that it is important to work with employers to ensure recognition of the competencies developed by WBL activities and increase the chances of employment on completion of the programme. This is particularly important when WBL is not linked to formal qualifications.

The above discussion illustrates various ways in which close contact between training providers and employers in WBL activities can provide added value to beneficiaries: WBL can contribute to the development of relevant skills and attitudes, the enhancement of connections and social capital for employment – that is, contact with a network of potential employers – and to awareness-raising with regard to their labour market preferences and the value of their training experiences. In addition, WBL can provide an income needed by vulnerable groups.

Often, the initiatives promoted opportunities for substantial employer engagement at the project or programme level, from the provision of information on labour market intelligence (on skills needs or future or hidden vacancies) and job brokerage to deep involvement in the planning and design of the WBL initiatives and the development of the training offer, evaluation and improvement-related actions. Some case studies document the involvement of employers in project boards to closely monitor and steer implementation.

Employers with a wide range of profiles were seen as attractive: some initiatives developed links with SMEs close to their location, as they considered that their target groups were more likely to obtain employment in those, whereas other initiatives partnered mainly with large employers that were seeking to improve their CSR performance and whose back-up could boost the initiative’s credibility among stakeholders. Some initiatives targeted specific sectors that they saw as being particularly promising for their target groups, whereas others cast a broad net, because of their focus on the individual interests of their beneficiaries. Some initiatives aimed to enhance possibilities for self-employment, but this was often reported as challenging. Self-employment requires a significant degree of confidence on the part of beneficiaries. A personalised and holistic approach


Recommendation: Focus on the needs of the learner rather than the availability of training programmes. Education and training providers should ensure that individual analysis of beneficiaries’ needs informs curriculum design and pedagogic strategies. This requires high levels of investment and dedicated (and often interdisciplinary and highly professionalised) support.


Recommendation: A holistic approach requires partnerships between agencies at different levels and in different sectors and a clear division of responsibilities between them. The implications of data-sharing activities between stakeholders require careful consideration in this context.


Recommendation: Enable beneficiaries to make informed choices by providing high-quality information and advice on education and career choices and labour market regulations. Take into account the specific needs of different target groups, such as the cultural support required by immigrants.

A personalised approach to training

Individualisation applies to many phases of the initiatives, from needs assessment, counselling and cultural orientation, curriculum development (such as in terms of subject area, competences to develop or tasks to perform) and delivery (such as in terms of pace and place) to personalised guidance upon completion.

Several initiatives include individual profiling and needs assessment in their early stages. This might be done by public employment services or by the organisation carrying out the initiative. The needs assessment process can vary by target group; as CFPIL illustrates, for example, complementing competence assessments with the examination of a person’s type and degree of disability. Some initiatives included visits to the participant’s residence, during which information was provided on regionally available offers of work, training or additional support to meet their needs after a competence assessments has been carried out.

Needs assessment is used to inform the selection of training provision that meets the needs identified and creates a sense of purpose. A beneficiary notes in the E2C case study: ‘They built a syllabus just for me so that I don’t need to learn things I know and I don’t waste my time.’ Individual action plans aim to ensure a good match between the participant’s experience and occupational preferences and the WBL experience. With groups such as refugees and migrants, who may have substantial experience in the labour market, it is important to ensure that robust systems are in place to validate formal learning for which the immigrant may have no proof, as well as non-formal education, so as to ensure that WBL is targeted to real development needs.

In most initiatives, individualised curriculum designs included technical and ‘soft’ or transversal skills. Technical skills were acquired largely in-company and were highly relevant to particular occupations and companies. Transversal skills included communication, languages, critical thinking, problem-solving and teamwork, and positive traits that were developed included initiative and autonomy, punctuality and respect for deadlines, adaptability, confidence and motivation. In the WBL initiatives reviewed, this skills training, including soft skills training, is generally adapted to the specific needs of the post where the participant aims to start a career and is delivered through highly practical and experiential learning to engage beneficiaries and facilitate their learning.

The training provided is often characterised by extensive use of small-group work. The intensity of the training can also be adapted to individual possibilities, for example through part-time job placements. Individualised training actions should be continuously monitored and adapted. Some case studies document how learners’ individual objectives were reviewed in partnerships with tutors (in companies and in education or training institutions) throughout the life of the learning process, as additional information on skills acquired and individual preferences emerged. This monitoring leads to the identification of skills needs and the updating of personalised training paths. In the Webforce3 case, participants were given access to an online platform and work on exercises daily to assess their knowledge and keep up with their progress on the programme. The teaching staff offered personalised follow-ups for each student, giving them specialised assistance when required.

