Youth unemployment data across the EU suggest that countries with more developed apprenticeship policies have minimised the worst effects of the downturn.
In Britain, 17.9% of those below the age of 25 are unemployed. True, some countries are faring even worse. The percentage is 21.5 per cent in Ireland while, in Spain, the jobless amount amongst the young has now reached a staggering 42.6 per cent.
Countries like Denmark and Germany, however, show a different picture - with the unemployment rate amongst the under-25s standing at 8.9 and 10.5 respectively.
Of course, there is no obvious reason for this disparity. However, Germany has long been known as a country placing apprenticeships at the core of its education system.
The German system is a model for youth work contracts. It is called 'the dual system'. Once completed compulsory education, either at 16 or 19, a worker can start an apprenticeship at a company which can last between 2 and 3 and 1/2 years. During this period, for two days a week, the apprentice will have to learn the theoretical background at a vocational school known as Berufsschule.
The precise skills and theory taught on German apprenticeships are strictly regulated. The employer is responsible for the entire education programme.
There are aroud 350 trades to choose from: anything from accountant to builder or from medical worker to baker.
About two thirds of young people who finish school decide to begin an apprenticeship every year.
The fact that the contract is really an 'apprenticeship' doesn't mean that the worker has no rights. Unlike other countries such as Italy, contracts designed to help the young are not misused to maximise profits out of unprotected workers. The company is required to pick up the social security costs as well as unemployment insurance and pension entitlements.
What varies is the salary. For instance, an apprentice metal worker in the Baden-Wurtemberg region will earn around 810 Euros a month during his first year, €861 in his second, €937 in the third and €988 in his fourth. His counterpart in Berlin will probably take home €100 less each month.
This can partly explain why there is a lower percentage of university students in Germany when compared to other Western countries, but there is a much lower percentage of people entering the German labour market with no qualifications. This seems to have protected, at least partially, German workers and job seekers from the worst effects of the downturn.
Britain, instead was hit on two fronts.
One one side, the 1980s and 1990s saw a sharp decrease in the number of apprenticeships which was only reversed through increased investment since 1997. The number of learners of all ages starting on the Apprenticeships programme has more than doubled from around 75,000 to around 180,000 today.
On the other side, the Labour government was guilty of placing unrealistic expectations on the University system. You may remember the old Blairite obsession with having 50% of people in Higher Education by 2010. It was never going to be economically sustainable, which is why the Government is now -very shyly- trying to support graduate internship positions.
At the moment, it's not going very well. Out of 725,000 unemployed 18-24 Britons, there are 3,400 graduate internship positions, only 47% of which are paid.