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"The right skills set counts for more in the job market than formal qualification levels"

On 11 December, German Federal Education Minister Annette Schavan hosted ministers responsible for vocational training from several Member States at a conference in Berlin. The event, held with the support of the European Commission, concluded with the signing of a memorandum of cooperation in vocational training in Europe between Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain, which aims to launch cooperative activities “to encourage and support dual forms of job-related vocational training”. Acting Director Christian Lettmayr was at the Berlin conference to deliver a keynote speech.


What was the impetus behind this memorandum?

Strengthening the work-based components of initial vocational training has moved up on the EU policy agenda since 2010. The current crisis has led to a very significant rise in youth unemployment – the average is now hovering around 25% - but the figures differ widely between countries. Those with strong apprenticeship systems and dual learning have been weathering the storm much better, as pointed out in the Commission’s recent Communication, "Moving Youth into Employment".


What is the value of the dual-learning model, and what are the challenges?

A close connection between training and real work situations – which is the basic premise of any dual or apprenticeship system – guarantees a close match between education and training and the requirements of employers. It prepares graduates for the requirements of work in an organisation, accustoms them to working with others in a team, and provides good training in social skills - for instance, in customer service. One can prepare for all this in a school setting, but it’s much easier and more efficient to acquire such skills at the workplace.

It’s not just about social skills. An apprenticeship is also a better way to acquire manual skills and dexterity, which helps those who have difficulty following theoretical studies.

It goes without saying that being in a real workplace during your training allows you to develop relations with employers and get to grips with how organisations function, which improves your chance of getting a job later.

The German system of apprenticeship is a very successful example of the dual learning model. It’s also admired for its ability to adapt to new situations. For instance, it reacts quickly to the introduction of new technologies. So it’s natural for Germany to take a central role in this new effort.

That said, the German system – or for that matter, the Austrian or Danish systems, both also very successful – cannot be simply imitated. Every educational system rests on established institutions and a series of governance practices, relations between social partners, and so on. The idea is not to ‘copy-and-paste’ the German dual system to, say, Italy but to examine in what way the underlying logic of dual learning can be applied within Italian education and employment practices.

Qualification levels have been rising everywhere in Europe, and yet thousands of jobs remain vacant for lack of suitable candidates. The right skills set counts for more in the job market than formal qualification levels. In the end, the real recipe for success – for individuals, employers and economies alike - is to achieve the best possible match between the demand and supply of skills. This is why mechanisms like the dual learning model, which allow curricula to adapt to new demands in the workplace, are valuable.


What role can Cedefop play in this process?

Cedefop offers facts and analysis to underpin all EU policies that are related to vocational education and training. For instance, we’ve been working on how qualifications can open up to include work-based knowledge, on forecasting skills supply and demand, and on analysing the forms of skill mismatch and how they can be overcome. We look forward to providing our expertise to this new European alliance for apprenticeships and work-based learning.