The 6th CEDEFOP Brussels Seminar was held on 13th December 2018 at the Permanent Representation of Austria to the EU and it was organized by CEDEFOP in cooperation with the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the EU. The event addressed future VET scenarios and their possible implications for policies and practices.

VET in the future – threatened or thriving?

In the first part of the seminar, Loukas Zahilas (Head of Department, CEDEFOP) moderated the dialogue between Jens Bjornavold (CEDEFOP) and Jörg Markowitsch (3S, Austria). They introduced the project “The changing nature and role of Vocational Education and Training in Europe’’.  Jörg Markowitsch underlined that we need to analyze the past in order to look ahead as VET systems are path dependent and will tend to reflect the past. How has VET changed during the past two decades? We find that nowadays, VET has broader goals at the socio-economic level, increasing the role of skills intelligence systems and considering digitalization a key-driving force. Also, at the pedagogic level, VET has crossed boundaries, increasing WBL in all VET forms.

On the other hand, Jens Bjornavold stated that we are faced with competing stories. We now find both Universities and VET Institutions focusing on practice. This gives us two perspectives: a negative one that perceives VET as declining and losing out to general and academic education and a positive one that sees VET expanding to higher levels and providing essential skills for continued economic growth and for upholding welfare. Depending on the approach of VET and on the country both perspectives can indeed be true.

Looking at the figures, we can observe that there has been a retrogression trend in VET enrolment since 2005.  Nonetheless, to get a more realistic picture we need to look closely. We can perceive a remarkable growth from a low base in some countries like Spain, a moderate growth in others from a moderate base (the Netherlands) and a significant decline in a limited number from a high base (Germany). But overall, VET has so far upheld its position relative to general upper secondary education in most countries.

Three basic future VET scenarios

In addition, three basic future VET scenarios have been presented. In the first place, we find the “Pluralistic scenario” where VET is understood as vocationally oriented learning in various contexts and organized around qualifications. Secondly, the “Distinctive scenario” where we see professional competence as a key concept and a focus on professional entry associated with medium to high skilled professionals. And finally, the “Special Purpose VET scenario”, where VET is understood as “skills training” for labour market inclusion. This scenario approach does not aim at predicting the future, but rather intend to illustrate the implications of different choices. They will never materialize in a pure or ideal form, but can become dominant and influence developments.

In the second part of the seminar, Stephanie Meyer (Austrian Ministry of Education, Science and Research) provided the Austrian Ministry perspective. She states that in the future, success in the VET system will lie in a combination of school based training and apprenticeship. The challenge lies in maintaining the balance between the two. Moreover, Ms. Meyer considers that Austria holds a rather positive viewpoint, as VET is becoming more and more included in the lifelong learning perspective.

Anja Trier Wang (Danish Industry and BusinessEurope) introduced the Danish VET system, which is based on an exclusively apprenticeship model that welcomes young people as well as adults. Even though in Denmark there is a distinctive VET system with separate institutions and government, strong social partners, high responsiveness to labour market needs and high employability of VET graduates, there are still challenges to be faced. There is a tendency to academic/theoretic drift going on for decades in the Danish system, as well as a high political focus on increasing the number of secondary level graduates and high drop-out rates in VET. All this factors lead to important gaps: the decline in the number of VET students heads to a decline in apprenticeship contracts and companies cannot recruit what they need because there is a gap between the estimated employment and the actual supply of students. Although initiatives have been taken to increase the quality and esteem of VET, progress is slow and further action is needed. Primary education needs proper introduction to the world of VET in order to achieve parity of esteem between VET and higher education.

Finally, Dana Bachmann (Head of Unit, DG EMPL, European Commission) emphasized the importance of serving inclusion, growth and excellence in the future of VET. Loukas Zahilas concluded the seminar looking forward to keeping working in the future of VET for the years to come.

Please find on #CEDEFOP website the presentations made during the event

Reported by Anca Crețu