What experience do practitioners make during projects and initiatives to introduce WBL approaches in training? What are the outcomes, positive as well as negative? What are the lessons learnt? How can we achieve sustainability of successful models?

These are just some of the questions we want to discuss in the context of the EWT network debate, we are trying to establish a dialogue about these questions in order to bring together actors of different countries and sectors who are undergoing such processes. We believe that the exchange of experience can be beneficial to all actors and that we can learn from each other in spite of the obvious differences in educational systems and sectors.

In our first input article we want to take a look at the experience made in the Greek hospitality industry, where in the context of the MENDI project dual apprenticeship training based on the German model was established for three professions: chefs, hotel and restaurant specialists. Overall, 158 young people underwent a three-year apprenticeship in one of the occupations. The work-based learning approach as it is shaped in the German model exists only in very few countries. However, international interest in this model has grown which can also be accounted to the low youth unemployment rates in Germany and Austria. The European policy approach is thus to promote initiatives for the further development of work-based learning approaches and has repeatedly emphasized the importance of VET personnel in this context. In this article, we want to focus on the particular role of in-company trainers in the introduction of new models of WBL. For more information on the MENDI project, please visit: http://project-mendi.eu

What is the role of in-company trainers in WBL?

We want to begin with a few introductory statements on the role of in-company trainers in WBL. Experience shows that countries that do not (yet) have established forms of WBL, particularly in the area of initial training, also do not have an equally established role of in-company trainers as countries with a long tradition of work-based training schemes. In Greece, for example, in spite of the existence of dual training approaches, the school-based approaches have dominated the VET landscape. Despite the existence of a consecutive dual training programme there are no established standards or requirements for the qualification of in-company trainers.

However, this is not to suggest that in countries with a predominantly school-based training system there are no in-company trainers who are qualified or experienced in the training of young people. Today, the vast majority of school-based training approaches foresee extensive company-based internship phases. Many companies have made experiences in this context. However, this means that typically, the level of qualification and experience of in-company trainers is highly heterogeneous. A fact that needs to be taken into account by training offers.

CEDEFOP, similarly to the German training reality, distinguishes mainly two types of in-company trainers:

For the purpose of the paper, an ‘in-company trainer’ applies to:

(a) a comparatively small group of in-company trainers who perform training tasks as the major part of their occupational role – full-time or part-time;

(b) a comparatively large group of employees, whose occupational role includes a particular training-related function (owner, general manager, supervisor, skilled worker).”[1]

But what competences do these trainers require in order to work successfully? Many initiatives, among them the Level-up! and its predecessor projects “European Workplace Tutor” and “it’s time” have analysed different national qualifications and competence requirements (supply and demand side) in order to establish common ground for European trainer qualifications.[2] CEDEFOP identifies four central fields of competence that are common to all national qualification offers:

  • competences related to their specific technical domain/ sector
  • competences related to serving a company’s strategy and improving its competitiveness through training
  • pedagogical/didactical competence, training-related competences
  • transversal competences that help trainers support the learning process.

Training concepts from countries with already established WBL systems, in this case Germany, appear to be unsuitable in the introductory phase of WBL or elements thereof, particularly since it does not consider the multitude of training activities and the highly heterogeneous prior experience of in-company trainers. The MENDI project thus attempted to develop qualification offers for trainers that are geared towards the required competencies as well as the pre-existing knowledge, skills and competences, at the same time considering the specifics of the sector (e.g. seasonal and shift work, high level of social and communication skills of specialists of the sector). An additional criterion for the training pilots was a minimum transferability to standards for Greek VET personnel.

In the case of the Greek hospitality industry, there is a high level of training in social-communicative competences among all skilled workers, there is also a relatively high level of training experience from internships/ work experience, although such schemes are typically a lot shorter (approximate average of 3-month-placements) and unstructured as in there is typically no standardised training plan for such placements as is in dual training schemes.

In order to account for the different levels of prior experience of the target group, the approach was a modular training concept:

Basic stage (with a specific focus on dual training, specifics of WBL as opposed to school-based learning), targeted both at trainers and teachers

Contents:

  • The project MENDI
  • Basics of the dual system
    • Framework curriculum
    • Places of learning, school and company
    • Roles and responsibilities of chamber, school, training company
  • Concept of learning outcomes orientation
  • Activity-oriented training / lessons
  • Concept of complete work activity
  • Introduction to assessment
  • New forms of learning
  • Cooperation of actors

Developmental stage (strong focus on the role of VET personnel, training in practice, application of training tools, introduction to methodological and didactic competences), two separate trainings for trainers and teachers

Contents:

  • Dual training, places of learning and how they interact
  • Application of dual training in the company, impact on enterprise, trainer and apprentice
  • The role of the trainer (responsibilities of the trainer, learning guidance, training and application, assessment and evaluation)
  • The framework curriculum and company training plan, how to apply them
  • Rotation, principles and practice
  • Logbooks as a training instrument
  • Difficulties in every day training
  • Evaluation and assessment

Advanced stage (in-depth training methodological and didactic competences, difficult and problematic training situations)

Contents

  • Intensive training of didactical and methodological competences
  • Practical assignments
  • Training methods, application, advantages, disadvantages
  • Moderating heterogeneous learning groups
  • Problematic training situations and how to respond
  • The practice of learning guidance

It is crucial to make trainers understand the system as well as their own role in it during the training as well as their daily work. According to the trainers’ feedback, the main problem with the introduction of dual training in the hotels was that some trainers didn’t understand the difference between MENDI/ dual apprenticeship training and other practice phases such as internships / work placements. This applies to principles such as rotation, the training plan / curriculum and how it needs to be followed, the logbooks. It becomes apparent that the in-company trainers hold a crucial role to the success or failure of in-company training.

Another interesting aspect about the Greek hospitality sector is the seasonal work. This is the main difference between the participating training hotels on the islands and in Athens. Due to the seasonal business on the islands, the dual training was structured in an alternating form, meaning that the company phases took place in the summer months and the vocational school took place in winter. For the vocational school in Heraklion this meant that the majority of vocational school teachers were actually in-company trainers in the summer. This is a very special circumstance that rarely occurs elsewhere and in practice turned out to have a very positive impact on the cooperation between school and company.

So what can we learn from the MENDI project, especially in terms of discussion and consolidation needs for general trends to shift to WBL in Europe? The following aspects were identified in an initial discussion with project experts and we would like to discuss them further with our network experts!

  • In-company trainers are crucial actors in the shift to WBL because, amongst other factors, they are decisive for the success of failure of training in the company. Also, they act as an important link between the three levels of impact of educational policy transfer (individual level – organisational level – systemic level)
  • Persistent problem in the MENDI experience: in the South of Europe, many actors view WBL / dual training as exploitation of young people. How can exploitation be avoided? How can the prejudices be overcome?
  • Can initiatives to promote the shift to WBL act as a nucleus for the shaping of high-quality vocational education in an increasingly academic European education landscape?
  • How can the role of social partners be strengthened in the reform process?

Issues of sustainability:

  • How can sustainability of such projects / initiatives be achieved? Without political will, there is no possibility but sometimes even with the political will in place, there is no possibility. What are the obstacles?
  • How can elements of exemplary trainer qualification be transferred into national practice/ national standards? Question of sustainability
  • How do pilot companies react? Do they sustainably take on elements (role and qualification of trainers, instruments of training, etc.)? Or will the achievements eventually subside?

[1]  Guiding principles on professional development of trainers in vocational education and training , Thessaloniki 2016, S. 13

[2] The results of this analysis were used to develop the two common European qualification profiles “European Workplace Tutor” and “European Learning Process Guide”

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