3.5 Traineeships and apprenticeships
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Traineeships and apprenticeships play a crucial role in the Austrian education system, providing young people with practical skills in specific fields. With a strong tradition of vocational education, Austria emphasises apprenticeships as a key component, which is increasingly recognised as a way to address skills gaps and support youth employment.
The Youth Guarantee in Austria (Jugendgarantie Österreich) has been instrumental in promoting apprenticeship and traineeship programmes. Through initiatives such as 'Training until 18' (AusBildung bis 18) and the ‘Supra-company apprenticeship training' (Überbetriebliche Lehrausbildung), the government ensures quality education and training opportunities for young people. Specialised Vocational Information Centres provide guidance on apprenticeships and traineeships (see also chapter 3.4.1), while subsidies for companies and extended programmes in various sectors support integrating young people into the labour market. Tailor-made services, including language courses and international internships (Auslandspraktikum für Lehrlinge), have also been developed to meet the evolving needs of young people.
Apprenticeship Training - The Dual Training System
In Austria, apprenticeship training is provided through a dual system, which includes both in-company training and compulsory attendance at a part-time vocational school for apprentices, also known as ‘Berufsschule’. This system is commonly referred to as the ‘dual vocational training system’ or simply the ‘dual system’ (Ablauf der Lehrausbildung).
Every year, around 40% of each age cohort in Austria enters the apprenticeship system after compulsory schooling. In 2021, 38.7% of 15-year-olds in Austria entered a recognised apprenticeship after compulsory schooling, consolidating the dual system as the most popular choice of upper secondary education in terms of enrolment numbers (BMAW 2022:53).
Apprenticeships in Austria are regulated by the Vocational Training Act (Berufsausbildungsgesetz, BAG), which defines them as a contract-based training programme in which individuals are trained by authorised trainers to learn a specific occupation included in the list of apprenticeship occupations (§ 7, Lehrberufsliste).
This legal framework sets out clear and enforceable responsibilities for both parties, including rules on working conditions, the obligation to have a written apprenticeship contract (Lehrvertrag), the right to proper training, a regular wage (apprenticeship income – Lehrlingseinkommen, determined by collective agreements of the social partners), holidays and time off to attend vocational school, and full social security coverage (sickness, accidents, pension, unemployment, insolvency, occupation pension scheme, etc.). Apprenticeships can last between two and four years, with three years being the general rule.
The Vocational Training Act (BAG) was amended in 2020 to allow part-time apprenticeships for people with childcare responsibilities or health problems. Apprentices and providers can agree to reduce working hours by up to 50%, extending the apprenticeship and training period by up to two years. In 2020, due to the challenges of Covid-19, short-time work was extended to apprentices in order to protect apprenticeship places; this was later extended further (BMAW 2022:53-55). The 2003 revision of the Vocational Training Act allowed for inclusive vocational training for disadvantaged persons and extended training periods by up to two years. Extended training and partial acquisition of qualifications take place within company or inter-company programmes, supported by the Training Assistance Programme for Disadvantaged and Disabled Persons (ibid.).
Other legal frameworks for apprenticeship training in Austria are the School Organisation Act (Schulorganisationsgesetz - SCHOG) and the Vocational Training in Agriculture and Forestry Act (Land- und Forstwirtschaftliche Berufsausbildungsgesetz - LFBAG).
The government website 'oesterreich.gv.at' provides an overview of the regulations on the working conditions of apprentices (Arbeitsbedingungen von Lehrlingen). Further information on official guidelines for apprenticeship training can be obtained from the Federal Ministry of Labour and Economy (Lehre und Berufsausbildung) and the Chamber of Labour (Lehre).
Austria has various types of traineeships, such as compulsory (Pflichtpraktikum), voluntary (Volontariat), postgraduate (Praktika nach Hochschulabschluss), and seasonal work (Ferialpraktika). There are no universal rules for all traineeships; regulations depend on the traineeship type and the company. It is essential to differentiate between training and employment due to distinct legal requirements.
