Vocational education and training has received a great deal of international attention as it is perceived to be a means of addressing shortages of skilled workers on the labour market and reducing youth unemployment. However, the concept of vocational education and training is not clearly defined at international level and gives rise to very different perceptions and approaches. In October, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (cedefop) jointly hosted a symposium in Paris. At this event, participants from countries with a tradition of dual-track VET explained how their countries are able ensure the appeal of their system and how they intend to maintain this appeal in the future.
‘The next steps for apprenticeships’ – or how to ensure that VET can satisfy future needs? This joint OECD/cedefop symposium drew VET partners and researchers from all over the world. This event allowed participants to share the latest research findings and discuss various action steps that can be taken to overcome future challenges facing VET such as digitalisation or new ways of structuring work.
Contribution from Swiss VET researchers
Switzerland is actively involved in VET research. Prof. Dieter Euler (University of St. Gallen) had developed several models intended to bring greater permeability between VET and academic pathways; Prof. Antje Barabasch (SFIVET) presented various ways in which innovations have been reflected in apprenticeships within the telecommunications field. The presences of Swiss experts largely helped to reinforce Switzerland’s image at the international level.
Systemic excellence – individual excellence
The countries that have a tradition of dual-track VET (mainly Germany, Austria and Switzerland, but also Denmark, which also contributed to the presentation) are characterised by the excellent quality of their dual-track VET systems. Generally speaking, excellence is not the result of active measures taken by the respective countries, but rather the result of the features inherently built into these systems.
Excellence in dual-track VET is manifested at systemic level in the form of employability, mobility, career growth prospects, lifelong learning and cost-benefit ratios. Excellence is also encouraged at individual level in the form of national and international competitions (SwissSkills, WorldSkills, etc.). Young people of different talents are drawn to dual-track VET programme because of the various options available and because of the vast array of competences. As a result, dual-track VET supports both integration and individual excellence.
These features of the Swiss VET system often differ from other VET systems which - without judging their intrinsic qualities - focus on adult education or training, or on the acquisition of basic skills by young people who are unable to pursue other educational paths.
Excellence is the new trend in vocational education and training and Switzerland can be proud of this. However, in our VET system, we prefer to speak of appeal, which is achieved through systemic permeability and close correlation with the needs of the labour market, for example. Given the differences in VET systems at European level, there is still a need to establish what excellence means and how it can be maintained by stakeholders in the face of future challenges such as labour market trends, digitalisation and socio-demographic changes. This includes in particular the extension of working life and the rapid development of working environments and technologies.
If we look more closely at each country with a dual-track vocational training system, we find different approaches:
- Germany has launched an initiative entitled ‘Innovation for an Excellent VET [InnoVET]’, which is based largely on the social partnership, but also on support measures for young people and on measures to achieve equivalence between professional and academic pathways.
- In Switzerland, the ‘Vocational Training 2030’ initiative was launched by the VPET partners (i.e. the Confederation, the cantons and professional organisations) in anticipation of changes in the labour market and in society. This initiative provides for various measures to maintain the current level of quality and to enable VET to face future challenges. In this context, VET research supports the entire process.
- In Austria, emphasis is also placed on ensuring quality in VET, both for workplace training and for classroom instruction at vocational schools.