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Time for a new human capital theory

At the technical vocational education and training (TVET) innovation week 2017 leaders’ forum in Abu Dhabi on 10 January, Cedefop Director James Calleja said that the time is ripe for a new human capital theory which will ‘reintegrate learning with work, merge further education with employment policies and inject sustainable investment in skills.’

Mr Calleja was a keynote speaker in a session with former Federal Chancellor of Austria and current UN Secretary-General Special Envoy on Youth Employment Werner Faymann, Oxford University Professor Hiram Samel and Executive Vice President of the Khalifa University of Science and Technology and Research Arif Al Hammadi.

The third edition of the TVET innovation week comprised world-class speakers, hands-on workshops, specialised seminars in seven TVET campuses, innovative students’ projects and career fairs reaching more than 10 000 parents and students. The leaders’ forum, organised by the Abu Dhabi Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training, attracted more than 500 participants.

Changing markets

In his intervention, Mr Calleja spoke about the role of TVET systems in responding to the needs of changing markets. Referring to Cedefop’s work, he said that the first role is to embed VET in learning systems at all levels, particularly in higher education. The growth of services and the spread of technology and globalisation created new jobs that require new skills. In the EU, VET in higher education is expanding but is still not a first option to many learners. He added that ‘information technology has redefined TVET’s context and content to the extent that it can lead to higher levels of learning and careers.’

Mr Calleja also focused on the need to ensure that TVET curricula are broad-based, include key competences and can serve for industry lifelong learning programmes. TVET can act as a laboratory for high-level applied research and ideas incubation centres that can generate quality jobs and sustainable employment. Quality curricula can be identified by their relevance to labour market needs and learners’ career paths.

The Cedefop Director said that innovation and entrepreneurship are not an exclusive domain of universities, stressing that ‘if entrepreneurship can be experienced earlier in life, it can change mindsets on jobs and careers.’

Qualifications frameworks

He then delved into the need for clear, flexible and accessible TVET qualifications: ‘Qualification systems can sometimes be a labyrinth and discourage learners from following pathways that lead to employability. In this respect, the European qualifications framework and the 43 national qualifications frameworks that have been created are making learning more accessible, acquired by people at any age. The key challenges remain those linked to the design of qualifications that are responsive to key competences, to a learning outcomes approach and to skill needs in changing markets.’

Mr Calleja also argued that ‘TVET’s assets are its resources and high-quality TVET is not cheap; it is not an expense but an investment.’ The professional training of teachers, trainers and mentors forms part of this process and adequate infrastructures should be the result of collaboration between public and private partnerships.

Uncomfortable partners

He referred to the key recommendation of linking the world of work with that of education through collaboration between private and public stakeholders: ‘The education and employment sectors have been uncomfortable partners in some countries but also close partners in others. One manifestation of the added value of this partnership is the low rate of unemployment.’

This is important enough to spearhead more public investment in work-based learning in various forms and particularly apprenticeships that can bridge the gap between the two sectors. Employers cannot expect ready-made human capital; neither can training providers expect to provide relevant content without industry’s direct input.

Key challenges

According to the Cedefop Director, these viewpoints represent three key challenges: to match investment in TVET’s infrastructure with the high technological profile of the labour market; to make education and employment lifelong partners – skills change so rapidly that education and training should now be inseparable; and to introduce a new human capital theory in which people, and not technology on its own, are seen as the competitive edge of businesses – hence quality jobs based on lifelong learning in schools, colleges and workplaces.

The New skills agenda for Europe is providing an excellent tool to address these challenges as it seeks to empower those whose experience of education has so far been negative and may have led to unemployment and those who are seeking excellence and high-profile careers in their working life.

Change is the new language of TVET. Quoting Albert Einstein, Mr Calleja concluded that it is insane to keep doing the same thing and expect different results. In TVET, change is now long overdue and necessary for attractiveness and new skills, and as in the labour market, it is inherent to relevancy.