Compulsory traineeships (Pflichtpraktikum) are undertaken by students as a compulsory part of their school or university education, with the main focus on training. Voluntary trainees also undertake company placements for educational purposes, but without school obligation. In both cases, the emphasis is on the training, resulting in limited legal entitlements such as holidays, wages or sick pay. As such trainees do not have regular employment status, labour laws such as the Holiday Act or collective agreements do not usually apply. Compensation is subject to negotiation and unpaid internships are not subject to social insurance, although interns are partially covered by student accident insurance.
However, compulsory traineeships can also be an employment relationship. This relationship is subject to labour law, including the Employment Act (Angestelltengesetz, AngG), the Holiday Act (Urlaubsgesetz), the Working Time Act (Arbeitszeitengesetz, AZG), collective agreements (Kollektivertrag) and company policies, which guarantee the legal rights of the trainee, including remuneration. This includes the organisation of work, working hours, place of work, duties, direction and supervision by the employer. Social security coverage under the General Social Security Act (Allgemeinen Sozialversicherungsgesetz, ASVG) depends on the level of remuneration, with full coverage (sickness, accident, pension insurance) above a certain threshold (€485.85 in 2022). Compulsory internships in the hotel and restaurant industry are usually considered as employment, which entitles the intern to wages and sickness benefits.
Summer traineeships (Ferialpraktika), primarily for educational purposes, are often undertaken by students. Terms of payment are negotiable unless a collective agreement stipulates otherwise. Real "summer trainees" are only covered by accident insurance. In contrast, summer employees and workers (Ferialarbeit) have fixed-term contracts and are subject to collective agreements. They receive a wage and full insurance coverage (health, accident, pension and unemployment) if they meet minimum wage criteria.
Voluntary trainees (Volontariat) visit companies for the purpose of learning. They have no work obligations and are not entitled to a salary, but they are covered by accident insurance.
While traineeships offer valuable job market entry points, they can also present challenges regarding social security and fair treatment. The Federal Chancellery provides internship information and checklists (Checklisten Praktikum), and the GPA trade union (Gewerkschaft GPA) operates ’aufdeinerseite.at' to assist young workers and prevent internship abuse.
The Austrian Youth Guarantee Plan has emphasised vocational training and further education through a series of measures and programmes. The Training Guarantee, launched in 2008, ensures that every young person has access to vocational training. More recent initiatives aim to reduce the number of early school leavers, increase flexibility within the education system and provide opportunities to catch up on missed educational milestones.
'Education/Training until 18' (AusBildung bis 18)
Launched in the 2017/2018 school year, the ‘Education/Training until 18’ initiative mandates that all Austrian youth under the age of 18 receive education beyond compulsory schooling, such as advanced or vocational training. This cooperation between ministries, interest groups, regions and companies aims to better coordinate and improve educational opportunities for young people. It focuses on assistance in the choice of training, the prevention of early school leaving, the preparation of disadvantaged young people for further training and both in-company (betriebliche Lehrausbildung) and inter-company vocational training (überbetriebliche Lehrausbildung). Key services include ‘Youth Coaching’ (Jugendcoaching), ‘TrainingFIT' (AusbildungsFit) and the ‘Apprenticeship instead of Emptiness' (Lehre statt Leere) coaching programme.
'Training Guarantee until 25' (Ausbildungsgarantie bis 25)
The Public Employment Service (AMS) programme ‘Training Guarantee until 25’ emphasises education and training as the key to sustainable labour market integration for young adults aged 19-24 with only compulsory schooling. It bundles proven qualification measures, such as intensive skilled worker training and workplace-related qualifications. This gives young adults the chance to obtain a vocational qualification and thus gain a permanent foothold in the labour market. If young people do not find a training place in an enterprise, they can take part in an inter-company training programme, including a final examination.
Financial Support for Apprenticeship Training in Austria
Companies and educational institutions that are authorized to provide apprenticeship training under the Vocational Training Act (Berufsausbildungsgesetz, BAG) or the Regional and Forest Professional Training Law (Land- und forstwirtschaftlichen Berufsausbildungsgesetz, LFBAG) can apply for financial support, for example through the Public Employment Service (AMS) or the Chamber of Commerce (WKO) (see further section 3.5.5). In this context, the AMS supports apprenticeship training for women in male-dominated fields, for disadvantaged jobseekers, for those in extended teacher training programmes, and for people over 18 or early school leavers whose vocational challenges can be met by apprenticeship training (See 'Funding' section below).
Other promotional initiatives
In addition, traineeships and apprenticeships are also promoted through career guidance and counselling by various educational institutions, public authorities and social partners, including the ‘apprentice exchange’ (Lehrstellenbörse) and the ‘apprenticeship promotion’ (Lehrstellenförderung) of the Public Employment Service (AMS) (see chapter 3.4.1).
For compulsory traineeships in schools (Pflichtpraktikum in Schule), the employer must issue a certificate for the school. On request, the employer must also provide a certificate of employment, which states the duration of the work placement and the type of work performed. In the case of a voluntary traineeship (Volontariat), the relationship is considered to be an educational and not an employment relationship, so an employment certificate is not required.
Compulsory traineeships as part of a study program (Pflichtpraktikum im Studium: z.B. Universität oder FH) are recognized as academic achievements in the form of ECTS credits and are listed in the collective transcript. If a traineeship is not prescribed in the study plan, it is considered a voluntary internship. Voluntary internships are recorded in the Diploma Supplement (see below) and can also be credited as academic achievements (e.g., as a substitute for another course). The decision on whether the internship can be credited is made by the study program leadership. Traineeships taken after graduation are neither recognized as academic achievements nor recorded in the Diploma Supplement.
Upon completing the apprenticeship, the contract between the apprentice and employer ends. Apprentices can take the apprenticeship leave exam (Lehrabschlussprüfung) to validate their skills, which assesses practical abilities and trade knowledge through written, oral, practical, and theoretical components. If the last year's educational goals of part-time vocational school are met, only the practical exam is needed. The Apprenticeship Leave Certificate has legal significance and provides access to various career opportunities, including the master craftsman's exam (Meisterprüfung), qualification exams (Befähigungsprüfung), and higher education access. Most apprenticeship qualifications are at Level 4 of the NQF.
The Diploma Supplement (Anhang zum Diplom), a European standardized tool under the Europass initiative, aids in the international recognition of university degrees. Updated in 2018 and regulated by the University and Higher Education Statistics and Education Documentation Ordinance (UHSBV) since 2022, it standardizes higher education qualifications. Additionally, Austrian VET institutions utilize frameworks like ECVET, EQF, and EQAVET to ensure the quality and international comparability of vocational training outcomes.
The integration of young people into education and employment in Austria is supported in particular through funding for vocational training and transition management. Key institutions facilitating this include the Federal Ministries of Labour and Economy, Social Affairs and Education, as well as the Public Employment Service (AMS), the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (WKO), regional governments, social partners and EU funds such as the European Social Fund+.
Financial support in the area of vocational training (apprenticeship)
The Austrian government regulates apprenticeship subsidies under the Vocational Training Act (Berufsausbildungsgesetz, BAG), with certain exceptions defined in the Federal Constitutional Law. Eligibility is determined by the Vocational Training Act and the Agricultural and Forestry Vocational Training Act, Federal Law Gazette No 298/1990 (BGBl. Nr. 298/1990). The Federal Minister of Labour and Economy reviews the effectiveness of these subsidies.
Enterprises in Austria receive support for VET through both company-based and AMS apprenticeship funding. Company-based support, which is administered by the Federal Vocational Training Council and the Ministry of Labour and the Economy, provides a range of support, including basic funding and rewards for exemplary examination performance. The Public Employment Service (Arbeitsmarktservice, AMS) offers grants to authorised companies for specific groups of apprentices (Förderung der Lehrlingsausbildung), with up to €400/month for certain groups of young people, including girls and women in male-dominated occupations and disadvantaged young people, and €900/month for higher-income apprentices over 18, which can be extended for three years. Participants in inter-company training receive allowances based on age and insurance coverage under the General Social Insurance Act (ASVG).
The 'Digi-Cheque' (Digi-Scheck) initiative (2023-2024) by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Economy fully funds up to €500 per training measure in digitalisation and climate protection areas for eligible apprentices, allowing three such funded measures annually in 2023 and 2024.
In addition to the training allowance paid by the training company, apprentices in Austria can apply for various federal and provincial grants to cover expenses such as living costs, travel to the training site, accommodation and further training. These benefits include grants, subsidised training courses and free annual public transport passes. The government website (oesterreich.gv.at) provides detailed information and links to these opportunities.
The government also provides funding for VET preparation and transition management, including basic education and career orientation. This includes counselling services provided by the Public Employment Service (AMS) and the Ministry of Social Affairs, such as 'Youth Coaching' and 'Ausbildungsfit'.
General funding for labour market integration of young people
In 2022, Austria allocated €915 million for the integration of young people into the labour market, with the Public Employment Service (AMS) receiving €643 million and the Ministry of Social Affairs €42 million. The latter’s youth programmes, mainly financed by the €108 million Compensation Fund (Ausgleichstaxfonds), also support the ‘Training until 18’ initiative (Ausbildung bis 18). The promotion of in-company training (betriebliche Lehrstellenförderung), previously financed by the Insolvency Compensation Fund (Insolvenzentgeltfonds, IEF) with €230 million, increases to €270 million in 2023 and €280 million in 2024 as a result of legislative change. The ‘Training Guarantee until 25’ programme (Ausbildungsgarantie bis 25) has a budget of €650 million in 2023 (Mehr Geld für Lehrstellenförderung), benefiting an estimated 105,000 young people (Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Wirtschaft 2023:213; Bundesministerium der Finanzen 2023:135).
In addition, Austria will receive €409 million from the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) between 2021 and 2027, of which more than €128 million will go to reducing early school leaving (Funding programme: Reduction of Early School Leaving and Promotion of Vocational Education and Training - in German). In this context, the programme 'Berufliche Assistenzen' supports young people with disabilities by providing them with guidance on the labour market. This initiative also supports the 'Training until 18' programme, which aims to prevent early school leaving.
Compulsory traineeships in Austrian schools and universities are governed by their respective Quality Management Systems (QMS) to ensure effective educational processes and outcomes. The Federal Institute for Quality Assurance in Austrian Schools (IQS) supports evidence-based management in schools (QMS), focusing on educational monitoring and quality assurance measures. In higher education, the Higher Education Quality Assurance Act (HS-QSG) provides the legal basis for quality assurance (Qualitätssicherung der österreichischen Hochschulen), which includes internal quality management systems and external evaluations by independent experts. Together with other internationally recognised agencies registered in the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR), AQ Austria (Agentur für Qualitätssicherung und Akkreditierung Austria) carries out accreditation procedures and audits to evaluate the effectiveness of quality assurance processes in higher education institutions.
According to the Vocational Training Act (BAG), quality assurance in apprenticeship training (Qualitätssicherung in der Lehre) is a joint effort of the relevant bodies under the leadership of the Federal Minister of Labour and Economy. Key players include the Federal Advisory Board on Vocational Education and Training (BBAB), which is composed of social partners and advises on new and existing apprenticeship occupations. And the Institute for Educational Research of the Economy (ibw), which manages the LAP clearing house (LAP-Clearingstelle) for standardised apprenticeship examinations. These exams, developed in cooperation with experts, are quality-assured and accessible nationwide, thus ensuring a uniform quality of VET throughout the country. The ‘Quality Management Apprenticeship Training’ (QML-Qualitätsmanagement Lehrlingsausbildung) further enhances the quality of apprenticeship training through modernisation, incentives, training tools and the ‘Apprenticeship with Matura’ (Lehre mit Matura) programme as a bridge to higher education. The brochure ‘Quality in Apprenticeship’ (Qualität in der Lehre) describes these initiatives in detail.
The Federal Ministry of Labour and Economy must submit a report to the National Council every two years on the situation of youth employment and apprenticeship training in Austria (§ 15b of the Vocational Training Act). The 2022 report (covering 2020/2021) provides a comprehensive statistical analysis, outlines existing measures, their impact on dual training, and offers recommendations for further developments.