Focus on industry and VET: international research


Industry involvement in the development and delivery of vocational education and training (VET) is seen as crucial to ensure students have the relevant skills that employers need. The global skills dilemma: how can supply keep up with demand?: the Hays Global Skills Index 2019/20 is an annual assessment of the trends that impact labour markets and how easy or hard it is for organisations to find the skilled employees they need. The 2019/20 index found, as in previous years, issues such as 'talent mismatch' - the gap between the skills held by job seekers and the skills sought by employers - worsening in many labour markets: the Index's talent mismatch indicator has increased in almost half of the countries included in the report. Industry’s involvement in the VET sector ensures students are developing appropriate skill-sets for existing job vacancies. This issue of Focus on presents current research discussing industry involvement in VET in the UK, Europe and New Zealand.

United Kingdom

In recent years, the UK has incorporated high levels of employer engagement in vocational education system reforms, as part of the development of the new T Level qualifications. Work placements are set to be an integral component of the T Levels, where students will complete at least 315 hours, or 45 days in their industry. In preparation, the Department for Education introduced the Industry Placements Pilot Programme. 

Evaluation of the Industry Placements Pilot assesses the effectiveness of a range of placement and support models across different sector contexts and highlights valuable lessons for the national roll out of T Levels in 2020. The report noted resources were most heavily used in the sourcing and brokerage of placements and student orientation preceding placement. Employers also reported a desire for more communication about placement expectations and how they could link student experiences to course content. Evaluation of T Level Industry Placement Pilot: route reports provides additional details of the placements conducted as part of the pilot program. Organised by industry sectors, each route report describes the challenges and successes of placement sourcing and employer response as well as learner responses and outcomes from the pilot program.

'Employers at the heart of the system?': the role of employers in qualification development explores the rationale and historic difficulties in ensuring effective employer engagement with qualifications development in the UK. Despite the drive to keep employers central to the reform process, past attempts have seen employers challenged with unclear expectations and awarding organisations struggling to maintain strong links to employers, thereby limiting their ongoing support and involvement. The authors question if the development process of the new T Levels will result in employer satisfaction and recommend the role of employers be clearly articulated from the outset of any new qualifications development.

Evaluation of University Technical Colleges is a final report assessing the outcomes of employer informed curriculum and industry relevant project-based learning in University Technical Colleges (UTCs). While UTCs experienced challenges in recruiting appropriate employers across industries, the report found benefits for student outcomes overall where high quality, embedded employer input was executed.

Engaging employers and developing skills at the local level in Northern Ireland, United Kingdom addresses employer engagement at a local labour market level. The report identifies a range of programs that aim to better involve employers with the design and delivery of training and examines the role of local district councils in working with employers to understand and address skill needs. A key part of the project was the implementation of a survey to gather information from Northern Irish employers about their skills needs and barriers to apprenticeship participation.

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Industry involvement in VET is an integral part of the German dual VET system. The German dual VET system and approaches to enhance employer engagement details the aspects of the dual system, providing an overview of the main framework, stakeholders and laws. Apprentices will generally attend training at the workplace for three days a week and the other two at a vocational school. Funding for the training is shared, with the employer paying for on-site trainer salaries, training materials and the apprentices' allowance, and vocational schools funded by the states. Engagement in the dual VET system is part of a company's corporate social responsibility and the process of creating new occupations and updating existing occupations and training regulations is usually initiated by the employers.

Company initiatives to align apprenticeships to advanced manufacturing summarises the results of 14 case studies of good practice in the manufacturing sector in Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland and Italy and two countries outside Europe - Australia and the United States. Key findings of the report relating to factors that have prompted industry involvement in VET include:

  • new technologies and their subsequent requirements for skills, competencies and qualifications are requiring changes to curricula and modernisation of courses and programmes for apprentices 
  • higher VET programmes have been mainly instigated by single large companies and may be due to new skills and competency needs at managerial levels as well as from changed technologies, processes or materials
  • policies intended to strengthen the competitiveness and innovation of specific industry clusters have encouraged new initiatives and good practices between companies and VET providers in Germany, France and Italy
  • public financing of apprenticeship assists new initiatives and programmes extend beyond the practice of a single business entity. 

In Mobilising for change in vocational education and training in Sweden: a case study of the 'Technical College' scheme, the authors categorise the Swedish VET system as a school-based, statist system, as there is typically high government involvement and it is integrated into the general education system. In this article the authors explore the Technical College scheme, a certification scheme for upper secondary school education in technology, which presents as an anomaly to the norm. The scheme, administered by the Council of Swedish Industries, was initiated by stakeholders of industry and the trade union of the engineering industry. Municipalities, providers of education and companies are invited by the Council to build local partnerships that will increase the relevance and quality of VET programs through strong industrial involvement and work-based training. The providers of education in these partnerships are certified as Technical Colleges. In 2015, there were over 2,000 companies collaborating with 150 certified providers. 

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New Zealand 

New Zealand's Vocational Education Reform Bill, passed in February 2020 and enacted on 1st April 2020, aims to provide a sustainable VET system that will deliver the skills that learners, employers and the community need now and in the future. According to the Reform of Vocational Education (RoVE) webpage, the new system will be more focused on employers and industry with the first of its seven key changes set to create Workforce Development Councils (WDCs). The WDCs will consist of four to six industry-governed bodies that will provide industry with greater leadership across the VET system. 

Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs) will bring together the newly created New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology, other providers, WDCs, industry experts and researchers to develop and share high-quality, unified curriculum and program design. Other key changes and further information regarding the Reform may be found on the RoVE webpage. The document A unified system for all vocational education: reform of vocational education further outlines the reasons for the Reform and describes in detail the key changes to occur, and how and when they are to be implemented. 

The New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology will provide the majority of VET delivery via the one national institute, accessible via several regional campuses. It is envisioned that the Institute will provide workplace, on-campus and online training, bringing the existing 16 institutes of technology and polytechnics together to work in a unified, accessible and sustainable way to deliver vocational education. It is expected that all regions will be able to share resources and support each other while delivering a coordinated national system. The Institute will continue to maintain provision in the regional centres where the existing 16 institutes of technology and polytechnics are located. 

In Hands-on: new suggestions to reform the vocational sector in New Zealand, the author, while congratulating the Government on the VET Reform, argues that the creation of one 'monolith institution' will undermine the success of the existing institutions in the current system. Drawing on international best practice in VET delivery, particularly European dual education, the research presents proposals to complement the Reform. 

The now defunct Industry Training Federation (ITF) provided a Submission on the Reform of Vocational Education in April 2019, outlining its views on the then Reform proposal. The ITF was the national body for New Zealand's Industry Training Organisations (ITOs). While supporting the intent of the Reform, their main concern was the proposal to place responsibility of arranging training with the new Institute, seeing this as removing the 'industry voice' from the development of training. In consultation with their members, this report outlines ITF’s views on what New Zealand needs from a VET system, and their assessment of and proposed revision of the RoVE proposal. 

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Published: April 2020