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3. Employment & Entrepreneurship

3.5 Traineeships and apprenticeships

Last update: 28 November 2023

Official guidelines on traineeships and apprenticeships

Federal level

The Royal Decree of 21 September 2004 concerning the protection of trainees (Koninklijk Besluit van 21 september 2004 betreffende de bescherming van stagiairs) applies to the employer, the trainee and the educational institution. The Royal Decree includes:

  • a risk analysis carried out by the employer of the trainee and the associated prevention measures
  • information exchange between the employer, trainee and educational institution
  • health monitoring

Under Social security legislation, a Federal responsibility, two cases arise. Certain education programmes prescribe traineeship for students to obtain their degree. In addition to this compulsory traineeship, some students and graduates choose to do a traineeship. When the traineeship is not remunerated, a declaration does not have to be made to the Civil Service Social Security. When the traineeship is remunerated or compensation is given, the nature of the working relationship has to be  verified. This defines whether or not the provider of the traineeship has to conclude an employment contract and pay social security contributions.

Traineeships and apprenticeships may be organised from the second-grade of secondary education and when the trainee/apprentice is 15 years old or no longer subject to compulsory full-time schooling under national law.

Flemish level

The Flemish Government describes a system of learning and working (Stelsel Leren en Werken) which refers to education systems in which trainees or apprentices acquire professional skills in a school environment (educational institution or training centre) and at the workplace. This concerns, in particular, vocational training where trainees are students or young poorly qualified jobseekers. The system of learning and working is a joint responsibility of the Flemish Minister of Work and the Flemish Minister of Education and Training.

The system of learning and working includes:

Students who are following a traineeship or apprenticeship in the context of their education: 

  • Part-time vocational education (dbso): when a pupil is 15 or 16 years old (s)he may enter a system of alternating learning and working. The young person in the dbso is taught two days a week at the Centre for Part-time Education.This is the learning part. All youngsters in part-time education are obliged to take part in learning and working for at least 28 hours a week. The workplace learning part depends on the results of a screening. That could be: 1. a real work experience (through two types of employement contract), 2. a bridging project: for young people who are willing to work but still need to develop their attitudes and skills, 3. a pathway: a specific training and guidance module for young people with inadequate attitudes and skills, 4. a personal development path: for vulnerable young people in problematic situations. Here both the teaching and the working part can be replaced. Such a personal development programme is organised by a Centre for Part-time Training. Part-time vocational education is organised in cooperation with a centre for part-time education or a centre for apprenticeships.
  • Dual system of learning and working (Duaal Leren, pilot project): this is in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Employment, VDAB and Syntra Flanders and with youth work organisations that work with young people at work. In 2019-2020 the pilot project stops and the dual courses will become part of the school structure.  Dual learning gives pupils access to the workplace from the very beginning of their schooling. This also gives students the opportunity to gain work experience at a relatively young age, and thus to make a well-founded choice for a particular job. The agreements, conditions and obligations relating to the OAO (work-linked training agreement) or SAO (work-linked training traineeship agreement) were drawn up in close consultation with employers and employees. Furthermore, we would like to point out that the VDAB school-leavers' study shows that young people who have followed a work-linked training course in secondary education have a high level of employment at the end of their school career. In a broader sense, dual learning can prevent young people from ending up in a NEET (Not in Education, Employement or Training) position. The aim of dual learning is to bring education and the labour market closer together, to reduce the unskilled outflow and to reduce youth unemployment. As from 1 September 2019, dual learning will be rolled out across the board in secondary education, after a trial period of 3 years. From the next academic year onwards, experimental gardens will also be set up for dual learning in higher education. Dual learning is an integrated process in secondary education in which general education, vocational education and work experience form a whole. Young people acquire the skills they need to obtain a qualification both in the workplace and at school (or in a part-time education centre or a Syntra classroom). The learning pathway thus consists of a teaching and work component that are coordinated and together form a coherent whole. In 2015, the Flemish government resolutely chose to develop such a new system of dual learning, as a high-quality and fully-fledged alternative to the existing 'traditional' education systems. The draft memorandum-bis lays down the outlines for this and also defines the role of SYNTRA Flanders as a working director in the new system of dual learning. On 1 September 2016, the first pilot projects on dual learning were launched under the name 'School bench in the workplace'. Several innovative projects were also launched to further concretise certain aspects of dual learning. The first specific rules were laid down in the decree regulating certain aspects of work-linked training (10 June 2016). The conditions of the decree apply not only to workplaces in the dual learning pilot project, but also to workplaces in Part-time Learning and Working. Part-time Learning and Working is an existing system of work-linked training in which secondary school pupils learn several days at the workplace. The system is organised in part-time vocational secondary education and apprenticeship. In the part-time vocational secondary education and apprenticeship, the young people learn 3 days at the workplace and follow 2 days of lessons in a centre for part-time education or a centre for learning and working. In the apprenticeship, the young people learn 4 days at the workplace and follow 1 day of lessons in a Syntra workplace.
  • Apprenticeship (leertijd): Apprenticeships form part of the alternating training system within secondary education. In Flanders apprenticeships are organised in a SYNTRA training centre. The apprenticeship system combines courses at a SYNTRA campus with working in a company under the guidance of an entrepreneur or training supervisor. Young people are only admitted to this system when they have been offered a contract by an employer. There are no alternatives in terms of work experience if the young person becomes unemployed. Most of the training is for three years. Apprenticeships fall under the minister responsible for education. This system runs in cooperation with SYNTRA Flanders.


