No ‘one size fits all’ blueprint for vocational training

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Dual vocational training can be an effective way to tackle youth unemployment, but programmes have to be adapted to fit country contexts, Clemens Wieland writes.

Clemens Wieland is senior project manager at the Bertelsmann Stiftung research institute.

In the European Union, there are currently 7.5 million young people under the age of 25 who are not engaged in any kind of education, training or work. The countries most affected by this problem are looking for ways to improve the transition between school and employment. They are increasingly turning their sights toward the dual vocational training system – the German, as well as the Swiss, Austrian and Dutch systems. Countries with this model – in which theoretical training in vocational schools is combined with practical in-company experience – have the lowest youth unemployment rates in Europe. The dual vocational training system does not only ensure that the business world will have access to skilled workers with real-world training, but also facilitates young people’s transition into the labour market.

The European Union and its member states recognize the benefits of dual vocational training. Indeed, their interest in the training model is greater than ever. In its strategy paper “Rethinking Education,” the European Commission makes the compelling statement “Work-based learning, such as dual approaches, should be a central pillar of vocational education and training systems across Europe, with the aim of reducing youth unemployment”. Furthermore, the European Alliance for Apprenticeships is heading in the same direction. According to the Commission, the Alliance will help to fight youth unemployment by improving the quality and supply of apprenticeships across the EU through a broad partnership of key employment and education stakeholders. Countries such as Spain, Greece, Portugal, Italy, Slovakia and Latvia are today considering adaptations in their vocational training systems to bring them in line with Germany’s dual system.

The empirical importance of practical work experience for job opportunities has been highlighted recently by a comparative quantitative study published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) examining causes of youth unemployment in Europe. The most interesting finding is that there is a strong inverse relationship between work-based learning and the risk of unemployment. In other words, practical experience acquired alongside vocational or academic education lowers the risk of future unemployment. This is also reflected in the recent Quality Framework for Traineeships that was proposed by the European Commission.

Thus, it makes sense to incorporate practical work experience in all vocational education programs. Adding on-the-job training to an existing vocational program is easier than introducing a new, German-type dual system. Germany’s dual system is suitable as a model but not as a blueprint for other national contexts. A country wishing to adopt a foreign system of vocational training must first completely adapt it to the new context. It must implement the dual vocational training in line with the country’s own educational, social and economic objectives. Thus, it may be better to incorporate elements of another country’s system, but not copy it exactly.

Reforming education systems is a complex undertaking. This is true in particular for vocational training, which is positioned between a society’s education system and the labour market, and must interact with a diverse set of actors and institutions. For example, vocational training intersects the responsibility of ministries and public administrations, social partners and companies, where training and learning take place. The diverse reasoning brought to the table by these actors should be considered in the reform process.

Despite the worldwide hype about the dual vocational training system as the ideal model to fight youth unemployment, such a system will always have to be adapted for each country. There isn’t a one-size fits all blueprint for vocational training.

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