Just over three years after the signing of the Berlin memorandum on cooperation in vocational education and training (VET) in Europe, representatives from Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, and Slovakia convened to review progress. The main focuses were implementation of dual or workplace-based training, increasing the attractiveness and quality of vocational education, modernisation of training systems, and integration of the social partners into the respective VET system.
Germany and its partners took implementation seriously. Bilateral working groups were founded to foster exchange of information and networking among all those involved and to steer cooperation in policy terms. Since 2013, the German Office for International Cooperation in VET (GOVET) has been acting with partners to organise numerous study trips, specialist workshops and conferences, to implement pilot projects, to conduct feasibility studies, to draw up materials for training courses and to prepare reports and evaluations., Implementation has taken place at various speeds in the individual countries and with different emphases in line with respective needs and political necessities.
Country representatives exchanged information on the challenges of necessary legal reforms, on the development of quality staff involved in continuing VET, and in connection with cooperation between learning venues. Slovakia, for example, indicated that it had fast-tracked statutory re-regulation, involving all stakeholders. Italy has introduced a two-level law stipulating vocational orientation in all schools and higher VET at specialised upper secondary schools. The significant factor is that dual elements or practical phases are firmly established in law as an option to other vocational school choices within the education system. In countries such as Greece, this has also led to a gradual route towards system improvement that builds on national traditions and experiences.
The object of another debate was the key role played by staff at schools and companies in a high-quality VET system. Both Latvia and Portugal use fully trained teachers as VET staff. Advanced and continuing training courses are also offered which, as in Portugal, are important for career advancement. Even more significant, however, is the expansion of the pedagogical competences of company-based training staff: in both countries, this takes place via continuing training courses. Within the scope of the German-Portuguese cooperation agreement, Portugal has developed a 35-hour continuing training scheme for this purpose, which may soon be included in the national qualifications catalogue. Latvia has recognised that cross-border networking, especially with companies, supports teachers’ understanding of technological processes. This topic formed the main focus of the third session, in which the most important mechanisms for cooperation between schools and companies in Greece, Italy and Germany were discussed.
In a panel discussion it became clear how special support mechanisms for small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) can serve as a vehicle for overcoming hurdles related to curriculum adaptation, accreditation, partner search and coordination of training. Also evident was that it was rarely possible to get SMEs to provide company-based training without initial investments and state tax breaks. The unanimous view was that a strong independent body to assist companies with organisation, such as a chamber, was also helpful.
Country representatives gave highly positive feedback on the ‘lessons learned’, particularly in respect of instruments used. It was discussed how important practical signals can be transmitted to the EU Commission in its capacity as a multilateral peer learning platform. Everyone agreed that the format should continue and that a further meeting should be held at the end of the year. The intention is that at least one annual meeting should be staged in the various countries.