Young job-seekers, such as trainees from training centres: 

  • Individual vocational training ('Individuele Beroepsopleiding' (IBO)): young people can start work under a training contract with VDAB for IBO, individual vocational training in which VDAB contracts its training assignment out to a company where the job-seeker will be taught his/her chosen vocation on the shop floor. The individual Vocational Training aims at fostering (youth) employment. During this individual training, the employer does not have to pay a wage or social security contributions.
  • Traineeship agreement: this is available for (young) people who have formally left school. It comprises a work experience at an enterprise with theoretical entrepreneurial training in a training centre. This is undertaken in cooperation with SYNTRA Flanders.
  • Job familiarity internship (‘beroepsinlevingsstage’ (BIS)): paid internship in a company to strengthen (young) people’s skills and competences at the workplace. This is undertaken in cooperation with VDAB.
  • Job exploring internship (‘beroepsverkennende stage’ (BVS)): this is used as an orienting tool to explore whether the jobseeker has clear and realistic job aspirations. The focus is on exploring sectors, jobs and/or functions. This internship can provide important information to develop an efficient trajectory. This is organised by the VDAB.
  • Work experiencing internship (‘werkervaringsstage’ (WES)): this internship provides a jobseeker who has difficulties with finding work the opportunity to gain some workplace experience and to strengthen competences and skills. 

VDAB has decided not to create a new plan regarding the Youth Guarantee Plan, but to optimise and strengthen the existing Youth Employment Plan (see 3.4). The added value of this strengthened approach specifically for traineeship and apprenticeship is the focus on  workplace learning (IBO, Individuele BeroepsOpleiding’ or individual vocational training), internships, apprenticeships, etc.), which becomes a standard module in the trajectory of unqualified young people and the cooperation with sectors to create forms of workplace learning.



Promoting traineeships and apprenticeships

Facilitating the participation of young people and supporting providers of traineeships

The Royal Decree of 1 September 2006 concerning starting and tutoring premiums (Start- en Stagebonus) is a measure to facilitate the participation of young people and support providers of traineeship and apprenticeships. The Federal Government set up a system of financial rewards to prevent the dropping out of part-time students (who do apprenticeships as part of their alternating education in partial compulsory education) through start premiums and to encourage companies to employ them through internship premiums.

Since 1 September 2015, the starting and tutoring bonuses have been a responsibility of the Flemish Community. Since January 2016, the Department of Employment and Social Economy has been responsible for the payment of the starting and tutoring bonuses.

The Royal Decree of 16 May 2003 concerning the harmonisation and simplification of the regulations regarding the reduction of social security contributions mentions target group reduction for ‘mentors’. The cost reduction is a measure to encourage employers to organise training at the workplace.

Raising awareness about traineeships and apprenticeships

VDAB promotes traineeships and apprenticeships and informs young people and providers. A list of all possible traineeships and apprenticeships is available on the website of the VDAB:

  • individual vocational training,
  • apprenticeship,
  • starting traineeship,
  • work experience agreement.

In addition, the VDAB organised in cooperation with Voka, VRT, UNIZO and Adecco the Experience Works-campaign in 2015 (Ervaring werkt campagne). Employees of VDAB, together with 1300 young people, visited 700 companies. These companies offers traineeships or apprenticeships. During these campaign, VDAB, Voka, VRT, UNIZO and Adecco also informed many young people and companies about the possibilities of traineeships and apprenticeships. 


