On 1 January 2016, the Centre for Education and Training (ZAWM) in Eupen set up the two-year ESF project Vocational integration through training guidance in dual education (BIDA) for Belgium’s German-speaking community. BIDA’s goal is to support apprentices who are at risk of breaking their training contract or who have already dropped out of training, with the aim of getting them back into the dual vocational education and training (VET) system. This project is meant as a response to the increasing drop-out rate among apprentices in the first year of training (around 15% currently leave prematurely).

The BIDA project offers custom-made services to young people who, after starting their training, are thinking about dropping out early. Depending on the individual’s needs, the personalised help covers a wide variety of support: screening of the individual and personal career; analysis of strengths, interests and motivation; coaching in a new career or education path; preparation of an individual support and guidance plan; training modules to reduce personal anxieties and weaknesses; and referral to other support services. Participation in the project is voluntary in the sense that a young person must be willing to take up the offer. However, the problem is that many young people tend to be unaware of or fail to recognise their own weaknesses and difficulties; this stands in the way of their early rectification. The result is that many of these young people shy away from accepting an individual offer of help.

BIDA is also conducting the first scientifically based learning level survey for trainees in dual VET in the German-speaking Community. For this survey, ZAWM teamed up with Aachen university of applied sciences and the German-speaking Institute for work-linked training in small and medium-sized enterprises in Eupen (IAWM). All new entrants are tested for their knowledge of the core competences of German and mathematics and also their social competences. This allows conclusions to be drawn about their knowledge at the time of entering the training scheme, with the aim of optimising course contents and developing ways of promoting social skills. The BIDA project has established intensive cooperation with strategic partners: apprenticeship agencies (as a link between trainees and companies offering apprenticeships), teachers, socio-educational services of ZAWM, Kaleido Ostbelgien (Centre for Healthy Development of Children and Young People), part-time education institutes, companies, trainers and regular secondary schools.

Through the outcomes of the learning level survey and the individual support for trainees, the project leads to new strategic concepts for dual VET and so guarantees sustainable development. Two new approaches have already been launched: elaboration of a new concept for the intake test, aimed at interested schoolchildren who do not meet the regular educational requirements for joining an apprenticeship scheme, and revision of modular education, a separate form of general education whereby students work in a block system in significantly smaller groups on the prescribed educational programme. Within the BIDA framework, there have also been steps towards enabling direct integration of special-needs students into modular education.

Thought is being given to the creation of a safety net mechanism for young people who, for a variety of reasons (such as socio-emotional problems learning or disciplinary difficulties) are likely to fail in a classical education environment and leave their apprenticeship.