Personalisation requires high levels of investment and dedicated support, and also has its limits. Participants’ interests need to be compared with the specialisations of teachers in the initiative, the openings available in companies and specified priorities in calls for funding.

A holistic approach

A holistic approach refers to the embedding of a wider set of measures beyond WBL activities to support WBL interventions: before, during and after them –from needs profiling to post-placement support in a range of different aspects. Long-term engagement, and often support after ‘placement’ into further training or employment opportunities is also a key aspect of various initiatives as they aim to provide tools for life, rather than focusing on temporary quick fixes. Figure 1.1 outlines the building blocks of a range of support activities used in the initiatives reviewed.

Figure 1.1

Building blocks of the types of support provided to beneficiaries

Source: Adapted from Talent Match case study

Highly occupationally specific WBL may be combined with more generic training according to the individual needs of beneficiaries: for example, extra-occupational linguistic, legal-framework and workers’ rights and cultural training for refugees and migrants, CV preparation, job search skills, personal branding and everyday tasks such a buying bus tickets or paying in a shop. These elements are not WBL as such, but may determine the impact and effectiveness of WBL programmes in terms of job placement – a skilled person without job search skills is reducing their capacity to find employment.

But the case studies show that a holistic approach also means that the diverse needs of disadvantaged groups, beyond their education and training needs, are considered through integrated support, for example with regards to social assistance, housing support, childcare and health services. The case studies document support in areas such as accommodation, transport and social integration through sports and cultural events, or attendance of courses offered by local organisations. Social integration can significantly facilitate employment in some European countries where networks are important for labour market integration.

There are numerous examples in the case studies of holistic approaches that go beyond education and training measures. The E2C initiative, for example, has institutionalised support for social integration, organising its activities around a Training Hub, which monitors participants’ competencies, an Enterprise Hub, which is responsible for establishing partnerships with local companies, and a Social Life Hub providing extracurricular sports, cultural and social activities for inclusion in the community and development of respect for school regulations.

A holistic approach may require the support of a wide range of professionals from different subject areas, which may include specialised professional educators, teachers, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists. This is particularly important when assisting certain target groups, such as participants with disabilities or young people with past experiences of substance abuse. Working with a team increases the confidence of participants and acknowledges that the aim of the project is not only employability, but also inclusion in society.

Information, guidance and mentoring

The majority of case studies underlined the importance of information on training and labour market opportunities, personalised guidance and mentoring. In some case studies a mentor – often a human resources employee – works with each beneficiary in each company during their WBL period. This is the person in charge of setting up customised development plans for each participant based on the expectations of the individual and the company and also informs participants about the corporate culture.

Some of the target groups addressed by the initiatives have a more acute need for guidance due to their lack of knowledge of WBL. This is the case, for example, with refugees, as lack of knowledge can lead to misrepresentation of the value of apprenticeships for refugees, who may underestimate the benefit of apprenticeship training because it initially provides a low wage. This may lead to a preference for positions that initially offer a higher wage, even if they generate lower long-term returns, offer uncertain prospects and are below the migrant’s level of qualification in their home country. This underlines the importance of guidance and of helping beneficiaries to consider employment opportunities in the longer term (WBLRM).

Information and guidance should also give a clear understanding of the WBL programme itself during the period of engagement with the initiative to empower and motivate participants – see also section INSIDE’s Individual Action Plans, for example, set out the services to be offered to the beneficiary – initial interview, skill assessment, internship, tutoring and support towards on-the-job training, career guidance, coaching, company scouting and job search – and provide detailed descriptions for each activity, including its expected duration and the stage in the programme at which it will take place. The vocational orientation programme for refugees in Germany combines training in skilled crafts with workshops at inter-company vocational training centres, at which participants learn in detail about one or more professions that they are considering for their apprenticeship. In this way, they gain an understanding of the nature of the activities and training content they would carry out under different WBL programmes. Career journeys and recognition


Recommendation: Provide a framework for further educational and labour market progression by giving attention both to the transition between WBL and other forms of education and training and to relevant professional standards. More explicit links with national qualifications frameworks would likely further enhance the labour market value of WBL.


Recommendation: Short WBL programmes in occupations with high labour market demand and strong associations with industry standards can be effective in enhancing the employment chances of disadvantaged groups, even when the individuals concerned have little prior knowledge of the sector. Labour market analysis can better identify those occupations and stimulate public and private support for training in those areas.

Educational, social and labour market recognition are required for the education and training provided by the initiatives to be of value for participants. Recognition can take various forms and is of varying importance in different labour market contexts (European Commission, Cedefop and ICF 2014). In ‘credentialist’ countries such as France, qualifications are an important component of an individual’s employability, even if they are not a sufficient condition for finding a good job. The E2C case study notes that unemployment in France for those without qualifications three years after entering the labour force is around 50 per cent, compared to around 30 per cent for those with the very first qualification in the French National Qualifications Framework. This shows how important it is for labour market initiatives in France to lead to recognised qualifications. Currently E2C provides a certificate of learning outcomes and is working towards achieving national recognition for the certificates of competence awarded on completion of the programme. But it is not always possible for the initiatives reviewed to link the WBL they provide to nationally recognised qualifications. In such cases, they often offer some certification of completion outlining the training followed and the activities carried out, so as to provide greater recognition in the eyes of the beneficiary and, potentially, third parties.

Education and career ladders are vital considerations in the design of WBL initiatives, because they make clear that such initiatives are not an educational ‘dead end’, but rather enable further progression and act as a motivational tool. The Webforce3 case illustrates how the occupations for which it prepares its participants have established career routes to well-paid jobs, although further work is required to assess the extent to which the kind of short-term training offered by the initiative can help participants to build careers over time. Those individuals who participate in E2C, on the other hand, can be considered natural candidates for entry into higher-level WBL such as full apprenticeship schemes, putting participants back in contact with the formal education system. The existence of education and career ladders can be communicated to beneficiaries from the early stages of participation. In the case of FPE, after successful insertion into a company for WBL, the support provided continues through the design of a personalised training and career plan for each participant to achieve their professional goals, with inputs from the companies that participate in the delivery of the WBL. Sustainability and scalability


Recommendation: Direct financial contributions from the public sector are important for sustainability, but so are efficient partnership work, co-funding (from beneficiaries or the private or third sectors), political commitment reflected in legislation and the promotion of corporate social responsibility.


Recommendation: ICT can facilitate scaling up individualisation in learning for disadvantaged groups. This includes guidance in the use of ICT tools for self-assessment (of transversal skills in particular) and career planning. The potential for mentoring and peer mentoring through social media should be further explored.


The issue of sustainability is approached in the case studies, mainly from the perspective of funding. Various case studies noted challenges to the continuation of their operations, and it is unlikely, given the nature of the initiatives, that they could be self-financing. The importance of partnership is particularly evident in this regard. The E2C Marseille relies on funding from the City of Marseille, central state and national agencies and at regional and departmental levelss. Webforce3 raised €1.2 million from public and private investors in 2016 and has established partnerships with financial institutions to offer loans at preferential rates – currently close to interest-free – to self-financed students to facilitate access to training. Student fees also contribute to the sustainability of the initiative and are adapted depending on the source of funding. European funding is shown to play an important role in the financing of several of the initiatives.

Some organisations cited lack of sufficient funds in relation to current levels of need and perennial fears of closing associated with the prevalence of fixed-term project-based work in this area. They highlighted their need to become expert not only in the delivery of activities for labour market integration but also in the availability of funding, due to the complexity and susceptibility to change of existing schemes. Constant changes in funding systems and legislation, and the associated impact on staff, undermine the capacity of grassroots organisations to operate. Stability and continuity are also important for an initiative’s target group and employers, who need to be familiar with the range of services on offer.

Direct financial contributions from the public sector are not the only way in which policymakers can support the sustainability of initiatives: regulation can also do so. In Italy, political commitment to the inclusion of people with disabilities is reflected in the establishment in national legislation of quotas (with related incentives and fines) and rights to training (including WBL). Some case studies also mentioned corporate commitment and corporate social responsibility as drivers of the contributions – in terms of time and expertise – made by companies to initiatives related to the creation of inclusive labour markets.


Some of the approaches documented in the case studies are new in the context in which they are applied, while others have been used and proven effective over time. The E2C case study notes that around 25 per cent of young people in France who leave education with at most a lower secondary qualification obtain a further qualification within seven years. This shows that second-chance education of the type E2C delivers can provide an alternative route towards the achievement of qualifications for many low-qualified individuals. The challenge in deploying such tried-and-tested approaches is therefore not proof of concept but scalability, which was strongly targeted by some initiatives. Webforce3 aims to increase its provision of training to 1,500 programmers in France in 2017, expand its provision by partnering with companies (mobilising its increasing alumni body) to train graduates in need of ICT skills relevant for the labour market, and enter new geographical areas such as Africa.

