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Netherlands: a calling for vocational training Insiders on the responsiveness of Dutch senior secondary vocational education

Is Dutch senior secondary vocational education (middelbaar beroepsonderwijs - mbo) able to respond to rapid labour market changes? And are VET students well-equipped for a good start and lifelong sustainable employability? The report A calling for vocational training (Beroep op het mbo) published in autumn 2017 by the Institute for Social Research (SCP), presents the views of teachers, managers, intermediaries and learners on the responsiveness and flexibility of mbo.

Against the backdrop of a radically changing middle segment of the labour market, SCP investigated how VET stakeholders assess the opportunities for students. Mbo is, after all, a form of education geared specifically towards that middle segment.

The report addresses four main issues.

  • What efforts are made to keep mbo-programmes topical, relevant and innovative? To what extent do mbo-schools cooperate with prospective employers and regional centres of expertise? To what extent is the training offer adapted? To what extent are systems in place to share knowledge and professionalise the teaching staff?
  • What do stakeholders think constitutes a good skill set to ensure that learners are well equipped to enter the labour market? What are the views of former students on this?
  • Which skills do stakeholders consider important for employment in the future, and how do they rate the importance of lifelong learning?
  • How do those involved in mbo view recent changes in the system? What is going well in terms of responsiveness and what are points of concern?

While roughly half of the interviewed mbo teachers believe the programmes provide students with sufficient knowledge and skills to enable them to remain in work in the future, others doubt this optimistic view. There are doubts about the responsiveness of students in the lower mbo levels in particular, while in the upper mbo tracks there are fears of job displacement by graduates from universities of applied sciences (hbo). According to mbo teachers, work placements are generally under pressure: the number of internships is by no means adequate and, in many cases, the space allocated for them in the curriculum has been curtailed.

mbo graduates themselves, interviewed 18 months after completing their programmes, report that personality characteristics and job-specific knowledge are the most important skills in their current jobs. Other skills are also important. Only basic skills, such as maths and language, are considered to be less important.

A difficult challenge: looking for a balance

mbo faces a difficult challenge in meeting the changing requirements of the labour market, taking into account its other goals and students’ capabilities, interests and talents. At the same time, education and training will always lag behind developments in occupational practice, and the long-term interests of learners will not always correspond to the short-term needs of prospective employers.

Ultimately, absolute responsiveness is not feasible: the programmes are too short and future labour market developments too uncertain. And not all the skills needed can be – or need to be – taught or developed within mbo.

mbo students are trained as beginning professionals; their further learning and development will take place largely informally on the job. Even now, students say they learn many skills outside college. It is important that a solid basis for a good beginning is established during the initial phase, so mbo graduates can build on this throughout their careers.

Read more:

A calling for vocational training