Research questions

Major policy innovations in the form of the EU Youth Guarantee and apprenticeship-type VET schemes have been introduced across Europe to reduce youth unemployment. But how does this impact on policy governance? Do these policy schemes trigger significant institutional changes and actors’ involvement in policy design and implementation? Does a ‘bottom-up’ push for cooperation at the local/regional level) trigger policy learning, transfer and experimentation? What mechanisms of change underlie the innovative schemes that we studied? Is there more or less intentional learning? What is the role of policy entrepreneurs? How does EU funding conditionality affect these changes?

Research methods

To address these questions and the processes that facilitate or hinder policy learning and innovation with respect to effective measures for sustained STW transitions, we carried out case studies in nine partner countries. We examined policies with an innovative potential that are at the forefront of EU priorities for improving STW transitions, such as the Youth Guarantee (YG) − or a similar scheme of ‘holistic’ intervention for reaching out to disadvantaged youth − and an apprenticeship-type VET scheme. We also searched for evidence of changes in VET that bring employers to the centre of policy design and delivery and how such innovations can promote multi-actor cross-learning. In autumn 2015 and early 2016, we conducted in-depth, semi-structured interviews in each country with key stakeholders, academics and researchers involved to varying degrees in the design, implementation and monitoring of the schemes we studied, using a common thematic template.

Key findings: The challenge of novel policies

We found significant differences between the nine countries around the extent to which policies aimed at young people fulfilled the Youth Guarantee. Where the YG is a novel policy (Greece, Slovakia, Spain), designing and delivering individually tailored services and coordinating the system at the national level posed a challenge. Nevertheless, in Spain, where existing local initiatives fitted the YG, this policy intervention formalised existing practice. In Slovakia, local collaborative trust-based relationships were enhanced by the EU YG initiative; it also triggered novel practices at the local level, drawing upon policy learning and transfer from other EU countries. Key practitioners at the local level played a central role in this respect.

Among the partner countries that have a youth guarantee in place, the ‘Pact for a Youth-Unemployment-Free Zone’ in the Mid-Brabant region in the Netherlands is an example from which policy practitioners can draw inspiration as to the governance and delivery of interventions for STW transitions.

Innovative interventions

The innovative interventions examined imply significant changes in terms of policy formulation, policy content and governance. In countries with a higher inclination to inertia (see previous entry), the EU initiative for a Youth Guarantee and the European Alliance for Apprenticeship have fostered more or less structured networks and multi-agent partnerships that are conducive to (small-scale) experimentation and innovation, in specific localities and or policy sectors. Examples are the ‘National Project Community Centres’ in Slovakia targeted at disadvantaged Roma youth, or the piloting of dual VET in the automotive and tourism sectors in Slovakia and Greece, respectively. This effect is clearly stronger in some regions/localities in Belgium and Spain. Yet a systematic transfer of knowledge to other levels of government is limited in all these countries. Particularly in Greece, Spain and Slovakia, change and innovation are closely conditioned by the aims of EU programmes incorporated into the funding conditionalities of the European Social Fund (ESF) and other EU financial instruments. These can change the domestic opportunity structure.

In France, EU influence played a significant role in the past in the establishment of the Second Chance schools. Still, these schools exemplify a significant innovation in VET governance and policy tools. They epitomize a local/regional network-type mobilisation of relevant actors and a shift from the mainstream qualification-based approach to the acquisition of competences in a flexible learning process following the student’s progress.

Lessons drawn constitute major pathways of policy change and innovation in the other three countries with a more proactive inclination: In the UK, lessons are drawn (in a fragmented way) from previous domestic experience. In Denmark, policy learning takes place through a systematic interaction and feedback between different levels of government. And in the Netherlands, inspiration, emulation and adaptation of practices developed in other regions of the country constitute the main conduit of innovation diffusion. This is the case of the ‘Pact for a Youth-Unemployment-Free Zone’ in the Mid-Brabant region and of the VET innovative policies in Amsterdam − both inspired by a partnership-based development model in another region of the country. In the latter two cases, new policy tools include a youth monitor database linking schools, public employment offices and local agencies, and a partnership-based mode of policy governance. The VET initiative also embeds vocational training in an integrated system of service provision embracing health, housing, family conditions and labour market integration.

What do the case studies tell us about policy learning?

In a nutshell, in all countries (with the exception of Turkey), we find the commitment to the youth guarantee linked to attempts at strengthening the dual vocational training system, particularly by mobilising employers to play a more active role in it. The employer-driven initiative to set in motion a learning process on matching VET to the skill demands in Denmark, the coalition of stakeholders in the Amsterdam region for placing VET within an integrated system of service provision and adapting it to the skill demands of the 21st century, as well as the Apprenticeship Trailblazers in the UK are all significant examples of a shift in the design, delivery and knowledge content of VET systems. A similar tendency is also present in France (e.g., the Second Chance schools). In Greece, Slovakia and Spain, EU influence has been particularly crucial in creating ‘windows of opportunity’ for local policy entrepreneurs to experiment with novel practices that promote work-based learning. Nonetheless, these remain experiments of a limited range.

The case studies provide evidence of the significance of (more or less) systematic interaction, feedback and diffusion of policy knowledge between all levels of administration as a factor enabling policy learning and innovation. Equally important are partnership- and network-based initiatives at the regional level for policy experimentation (also see Verschraegen et al. 2011). Poor channels of sharing and diffusion of policy knowledge constitute major barriers to policy innovation. Over-centralised administrative structures, fragmentation/overlapping of competences and bureaucratic inertia are among the factors accounting for this.


Petmesidou, Maria, and María González Menéndez. 2016. Policy Learning and Innovation Processes. STYLE Working Paper WP4.2 Policy learning and innovation processes drawing on EU and national policy frameworks on youth – Synthesis Report

Verschraegen Gert, Bart Vanhercke and Rika Verpoorten. 2011. ‘The European Social Fund and Domestic Activation Policies: Europeanization Mechanisms’. Journal of European Social Policy 21 (1): 55-72.


The research inputs of the partner institutions that participated in Work Package 4 of the STYLE project are greatly acknowledged. We truly appreciate the contributions by the following colleagues: Martin B. Carstensen and Christian Lyhne Ibsen (Copenhagen Business School); Kari Hadjivassiliou, Arianna Tassinari, Sam Swift and Anna Fohrbeck (Institute of Employment Studies, United Kingdom); Sonja Bekker, Marc van der Meer and Ruud Muffels (Tilburg University); Mark Smith, Maria Laura Tolado and Vincent Pasquier (Grenoble École de Management); Marcela Veselkova (Slovak Governance Institute); Elisa Martellucci, Gabriele Marconi and Karolien Lenaerts (Centre for European Policy Studies); and Fatoş Gökşen, Deniz Yükseker, Sinem Kuz and Ibrahim Öker (Κοç University). Many thanks go also to our colleagues at Democritus University (Periklis Polyzoidis) and the University of Oviedo (Ana M. Guillén, Begoña Cueto, Rodolfo Gutiérrez, Javier Mato, and Aroa Tejero) for their valuable help.