Modelling and measuring economic-civic competencies

University of Zurich, Institute of Education Science

Lead researchers: Prof. Dr. Franz Eberle, Prof. Dr. Stephan Schumann (University of Konstanz)

Duration: 01.04.2012 - 31.03.2016

With regard to the goals of comprehensive economics and business teaching for commercial apprentices, a distinction can be drawn between teaching job-specific competencies (proficiency and ability to do the job) and conveying a general understanding of the economy and society. This general understanding of the economy and society is known as economic-civic competencies: Citizens in modern democratic societies are confronted with complex socio-economic demands and it is highly desirable that they have the ability to competently handle these various demands.

It is an overriding and justified aim of VET programmes to instil professional competence and a sense of responsibility in young people. Special attention is paid to the promotion of economic-civic competencies in Swiss VET programmes in Commerce, but curricular elements for the promotion of this competence can also be found in the teaching plans and regulations of German VET programmes in Commerce.

In view of this starting position, one of the first goals of the research project was to describe the model of economic-civic competencies in more detail and to map out its relationship to commercial competence. In a holistic sense, both competencies can be placed under a broad economic competence, which is made up of technical-cognitive (knowledge and skills) and non-cognitive (emotional, motivational and volitional) aspects. With reference to the proposal of Gelman and Greeno (1989) and the adaption to vocational competence by Winther among others (2010), the project distinguishes between domain-specific and domain-linked components when it comes to economic-civic competencies and commercial knowledge and skills. It works on the assumption that there is some overlap between the two domain-linked components, i.e. between the basic economic knowledge and commercial knowledge. Beyond this theoretical modelling, one of the main objectives of the research project was to develop a technology-based test tool to record economic-civic competencies.

The overall psychometric quality findings show good results for the Swiss sample in particular. In the German sample, however, there were a number of deviations from the usual range, and further analyses will need to be conducted to ascertain the cause. The results of the empirical representations of competence structure confirm the presumed two-dimensional structure of economic-civic competencies. The posited dimensions are reliably measured and are correlated to a quite foreseeable but not excessive degree. Furthermore, the results of how apprentices performed in the economic and financial elements of programmes in Switzerland and Germany are now available. Swiss apprentices performed better in the test to measure economic-civic competencies. This reflects the peculiarity of the Swiss curriculum, which is not only geared towards commercial-vocational competencies but also economic-civic competencies. This combination of general and vocational education, which can also be described as a specificity within Switzerland compared with other occupations – in all other occupations, there is a subject that is separate to vocational teaching called “general education” – has therefore proven its worth, although further research is needed. Finally, the observably better performance of industry managers/MEM apprentices compared with logistics managers/SPEDLOG apprentices in both Switzerland and Germany should be further explored. The evaluation of the data and relevant publications will continue after the SERI funding phase. This will include more in-depth analysis of structural links between economic-civic competencies and vocational commercial competencies, as well as interrelations with other performance data and contextual factors.

With regard to utilisation of the research findings, there are on the one hand diverse contacts to other research institutions and individual researchers that have been enhanced and intensified within the scope of this project. On the other hand, there is also a commitment with training officers from the SWISSMEM and SPEDLOGSWISS industry associations to compare the project results with the results of final VET diploma examinations in more depth. In addition, the training officers showed a great deal of interest in the test tool and its potential development for use in training and evaluation.

Project description on the University of Zurich website (german)