Learning on the job: origins and perspective on Romania’s apprenticeship situation

Credits: SEPAL

These days, inclusion on the labour market seems like a hard thing to achieve, even with a university diploma. Employers are looking for young, creative and qualified employees, with prior experience in the field, but at the same time, very few of them offer training opportunities, such as internships. And in most cases, they are unpaid or underpaid.

At the same time, we can not help but wonder what happens to early – school leavers or people in vulnerable social groups, who, without it necessarily being their fault, face greater struggles in getting a job. At national and international level, different initiatives were slowly introduced to improve the situation of these NEETs, a particularly efficient one being the apprenticeship program.

In this article, we are taking a step back in time at the very beginning of internships and apprenticeships to understand their origins, for the further study of learning skills and on the job training in Romania.

The roots of internship and apprenticeship

According to an article on one of the United States Government’s websites, internships are short – term training programs that in many cases do not lead to employment and are more oriented to learning general skills in the field, whereas apprenticeships can last up to 3 years, are paid, result in employment and have a well established structure focused on comprehending very specific skills (US Department of Labour 2019).

A company based in Washington, which also researches historical matters, shows that the “internship” term was first used in 1920, referring to medical students who needed to practice their skills, these programs gaining popularity among students only about 40 years later (Taylor Research Group 2014). Internships as we know them today, are opportunities for students in various domains, to explore career paths, interact with real life situations in the work field which recquire immediate solutions, master certain skills, gain confidence, receive mentorship and last, but not least, build a strong resume for future job applications.

Apprenticeship în Europe, on the other hand, has its origins in the Middle Age England (around the 13th– 14thcentury), but with a slighly different meaning than the one we are used to today. In general, apprenticeship was associated with craft guilds, associations formed of merchants and craftsmen, which people could adhere to only after completing a training programe of approximately seven years (Britannica, 2020). Similar to law regulations, the Elizabethan Statutes of Artificers were introduced in 1563, making it mandatory for people who wanted to start in a specific trade, to firstly complete an apprenticeship training. About 200 years later, mentors started to pay their learners a small amount of money, which was initially destined for new clothing („The History of Apprenticeships” 2016).

Apprenticeship law & situation in Romania

The European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training shows that in Romania exist two apprenticeship schemes: one for apprenticeship at the workplace (supervised by the Ministry of Labour and Social Justice) for people over 16 years old outside of formal education, which has been lasting for more than 85 years now, and one dual VET (Ministry of Education), at EQF level 3 in 2019, implemented since 2017-2018 (Cedefop 2017).

An article by the National Centre for TVET Development shows that the first apprenticeship law in Romania was introduced in 2005, with three updates until 2012. Seven years ago, in 2014, very few companies conducted learning on the job trainings and the number has not changed much. One pilot project, which took place between August 2014 and September 2015, entitled “Impact assessment of apprenticeship law and formulate recommendations for improvement of implementation” pointed out that employers are not attracted to these programs, concluding that at least three measures should be introduced to improve the situation: a more flexible duration, providing higher subsidies for employers and promoting apprenticeships programs on a higher level („Ministry of Labour – Pilot Project Report – Apprenticeship System in Romania  f.a.).

During present discussions with employers who concluded apprenticeship contracts, we have come to the conclusion that some changes are well – needed, as it follows: more flexible regulations regarding the total revenue of people with disabilities, a better cooperation between institutions in the educational and employment field, setting up government programs to outsource employment support services to accredited service providers, a better communication with the NEETs through Social Media and involving the academic environment in learning at the job apprenticeship through research and validation programs.

From a legal perspective, Law no. 279/2005 states that anyone that has shown interest in finding a job, by their own means or by getting registered at the local employment agency, has turned 16 years old and doesn’t have a qualification for the job he wants to prepare for, can enter into an apprentichesip contract with a duration of 6 to 36 months, depending on the level of qualification. The employer has to provide access to theoretical and practical training, at a workplace where the apprentice can learn all the skills provided by the standard of employment.

What are employers looking for?

In 2020, LinkedIn has created a list of the most wanted skills on the labour market, including hard skills: blockchain (cryptocurrencies), cloud and distributed computing, analytical reasoning, artificial intelligence, UX Design, business analysis, affiliate marketing, sales, scientific computing, video production and soft skills: creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability and emotional intelligence („15 Skills LinkedIn Say Will Help You Get Hired in 2020 – and Where to Learn Them” f.a.).

A research conducted within Live Skills, a project funded through the Erasmus+ Programme of the EU, shows that in the fields of Audiovisual and Live Performance in Romania, there is a high demand for well – prepared professionals, but in spite of this fact, employers face difficuties in finding employees who possess such abilities. The skills gaps identified in Romania in the Arts Management sector were: Project Management, Fundraising and Grant Writing, Presentation and Communication; Digital and New Technologies sector: Live Cinema, Digital Marketing, Animation and Digital Editing Software and Cultural Entrepreneurship sector: New Business Models, Creativity, Vision, Sustainability, Motivation and Perseverence („Skills Gaps in Romania” f.a.). Comparing these to the top 15 most wanted skills listed by LinkedIn, there is an obvious connection between the high demand of skills in the Digital field and their lack on the Romanian labour market, issue which could be solved thorugh the improvement of the apprenticeship programes.

As a conclusion, in Romania, there is little developement of the learning on the job initiatives, as many employers are skeptical and avoid getting involved in all the work surrounding an apprenticeship contract. Apart from the legislative framework changes which could bring better hope for this situation, NEEts mainly rely on other initiatives, such as projects funded through the Erasmus+ Programme of the EU or EEA & Norway Grants, to have access to learning new skills in a practical way. These projects, such as SEPAL, represent a win – win both for the employer and the apprentice, contributing to a better labour market inclusion, gaining experience, becoming qualified and overall, more optimistic about the future!                           


Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Apprenticeship.” Encyclopedia Britannica, February 19, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/topic/apprenticeship.

„15 Skills LinkedIn Say Will Help You Get Hired in 2020 – and Where to Learn Them”. f.a. World Economic Forum. Accessed 18.03.2021. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/09/linkedin-online-elearning-skills-jobs-hiring/.

Cedefop. 2017. „Understanding of Apprenticeship in the National Context: Romania”. Cedefop. 2017. https://www.cedefop.europa.eu/en/publications-and-resources/data-visualisations/apprenticeship-schemes/country-fiches/romania.

„Ministry of Labour – Pilot Project Report – Apprenticeship System in Romania | Informatii diverse”. f.a. Accessed 18.03.2021. http://www.refernet.ro/index.php/en/Informatii-diverse/ministry-of-labour-pilot-project-report-apprenticeship-system-in-romania.html.

„Skills Gaps in Romania”. f.a. Accessed 18.03.2021. https://www.live-skills.eu/skills-gaps-romania.

Taylor Research Group. 2014. „A Brief History of the Internship”. Taylor Research Group. 2014. https://www.taylorresearchgroup.com/news/2017/4/5/a-brief-history-of-the-internship.

„The History of Apprenticeships”. 2016. Aspire Training Team(blog). 2016. https://www.aspiretrainingteam.co.uk/the-history-of-apprenticeships/.

US Department of Labour. 2019. „What Is the Difference between an Apprenticeship and an Internship?” Apprenticeship.Gov. 2019. https://www.apprenticeship.gov/help/what-difference-between-apprenticeship-and-internship.


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