Recognition of learning outcomes

The following certificates recognise learning outcomes (under the Decree of 10 July 2008):

  • A certificate (attest): if students successfully complete one or more apprenticeship-training years.
  • A certificate (certificaat): if the youngster completes his training successfully.
  • An apprenticeship certificate (certificaat leertijd): if pupils have successfully completed their entire apprenticeship training programme. An apprenticeship certificate is not the same as an education diploma, but has a lot of value and fulfils the requirements of business legislation for professional knowledge for most professions.      
  • A certificate of business administration basics (getuigschrift basiskennis bedrijfsbeheer): if the young person
    • has completed at least four school years in secondary education, apart from the first stage, or in an apprenticeship, and
    • has satisfied the conditions for basic knowledge of business administration.

A ‘Flemish Qualifications Framework’ is being developed, following the development of the ‘European Qualifications Framework’. The Government of Flanders has formulated the intention to implement the European Credit System for Vocational Education and Training (ECVET) in Flanders.



Flemish Government

The system of learning and working is allocated to the policy domain Education and Training of the Flemish Government. In 2017, the budget for the system learning and working is 10,6 million euro. The overall budget of the policy domain Education and Training is 11,3 billion (source: Vlaamse Begroting in cijfers 2017). In 2018, the budget for the system learning and working is 10,7 million euro. The overall budget of the policy domain Education and Training is 13,2 billion (source: Vlaamse Begroting in cijfers 2018). In 2019, the overall budget of policy domain Education and Training is 13,9 billion (source: Vlaamse Begroting in cijfers 2019). In 2020, the overall budget of policy domain Education and Training is 14,36 billion (source: Begroting 2020).In 2020, the overall budget of policy domain Education and Training is 14,36 billion (source: Begroting 2020).

The work of VDAB (such as Individual Vocational Training, Integration traineeship…) is largely funded by the Flemish government. VDAB operates under a management agreement with the Flemish Government in this connection. The management agreement defines the policy priorities and the budget allocated to VDAB.

The SYNTRA Flanders agency, which provides apprenticeships, is also subsidised by the Flemish Government under its employment policy area and receives European and Flemish contributions for specific projects. It subsidises the five recognised SYNTRA training centres for the self-employed and small and medium-sized enterpises. The centres receive:

  • an operating subsidy for apprenticeships and certified and non-certified programmes. Those programmes that are recognised receive funding on the basis of the number of trainee hours of the trainees that take the exam. This is thus a form of output funding;
  • an investment subsidy for the hire, construction or acquisition and owner maintenance of the buildings;
  • where applicable, project funding.

Courses are only subsidised if they meet the recognition requirements.

European Social Fund

The Operational Programme for the implementation of the European Social Fund (ESF) in Flanders in the 2014-2020 period supports initiatives that increase employment and improve social cohesion in Flanders. The ESF programme lays down the priorities for the expenditure of 1 billion euro, of which 600 million euro is financed through the Flemish budget and 400 million euro through the European budget. 

One of the priorities of the ESF-programme is investing in sustainable and high quality jobs on the Flemish labour market and in vocational training and lifelong learning. Sixty per cent of the resources have been allocated to this priority. This corresponds with the Flemish career policy, which aims to bring about a more effective labour market. More specifically, Flemish ESF projects will focus on key transition moments in careers, such as the transition from school to work, from unemployment to work and from one job to another.

In the end, the Flemish Operational Programme will assist 250,000 people in finding or keeping a job, in setting up a company, or in participating in vocational training.


Quality assurance

Policy Domain Education and Training

The quality assurance system has the following goals:

  • to ensure the constant improvement of the quality of education
  • to account to the government for the use of public funds
  • to provide information to students and parents about the quality of education


All reforms and initiatives are included in the annual business plan of VDAB (beheersovereenkomst). This plan will be monitored, evaluated and adjusted (qualitatively and quantitatively) quarterly by the Ministry, the board of directors of VDAB and the experts.

VDAB is responsible for overall quality assurance in the VDAB centres.

SYNTRA Flanders

Both the Executive Board of SYNTRA Flanders and the Commission of Practical Training (responsible for apprenticeships) include members appointed by the representative organisations of employers and employees, small and medium-sized enterprises and agriculture that belong to SERV (Socio-Economic Council of Flanders).

SYNTRA Flanders evaluates the five SYNTRAs every three years with respect to how well known the programme is and its market share, customer satisfaction and effectiveness. SYNTRA also uses a self-evaluation tool coupled with an assessment panel consisting of both internal and external members. This panel assesses the self-evaluation, and the action and improvement plans developed by SYNTRAs, and engages in probing discussions with all actors in connection with the organisation of SYNTRA training activities.

SYNTRA Flanders is responsible for overall quality assurance in the centres.