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What's new in vocational training in Europe?
What's new in vocational training in Europe?
Keywords: Vocational training, Europe
Austria: dialogue between higher education and the wider economy
The relationship between higher education and the wider economy has never been regarded as fully satisfactory as it is viewed as either too close or too distant. If higher education institutions maintain close ties with the economy, they are criticized for merely reproducing "real life" conditions and therefore, not developing them further. On the other hand, if relations are not too distant, higher education is reproached for not recognizing and tackling real problems and of remaining, self-satisfied, in its ivory tower.
The search for new solutions to this relationship has been at the core of recent major education policy reforms. In higher education, this was the main reason for establishing new higher education institutions (Fachhochschulen).
Their establishment has changed the debate on the issue of practical relevance. At first, the focus was on questions about curricula and bringing external influences to bear on institutions, but now co-operative education programmes have moved centre stage. The debate has been given added momentum by the concept of lifelong learning and by the question of whether qualifications acquired on the job should be acknowledged by the formal higher education system.
A conference on the "dialogue" between the Fachhochschulen and the economy took place in Vienna in January 1999. Introductory papers were presented on the role of the Fachhochschulen within the society of learning and on a European pilot project that explores ways of achieving co-operation between higher education institutions and the economy. These were followed by a discussion on various measures to improve the practical relevance of higher education.
The social partners, who traditionally play an important role in education policy in Austria, co-organized the event, which was supported by the European Commission.
Wallonia, Belgium: training vouchers for small and medium-sized enterprises
Wallonia has insufficient opportunities for training, a problem which often exacerbates the discrepancy between skills acquired at school and labour market needs. A 1996 survey carried out under the European Force programme and published by the Commission and Eurostat revealed that Belgian companies provide an average of just eight hours of training per worker per year. The figure for Wallonia is even lower.
Although large companies now offer more frequent training sessions for their employees, small businesses have still to be converted to the cause. This state of affairs prompted the Walloon Minister for Employment and Vocational Training to propose the training voucher: a simple, flexible and speedy mechanism for promoting training in SMEs in the commercial sector that employ fewer than 50 staff.
The scheme, which started on 1 December 1998, is open both to a firm's employees and to the employer, whether company director or self-employed.
The Walloon Region contributes BEF600 (Euro 14.8) per worker per hour of training. This will cover all or part of the cost, depending on the type of training involved. The annual ceiling per company is 400 training hours.
The training must either serve to promote company growth - which means that it can be in subjects such as data processing, languages, marketing or export - or, if it is more technical, be linked to the company's activity. Training is given during normal working hours by approved trainers, a list of whom is available from the Office Communautaire et Régional de la Formation Professionnelle et de l'Emploi (Forem). A special "training voucher" unit has been set up within Forem to co-ordinate activities and inform companies.
400 Walloon companies have already signed up for the scheme.
Denmark: "compose your own training programme"
Two commercial colleges have had great success in letting students choose among different training modules and customise their own individual training programmes. This increased delegation of responsibility to individuals for their own training is found in two innovative projects financed by the Education Ministry.
The main objective of the projects was to strengthen the learning environment in a way that would benefit both strong and weak students. Strong students were to be presented with greater challenges, while the prospects for the weaker ones completing their training were to be improved. This was done by giving students the freedom and responsibility to make individual choices within a framework of modular training courses. Support for the students in this process took the form of extended tutoring and counselling.
The projects involved a comprehensive restructuring of the initial aspects of commercial training, e.g. in relation to tutoring and counselling, teaching methods and learning evaluation, and student administration. To keep track of how students devised their individual training programmes, the colleges developed a database, in which the acquired competences of the students are registered and categorized.
The basic principles involved - individualization, modularization, responsibility for one's own learning and differentiation - are all key elements in the forthcoming reform of vocational training in Denmark, Reform 2001.
France: new jobs for young people
In February 1999, the French Government submitted a report to Parliament on the application of the law of 16 October 1997, which sets out measures to promote youth employment. The report can be consulted at the following address at the French Ministry for Employment and Solidarity, under "Nouveaux services, emplois jeunes": http://www.travail.gouv.fr/actualites/rapport97.940.html
By the end of 1998, 158,451 new jobs had been recorded: 85,201 of these were with associations, local authorities, social support agencies, mixed economy companies, hospitals and public companies; 65,000 were in schools; and 8,250 were with the National Police.
The office of the French Minister for Employment and Solidarity believes that the 14.08 per cent fall in unemployment among young people under 25 recorded between June 1997 and November 1998 is largely the result of this programme.
Initial studies carried out by government departments reveal that, thanks to the programme, it has been possible to meet many needs for new services in "problem" urban neighbourhoods and rural areas. Despite this, there are still "marked differences" from one area to another.
The new services are having an impact on all sectors of activity. Around 15.5 per cent of the projects are in the family-solidarity-health sector, 15.5 per cent in the environment sector and 10.9 per cent in culture. Then come sport, housing and living conditions, out-of-school and leisure activities, tourism, safety, transport and justice.
The jobs can be in new or emerging occupations, such as local social mediation, in existing occupations or in former ones that have been rediscovered and adapted to a new urban context or extended to a rural area. Examples in this last category include sports or cultural monitors, activities linked to protecting the environment or highlighting the heritage, and jobs connected with local development or tourism.
Italy: plans for longer compulsory schooling and integrated education and training
Within the broad framework of a new social pact signed in December 1998, the Italian Government is seeking to introduce an integrated system of education and vocational training as a way of promoting growth and employment. It will eventually be compulsory to undertake education or training up to the age of 18, a requirement which may be fulfilled at school, in vocational training or in apprenticeship. The skills thus acquired will have the value of training credits.
In 1999, compulsory education was extended by one year to the age of 15, making a total of nine years. This was the first step in a process which aims to extend education and training to 18 years of age and 13 years' duration.
Measures will also be taken to combat the phenomenon of dropping out and to train teachers. The government and the social partners plan to extend the use of in-company training periods for students, while apprentices will be required to train for at least 120 hours per year outside their place of employment.
A fund for continuing training has been set up with an endowment of 500 billion lire (Euro 258 million) per year in 2000 and 2001.
Portugal: "employment-training rotation" scheme
Portugal's working population suffers from a lack of qualifications. Hence, the fundamental importance of developing initial and - perhaps most crucially - continuous training schemes. The organizational and technological modernization of many companies, and small businesses in particular, means that there is an urgent need for continuous training of workers.
The employment-training rotation scheme is designed to stimulate access to continuous training for people who work for SMEs. The text of the legislation defines employment-training rotation as a process that enables companies to offer workers the opportunity for continuous training while at the same time allowing the unemployed to gain work experience, in effect, by "filling in" for the workers who are undergoing training.
Priority is given to companies employing up to 50 workers. The training must take place during normal working hours and last between one and 12 months. It must either be of direct benefit to the company or provide the workers with qualifying training.
Unemployed people registered at job centres then have the chance to gain work experience, which will assist their integration or reintegration into the world of employment. This work experience could result in their being employed on a temporary or permanent basis.
Sweden: expansion of post-secondary education
In late 1996, a pilot project involving qualified vocational education (QVE) was launched in Sweden. This is a form of post-secondary education in which one third of the time is based on advanced application of theoretical knowledge at a workplace. The courses are open to school-leavers and to employees who wish to develop their skills within a defined area.
The project is based on close co-operation between companies and the various course providers, and is intended to meet real needs in the employment market. It has grown rapidly and, in spring 1998, the government announced that it would be expanded further and prolonged until 2001. In 1998, 8,000 QVE student places were approved. The figure for 1999 was 12,000.
There are no restrictions in terms of the sectors where QVE can be provided. However, because of current demand on the job market, a significant proportion of the 205 courses approved so far are in information technology and engineering. There are also courses in commerce, tourism, health care and environmental control.
The purpose of the QVE project is to gain experience about courses, new educational methods and new course providers. An investigation into the amount of interest this type of vocational education attracts on the job market, and among the students involved, is being undertaken at the same time. So far, the results reveal a high degree of interest. Indeed, it has only been possible to approve one in three of the applications submitted by the various course providers while, on average, there are four applicants for each student place. To date, 1,061 students have completed a QVE. Of these, 72 per cent found jobs within three months of graduating while 10 per cent have gone on to further studies.
(This collection of short articles was originally published by the European Commission in Le Magazine: Education, Training and Youth in Europe, No. 11, 1999. The information was provided by the documentary information network of CEDEFOP, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training.)