Routes out of the crisis – increasing companies’ willingness to provide training, driving forward digitalisation

Hubert Ertl

Dear readers

Like in other areas of society, the coronavirus crisis has shed a particularly clear light on existing problems in vocational education and training. At the same time, the crisis has also intensified the search for short-term solutions. For this reason, one of the overarching questions is which of the changes observable in this situation will go on to leave a longer lasting mark on vocational education and training.

The restrictions in business life brought about by the coronavirus have triggered a crisis in the employment system which is producing drastic effects on events in initial and continuing vocational education and training in Germany. The number of new training contracts fell to the lowest level since 1975, and serious declines in continuing training are also being recorded. In vocational education and training in particular, supply of training places is normally the focal point of public discussion. Policy interventions such as training premiums, special grants and the like are therefore mainly aimed at supporting the companies’ readiness to provide training and at preventing sharp drops on the supply side.

However, we have known since the financial crisis of 2008/09 that exogenous shocks in the economic system may also lead to a fall on the demand side. There is a particular danger that young people with good educational options will choose different pathways. Those in possession of a higher education entrance qualification may, for example, choose to study for a higher education degree in the expectation that this is “crisis-proof”.

Action needs to be taken to combat this notion by pointing more clearly to the attractiveness of vocational career routes. The current momentum surrounding the use of digital tools in initial and continuing VET must also be exploited in order to provide an effective future structure for VET and make it more resistant to crisis.

“Never waste a crisis” – using the modernisation boost created

The attractiveness of vocational education and training can be significantly enhanced if we succeed in using vocational teaching and learning as a vehicle to help shape the technological shift in trade and industry. The coronavirus pandemic is generating a major pressure for change, and this is giving rise to innovative solutions.

This sense of momentum can be assisted by policy programmes which continue to drive forward VET’s digital transformation. One programme worthy of mention in this respect is “JOBSTARTER”, which consists of 40 projects and advises companies on the establishment of digital formats in initial and continuing training. There is a dual focus on maintaining readiness to provide training on the part of small and medium-sized companies and on increasing the attractiveness of company-based training. The aim of the innovation competition “Invite” is the design of digital platforms in continuing vocational training. The intention is that the innovations to be developed within the scope of the contest will help suitable continuing training measures to be found as straightforwardly and rapidly as possible. Increased and smart deployment of digital technology offers an inherent opportunity for VET to emerge from the crisis in a stronger position. Development programmes, which enjoy political support backed up by application-oriented research and the commitment of all groups involved provide good prerequisites.

Prof. Dr. Hubert Ertl
Director of Research and Vice-President of BIBB

Translation from the German original (published in BWP 2/2021): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin