Making vocational education and training more flexible and more attractive

Friedrich Hubert Esser

Dear readers

Our country is facing major challenges. The consequences of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine are being keenly felt. Increased prices and disruptions to supply chains are key characteristics of an economy now threatened by recession. None of this bodes well for developments on the labour and training market. On the one hand, there is a demand for a sufficient number of qualified skilled workers to face up to challenges such as demographic development, decarbonisation and digitalisation. On the other hand, training contract figures show that entry to the labour market via vocational education and training is clearly becoming a less attractive option. This is an area in which VET needs to find future-proof solutions. It goes without saying that light needs to be shed on the potential the system offers for greater flexibilisation.

Vocational education and training is more than a competitive factor

As well as producing qualified skilled workers, vocational education and training makes a huge contribution to socialisation, to societal integration, to inclusion and to the education and nurturing of people in general. It is a driving force in shaping the structural shift and thus needs to put suitable provision in place for this purpose in order to take account of everything from people’s life situations or individual prior learning to the varying requirements of companies large and small. The better the matching of this provision, the better the gains will be in terms of attractiveness. And this also means that the vocational education and training system will enjoy greater popularity in trade and industry and in society as a whole.

In order to reach this point with precision, we will need to offer solutions to different requirements and expectations to young people, employees and companies. This applies equally to prevocational training, to achieving a closer interlinking between initial and advanced training and also to transitions within the system and into higher education. Especially in the area of tertiary vocational education and training, there is a need for provision which can be managed alongside someone’s daily work. Hybrid forms of teaching and learning have a particular role to play in this regard. Nevertheless, a more flexible advanced and continuing training structure will also be necessary in order to take account of the objectives of people and of companies.

Modularisation whilst maintaining a strong commitment to the principle of the regulated occupation

It appears to me that an important step towards a flexible alignment of vocational education and training can be taken if we turn to a modular structure. To allay any fears from the outset, this will not involve calling the principle of the regulated occupation into question! A holistically designed final examination governed by public law and taken at the end of the training phase will continue to form a core milestone of vocational career pathways. The focus must instead be placed on making VET more flexible and on organising it in a simpler way. Modules reduce complexity within the overall context of initial and continuing VET ordinances. They foster employment progressions that are individual to persons and companies and facilitate transparent career pathways. They make it easier to give credit transfers for VET achievements and also have a particular effect on economisation by dint of the fact that they can be deployed polyfunctionally in regulatory work.

The road ahead has only been briefly outlined here. In order to proceed in a way which is adequate to the problem at hand, we will need to set old resentments aside, ditch ideological stances and open up to a more flexible structuring of vocational education and training on the basis of a fundamental affirmation of the principle of the regulated occupation.

Prof. Dr. Friedrich Hubert Esser
President of BIBB

Translation from the German original (published in BWP 3/2022): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin