In 2010, the State Education Development Agency in cooperation with four partners – the Employers’ Confederation of Latvia, the Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia, the National Centre for Education, and the State Education Quality Service – started to implement an ESF project called ‘Development of sectoral qualifications system and increasing the efficiency and quality of vocational education’ (project period: 1.12.2010-30.11.2013). The aim of this project is to establish a qualitative vocational education content provision system that functions continuously and corresponds to the needs of economic sectors.

The first step for establishing such a system was the setting up of 12 sectoral expert councils in 2011. The councils were made up of representatives from employers’ organisations, trade unions, branch ministries, the Ministry of Education and Science, the Ministry of Economics, as well as representatives from the Ministry of Welfare and the State Employment Agency. Thus, councils’ activities are based on tripartite cooperation. As a result, the information flow within and between sectors is strengthened, and their involvement in developing vocational education content and planned vocational education reforms is encouraged.

The councils have already demonstrated their role in issues related to initial vocational education content, quality, number of students to be enrolled, vocational programmes, requirements of examinations, and more. With help of the councils, informing sectoral representatives is more successful, such as validation and recognition of professional competences acquired outside formal education. At the beginning of 2011, a validation system (on EQF level 3-4) was established and piloted in the project.

The second step in establishing a provision system for vocational education content was completed in June 2012 via research and development of sectoral qualifications structures. Several sectors were explored.

The sector descriptions created during the research include sector development trends in Latvia and other EU countries, sectoral growth forecasts, volume and market forecasts, and investments. A SWOT analysis was also performed. The workforce of the sectors was characterised, by competence and skill, recruitment criteria for employees, and availability of potential employees in the labour market. Vocational education issues were also analysed, such as correspondence of vocational education offer to sectoral demand (from employers’ and education providers’ perspectives), requalification and qualification improvement opportunities, possibilities for organising practical learning at enterprises, using sectoral technologies in the teaching/learning process, and involving sector representatives in the teaching/learning process.

Professional qualifications structures were designed to stipulate necessary requirements for professions and specialisations. These structures were approved by the sectoral expert councils and sectoral professional qualifications were referenced to the levels of the European qualifications framework.

In the second half of 2012, the third step was taken in establishing a vocational education content provision system. Based on results of the sectoral research, development of occupational standards and/or professional qualifications basic requirements was initiated.

On conclusion of this project, VET programmes will be restructured by introducing a modular approach. The procedure and content for professional qualification examinations is expected to be improved.