For the labour market inclusion initiatives reviewed, scalability is difficult for two reasons: the need for individualisation and the people-intensive character of some of the key elements of those initiatives. In this context, greater consideration needs to be given to the use of ICT and learning analytics to facilitate scaling up whenever appropriate for the target group, for example with regards to skills profiling8 or monitoring of progress.

1.4 Conclusions

The need to make labour markets more inclusive has been recognised by public, private and social actors. Work-based learning is a crucial tool in achieving this goal, and is receiving increasing attention from a variety of stakeholders. However, the supply of WBL in the EU is underdeveloped, and historical experience shows that accessing it can be especially challenging for disadvantaged groups. This synthesis report has summarised the experience of seven cases covering WBL initiatives in a range of European contexts, which differ in their scope, target groups and actions. This reflects the diversity of WBL practices and their contribution to the creation of more inclusive labour markets.

On the basis of the experiences documented in the case studies, this report has identified key lessons and challenges associated with motivation, commitment and engagement from the different stakeholders, giving particular attention to the role of policy-makers, beneficiaries and employers. It has also highlighted the need for personalised and holistic approaches, the importance of career journeys, qualifications, certification and recognition and the key issues of sustainability and scalability. One of the main messages across these themes is that while there are differences and innovations in what is done in various initiatives, the real differences revolve around why actions are taken – an initiative targeting people with severe mental disabilities will have different aims for skills and employment and different timeframes compared with initiatives targeting young people motivated to obtain employment – and how they are approached – which stakeholders are involved and what they do, the extent and purpose of employer engagement, the intensity and personalisation of the support provided, the methods by which beneficiaries are identified, recruited and routed, and so forth; and how all of this interacts with specific constraints and labour market contexts that the initiatives face at different stages in their development. The why and the how are what is most likely to affect the success or otherwise of individual initiatives, and what makes the search for success a complex undertaking.

Three further points are worth noting in relation to the future. First, the experience of the case studies illustrates that countries and regions address issues of educational disadvantage, access to WBL and second-chance education to different degrees. While this is difficult to correct, a minimum guarantee of service should be available across European regions and countries for vulnerable as well as non-vulnerable groups. Second, strong evaluation measures are required to contribute to the coherence, effectiveness, efficiency, sustainability and scalability of initiatives in this area. Concrete evidence on the net effects and impacts of the initiatives is relatively scarce. More generally, there is a need to improve the availability and circulation of information on the labour market outcomes of WBL initiatives for vulnerable groups and to share good practice so as to maximise the programmes’ impact. At the same time, it is important to recognise the diversity of vulnerable groups and their conditions and value outcomes. Finally, some of the case studies note that the future will present many new challenges for disadvantaged groups and for labour markets in general. These include trends towards greater competition for low-skilled jobs, relocation of jobs to low-cost countries and changes caused by automation. However, automation can also expand opportunities for certain disadvantaged groups by breaking down, standardising and simplifying tasks. There is therefore an urgent need to better understand the consequences of these new trends for disadvantaged groups, and to explore ways in which WBL can support workable means of addressing these challenges in the future.


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1 For example, lone parents may rely on the availability of affordable childcare in order to work (OECD 2013) and immigrants may have particular needs associated with discrimination, legal restrictions or employment rights (Stirling 2015).

2 The European Commission adopts a similar definition. Labour markets are inclusive when everyone of working age, especially vulnerable and disadvantaged people, can participate in paid work (European Commission 2017b).

3 These generally include human capital investment through basic and vocational training, alongside measures that enhance job search capabilities, extend job opportunities and increase incentives to take up education or employment (OECD 2013). The effectiveness of ALMPs is a contested issue (Etherington and Ingold 2012).

4 The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction defines work-based learning as an educational strategy that provides students with real-life work experiences where they can apply academic and technical skills ( Flanagan, Baldwin and Clarke (2000:360) incorporate additional elements, stating that work-based learning ‘is the bringing together of self-knowledge, expertise at work and formal knowledge’.

5 See European Commission 2010; European Commission 2012a; European Commission 2012b; European Commission 2016a.

6 Such statements have been accompanied by European initiatives such as the European Alliance for Apprenticeships (European Commission 2016a), the Youth Guarantee and the Youth Employment Initiative – see European Commission (2016b).

7 44 per cent gained a permanent or, less often, a temporary contract; 27 per cent created their own companies and were self-employed or freelance; 8 per cent found internships; and 8 per cent continued their studies. Salaries for those in employment were in the region of €20–25,000 for those with little professional experience before the programme and €30–35,000 for those with prior experience in the sector.

8 See, for example, the Skills Health Check initiative in the UK: