Informal apprenticeships : slavery or a once in a lifetime opportunity?
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By Eva Morre - One of the biggest challenges for the Palestinians is the fast-growing number of youngsters that present themselves at the labour market. In the absence of an equally fast-growing economy, the result is a rapidly increasing unemployment. Currently we talk about youth unemployment rates of 40% for both the West Bank and Gaza. 

When we speak about the official unemployment figures, we know at the same time that there is a large informal economy that according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics makes up 60% of the total employment in Palestine. A substantial part of this group are young people who work in small companies as apprentices without the minimal legal protection, recognition or pedagogical coaching that can make their apprenticeship into a positive learning experience, which can increase their chances in the labour market. 

Overall, not much is known about informal apprenticeships and that is the reason why the Belgian Development Agency (BTC) and ILO have conducted research on the scale, types, structuring and geographical distribution of apprenticeship schemes in Palestine. 

The objective of the research was to provide (a) a detailed knowledge base on informal apprenticeship practices and (b) to identify opportunities for a potential framework for upgrading this informal apprenticeship. 

The study showed that the average profile of an apprentice is someone in his early 20’s (older for women) coming from a big family with income below the poverty line. The motivation for the internship is mostly ‘learning the skills of the trade’ and ‘to earn some money now’.  

The findings of the study have indicated some weaknesses to the system that leaves the apprentices without enough legal protection. The majority of the trainees are working in small companies without a written contract. Only half of the apprentices are aware of their rights regarding wages, working hours and holidays. Furthermore,  only 10% if the apprentices will get a certificate after the training ends. 

Nevertheless, the informal apprentices are overall very successful. One in five apprentices was able to start their own business, two out of three within their field of training. Only 1% of the apprentices was unemployed after their internship. The rest are either working in the taught trade or other trade. These figures indicate the ability of the informal apprenticeship system to facilitate transition from the world of learning to the world of work. This is significant when comparing with the 40% official unemployment among Palestinian youth during the past decade. 

Thus, the study showed that the system is working well as it is, even though the apprentices are not always well protected. Setting regulations and standards, followed and supervised by government and private sector bodies, would be a first step towards optimising the system. 

One of the suggestions is to introduce a minimal pedagogical program for these youngsters, for example, by developing training programmes during one day a week in the Vocational Training Centers (VTC) under the Ministry of Labour or in the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions under the Ministry of Education and Higher Education. These training programmes already exist in some cases, but should become more widespread. Furthermore, a training should be provided for the private sector organisations and companies both on how to coach an apprentice, and on a more technical level. 

One of the first successful ‘formalisations’ of this system is the Work Based Learning programme of the Belgian Development Agency. The first pilot WBL programme was launched last year and paired 10 TVET institutions with 30 companies to develop joint training programmes for over 200 TVET students that combined in-company training with training at a TVET institution. The programme has proven to be highly successful and offered great advantages to both the TVET institutions and the companies: a substantial reduction in costs for the participating institutions and companies, increased enrolment of young people in TVET, better trained students acquiring relevant skills and significantly higher employment among graduates. 

After this successful pilot, a full-fledged Work Based Learning Fund was set up to support the development and roll out of WBL programmes for TVET students. This year 73 WBL initiatives have successfully been introduced by 43 TVET institutions in combination with over 100 private sector companies. In total 1500 students have already benefitted from this program. 
To view the full research, please visit the following link:

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