In 2016 Denmark organised two conferences with participants from the Nordic countries. These events focused on common Nordic challenges in vocational education and training (VET) and sought deeper understanding of the similarities, differences and current issues concerning both researchers and VET teachers.

The four-year research project Nord-VET delivered the theme Learning from vocational education in the Nordic countries, and the Nordic research network (Nordyrk) held its annual conference focusing on the joint challenges.

The Nord-VET conference

Nord-VET is a comparative Nordic research project covering Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark in 2013-16. It seeks to generate new knowledge on the strengths and weaknesses of the different VET systems at upper secondary level in four countries, and explores what can be learned from each of them.

Key questions for the Nord-VET research project are how VET in the Nordic countries handles the challenges of:

  • giving access to both higher education and to the labour market;
  • maintaining high esteem and attracting ambitious students;
  • involving employers (partners) and providing high-quality work-based learning;
  • being socially inclusive and obtaining high completion rates.

Answers to these questions came in 12 project reports which were also the central topic of the presentations and discussions at the conference. In a keynote presentation, Professor Christian Helms Jorgensen (DK) looked at the potential future of Nordic VET scenarios:

  • continuous decline in enrolment, status and quality. VET is a residual, mainly a social policy measure;
  • revival of ‘craftsmanship’ and occupational/professional status, but only elite occupations;
  • vertical extension and integration of VET and higher vocational education;
  • hybridisation: horizontal integration of vocational and general education;
  • growth of corporate training, internships, firm-specific skills and internal labour markets;
  • shift from occupational to organisational VET base: the Swedish ‘vocational colleges’;
  • differentiation and disintegration: diversification of VET – no common ‘system – weak standards.

The NORDYRK conference

The conference had four keynote presentations; one from each of the Nordic countries, as well as 24 workshops; more than 50 abstracts and papers were presented and discussed. Topics included integrating workplace learning in VET, entrepreneurial learning, and competence development of teachers (teachers as researchers).