Interview with Göran Hellmalm
The third VPL Biennale came and went in Berlin 7 and 8 May 2019. Around 300 professionals, educators, scientists and other experts on Validation of Prior Learning spent two days attending several presentations and workshops, both giving and receiving inspiration, new methods and, in the end, also formulating the Berlin Declaration on Validation of Prior Learning (which can be found here).
Göran Hellmalm, who works as an analyst for The Swedish Adult Education association, was there to do a presentation on the validation concept that he has built up and managed for the Swedish Adult Education Association. The target groups for the validation concept are groups with low formal qualifications and sometimes lack of proper work experience. The background for his work is the mismatch between labour market and employees, as well as the many changes the labour market is currently undergoing. Sweden also has the unique challenge to have accepted around 250.000 immigrants in a country of about 10 million.
All this has made sure, that validation is on the rise in Sweden. It is primarily focused on generic/key competences, and Göran and his office has created around 60 different modules for the clients to work with to create a picture of the individuals’ strengths.
In his insightful presentation, Göran talked about how to adapt the validation process to challenging target groups. He also discussed how the third sector can play an important role in giving individuals access to validation.
The work on validation that Göran has managed has been able to reach individuals that e.g. the formal education system has not succeeded in establishing contact with.
I asked Göran some follow-up questions about the Swedish validation concept. First up, and this may be important if you are working with validation, was the question, whether this system could be transferred to other European countries. Hellmalm’s short answer was “Yes”. So, please, read on and take all the inspiration possible from this interview.
The next question had to do with documentation and value of the validation of prior skills. Because if the validation is not recognized by the labour market, it is not worth much for Göran’s clients. So how do the swedes document the validation, and, indeed, how do they make sure that companies can rely on the documents?
“Well”, Göran answers, “the results are documented in a database and the person validated gets a certificate listing the modules that the person has been validated in. On the certificate, there is a brief of the learning outcomes of each module. All our modules have been approved by a committee of representatives from different organizations on the labour market. The names of the organizations are also listed on the certificate as kind of a stamp of approval. The value of the document is gradually becoming more recognized.”
The procedure also becomes more widespread throughout Sweden. About 250 assessors/trainers have been trained in the validation process. In addition, they, in turn, have validated about 4000 people in different parts of Sweden. Both numbers growing.
Asked to give a practical example of a success story, Göran Hellmalm struggles to choose between the many positive stories of people who’s been helped tremendously by the validation process, but he settles on: “That of a young woman who had dropped out of school, had never had a job, and had very low self-esteem. Very reluctantly, she accepted to go through a validation process. At first, she didn't understand a thing, as the trainer kept talking about that the validation process will focus on competences she has, and not what she needs to learn to get a job. Through the validation process, it was made visible that this young woman actually had quite good organizational and team leading skills. This from her many years involved as a volunteer at a youth culture centre. One day she came up to her trainer and stated ‘I went to 2 job interviews and I got both of the jobs’. The trainer pointed out that she had not received her certificate yet. But the young woman shone like the sun and said ‘I didn't need the certificate, because through the validation process I learned what I know and what competences I have, so it was easy to describe them on the job interview’.”
It is stories like this, that make Göran say, that the most important part of validation of prior learning, really is to build self-esteem with the clients. This is a necessary foundation to get closer to the labour market.
Therefore, the Swedish system seems to be a success. People get more self-esteem and thus a better chance of getting a job. The obvious question, then, is how labour intensive the validation procedure is from the viewpoint of the individual? Of the guidance staff? Of assessors?
Göran Hellmalm answers: “That depends on the setting and the methods used. Quite often, the validation takes place as a parallel process to other activities the individual is involved in (training, employment programmes, voluntary activities etc.) and in other cases an individual is assigned to a validation process by the agency of employment, a municipality or the like. In the latter case, the validation takes place in a more concentrated form time wise and requires more of guidance and counselling to actually get the individual to accept to be validated. If the validation is conducted as a parallel process to other activities the individual is already there, and the assessor/trainer takes on the role as counsellor.
How labour intensive the validation process is also depends on how many modules you validate.”
Göran Hellmalm is clearly proud of the work he is doing, and rightfully so. At the beginning of his presentation, he quoted one of his colleagues, saying, “Validation is like Jesus – many believe in it, but few has seen it.” However, with 250 assessors/trainers and around 4000 validated people, in many parts of Sweden, it seems many are to see the light.