The first European Thinking Lab took place from 25-27 November in Lisbon. During the Summit, the contributors cooperated within their Thinking Lab and worked out brief policy proposals. Inês Gregório is engaged with the topic of Strengthening Vocational Education and Training.
In 2011, the Bruges Communiqué recognized vocational training as a motor for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth that may provide young people with the adequate practical skills to succeed in the job market, as well as with opportunities to pursue higher-level qualifications, and incentivized member-states in developing this reality. In the five Mediterranean countries analyzed in this project, vocational education and training systems had already been implemented for some decades. However, the attractiveness and social recognition of these work-based learning schemes are still much reduced, with the majority of people still perceiving this alternative as an option only for those who are not able to learn in school-based education.
Fostering Success Factors: Integration into Education System, Quality of Education and Establishment of Partnerships
In order to reverse this situation and to fight against the widespread negative image of vocational education, there are three ‘success factors’ in developing this educational path that shall be fostered by member-states. The first is related to governance and refers to the more thorough integration of work-based learning opportunities within the education and training system, in order for people to not differentiate between the two main educational paths. In addition, the close involvement of social partners is crucial for the success of these initiatives, for which it is so important to provide financial or fiscal incentives for employers to promote work-based learning. A second factor of success is associated with the quality of the learning process and with the existence of a clear regulatory framework that defines the responsibilities, rights and obligations of all actors involved. High-quality knowledge and skills acquired by learners in a vocational education context imply not only their adequacy to the performance of a profession but also an understanding of the entire professional field. This characteristic is essential to allow learners to have strong basic skills to better adapt to the changes caused by processes of technological development. Lastly, partnerships with vocational education stakeholders shall be encouraged in order for schools to work closely with local businesses and to better understand the real needs of the market. When this cooperation is not fostered, learners may be taught in competences that are particularly not relevant for the labour market or may end up in professional situations that do not offer much further development of skills.
Promoting Mutual Recognition of Qualifications
A final and very important factor for strengthening vocational education is the mutual recognition of the competences and qualifications acquired within this scheme, so as to increase international mobility and to facilitate access to lifelong learning. As such, the European Union created the European Credit system for Vocational Education and Training (ECVET), a unit-based tool to increase the general understanding of learning outcomes and to allow learners to accumulate, transfer and use their learning to build qualifications in formal, non-formal and informal contexts recognized in all European Union countries. The European Qualification Framework (EQF) was also created to increase the recognition of competences as well as transparency, mutual trust and mobility of learners and workers through a set of common tools made available for national authorities to manage the quality and for improving the effectiveness of VET provisions.
Despite all the efforts made by European institutions for the aforementioned instruments to be adopted by member states, there must be a greater level of political willingness in order to achieve these objectives and to strengthen vocational education and training programs.