The action Focus on workmanship (Focus op Vakmanschap) 2011-15 is paving the way towards attractive and more challenging vocational education and training (VET) and ensuring that VET education will continue to play its important role in society and economy in the Netherlands.

In the coming years, vocational education (MBO) institutions will be implementing this action plan. Current training programmes will be intensified and, whenever possible, will enable students to complete MBO 4 programmes in three years. Programmes which are both compact and intensive are more attractive to students, and thus a good alternative to the higher general secondary education [HAVO] route.

Any revision of the qualification framework will have to ensure that VET programmes will be better tailored to future labour market needs. Careful and effective implementation of the Focus on workmanship action plan is an important priority of the Dutch Minister for Education.

However, to ensure VET students are well prepared for the future labour market, additional measures are needed. The Dutch Social and Economic Council’s (SER) and the Scientific Council for Government Policy’s (WRR) advisory reports entitled 'Handmade in Holland' and 'Towards a learning economy' echo this point.

The key to accomplishing this, will be to mobilise and apply innovations and technologies across companies, sectors, and regions. A new appreciation of workmanship is already visible in the Netherlands. It is necessary for VET students not only to foster their cognitive skills, but also their entrepreneurial and practical skills, which may make alternative learning pathways more suitable.

Measures to accomplish these goals include:

  1. combined learning pathway. Starting with the 2015-16 school year, more flexibility will be introduced to the VET system by offering a combined (BOL/BBL) learning pathway. This will enable practice-oriented students who might otherwise fail to complete a programme to carry on;
  2. improved quality of apprenticeship. 'Knowledge centres' (KBB, after 1 August 2015 SBB) will be responsible for quantity and quality of work placements. MBO institutions are responsible for finding suitable work placements for their students and for providing adequate guidance. Students are also obliged to make efforts on their own behalf;
  3. revised qualification framework. Starting with the 2016-17 school year, all MBO institutions will be using the revised qualification structure. Qualifications have been drafted in broad terms, but specific enough to guide VET providers. In addition, regions will have leeway to draft some options themselves, and thus anticipate specific regional needs;
  4. experiment with crossovers. Starting with the 2016-17 school year, and in addition to the qualification structure revision, more crossovers will be permitted, where innovative training programmes are created by combining parts of several qualifications. Starting in 2015, an extra EUR 75 million in funds will be made permanently available for improving technical and other expensive programmes;
  5. innovative public-private partnerships. EUR 100 million are available from the regional MBO investment fund for the period 2014-17. Centres for innovative workmanship use the regional MBO investment fund to participate in public-private partnerships;
  6. excellence. In context of a new excellence programme for MBO education, MBO institutions will develop programmes which receive wide support from within and outside institutions. This must result in ambitious plans and courses that offer more in-depth and broader education, courses that will enable the best students to pursue a higher level of workmanship.

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