The legal basis for the Vocational Education and Training (VET) system was established in the late 1990s and today is regulated by a series of 11 legislative acts. A detailed and coherent plan for the development of the Estonian VET system through 2013 was released in 2008. It specified the following 12 objectives:
The most recent version of the Professions Act was adopted in 2008. This legislation was seen as a major breakthrough in VET governance as it replaced the former five-level qualification system with an eight-level system. This new system brought the Estonian Qualifications Framework in line with the greater European Qualifications Framework, ensuring that Estonian qualifications would be recognized throughout the European Union.
The Professions Act (2008) also brought together the final examinations of individual VET institutions and professional examinations. In 2005, only 9.8 percent of graduates chose to take a professional examination, while in 2008 that percentage of students had increased to 34.3 percent. In addition, the number of examinations for qualifications increased substantially. In 2004, it was only possible to take a professional exam in 17 professions, while in 2007, standardized examinations had been implemented in 50 professions.
Investments in VET programs also increased significantly from 2005-2008, as evidenced by the increase in the basic cost of a VET student placement. Between 2005 and 2008, the cost increased from $1,243 to $1,803, a 45.1 percent increase.
Practical, on-the-job training is a key component of upper secondary VET. Training is based on a contract between a VET institution, the student, and a public or private enterprise.
The vocational system at all levels also includes provisions for apprenticeship training. The program is meant for people already working and in need of formal qualifications, or for people who wish to work at the same time while acquiring a VET education. In 2011, 2.1 percent of VET students participated in an apprenticeship program
In August 2015, the Estonian government publicly recognized the importance of apprenticeship opportunities to developing a skilled workforce and nimble economy. Education Minister Jürgen Ligi enacted a new initiative that attached quantitative quotas to the expansion of apprenticeship programs.
In 2014, there were 617 paid apprentices in Estonia. The goal of the Ministry of Education and Research is to raise the number of paid apprenticeship opportunities for VET students to 8,000 apprenticeship positions by 2020.
In keeping with the goal of the 2009-2013 VET development plan to guarantee access to training for youths from needy families, the government has taken steps to support low-income youths in VET programs, including study allowances for students in post secondary vocational education along with lunch and transportation allowances.