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Cross-Border activities in career counseling for VET students: The Case of Austria and the Czech Republic

27/02/2020
by Filiz KESER ASCHENBERGER
Language: EN
Document available also in: DE

A new set of skills for the new world of work

We cannot yet predict what will happen in 2050 or what set of skills our children and grandchildren will need in the future; however, we can already foresee probable developments for the next ten or fifteen years by closely monitoring current trends and change drivers. At the moment, there are several major global trends and global change drivers which are pushing us towards the development of a new structure of work and a new world order as well as social order. Global trends such as an aging population, an increase in global mobility and digitalisation as one of the biggest drivers of change have been causing significant shifts both in the business world and in our social order. Thus, we can expect to see the rise of a new world order. In line with this new order and the rapid changes that come with such an upheaval, the new economy will call for an entirely different set of skills. There is a strong link between the economy and educational outcomes. Worldwide, we can observe a tendency to align educational outcomes with market demands. The question is what impact today’s economy has on our role as educational scientists. By looking at the European Union, the OECD, the World Bank and the IMF, it is evident that all these big global players have been trying to reinforce the idea of using education as a key tool for employability and meeting the needs of the economy and the market. This may seem like a great opportunity to promote employability for everyone and to decrease unemployment rates; however, this approach comes with its own challenges and simultaneously undermines the real key functions of education. This is particularly true when we conceptualise education based on the implications of the German term Bildung. Thus, the issue at hand proves to be quite controversial.

 

The Author of this article in a conversation with Bo Klindt Poulsen at the Austrian Euroguidance conference © OeAD/APA-Fotoservice/Hörmandinger
 

As one of the emerging developments, especially from a European perspective, we are seeing a move towards permeability, or Durchlässigkeit. In our given context, Durchlässigkeit/permeability is important both on a horizontal and on a vertical level. Mobility is becoming an increasingly important factor not only when it comes to education but also to people’s occupations and their professional lives. For example due to the European Union, we are observing an extremely strong trend towards cross-country mobility. There you see also a lot of horizontal and vertical mobility in the cross-country systems in educational and professional areas, especially across countries in the border regions. In these regions, both horizontal and vertical mobility are pertinent to transnational systems of educational and professional areas.

But what is the role of career guidance in all of this? Indeed, career guidance fulfils a key function. In a world where everything is becoming increasingly vague, ambiguous and where the future is full of challenges because change is happening at a dazzling speed, career guidance and counselling are needed more than ever. The role of guidance and counselling is to make people understand that they are being given a real chance to increase their potential by being informed about all their options. Presenting them, through career guidance and counselling, with all their possibilities is crucial, so that they can weigh up their options and then decide freely based on their interests. Through this process, their decision becomes a personal choice; not one that was forced upon them due to political, educational and social barriers. They are able to make an informed decision. At this nexus, it becomes apparent why career guidance is a valuable tool and why it should become as widely accessible as possible.

Open education systems: Leaving behind the beaten path

Now, I would like to use the opportunity to discuss the open education system. The European Union identifies open education system as one of the leading goals for the European education system. Several policies, for example the National Qualification Framework, the Competence Framework, the European Qualification Framework, as well as validity and recognition practices and policies all form part of the trajectory towards creating an open European education system.

If we juxtapose the open education system with the traditional system, we can better understand the open systems which provide individualised and non-linear learning paths., In traditional systems, however, individuals follow a very step-by-step, linear learning path: children typically start from various forms of early childhood education, followed by primary education then secondary education and so on. Students then either move on to  university or choose a vocational track and take up an occupation.

 

Individualised / Non-linear education paths in an open education system
© Filiz Keser Aschenberger
 

In an open education system, individuals determine their own educational paths. We do not create a clear, linear path for them which they would be forced to follow step by step. Instead, the idea is to let them decide on their own learning path by setting out a unique framework for their learning activities: How do you want to learn, where do you want to learn, what kind of skills do you want to acquire, what kind of profession do you want to enter in order to build your own individual career ladder? From a career guidance perspective, these questions are also extremely relevant.

The concept of permeability

A key concept in open education is of course permeability. The term is used to describe the flexibility and mobility between different levels, types, and forms of education based on the transfer and recognition of all types of prior learning. It does not only ­­ concern formal education and formal learning outcomes but also non-formal and informal learning outcomes. It is irrelevant where the learning process has taken place. It can happen in different countries, different learning spaces, different settings and programmes. For example, if a person is a qualified carpenter in Afghanistan and then moves to Austria, seeking permission to work as a carpenter usually proves problematic due to restrictions on recognising prior foreign qualifications. If permeability were to work appropriately, their skills should be recognised and validated and the person should officially be able to start working as a carpenter.

As mentioned before, there are vertical and horizontal forms of permeability. It is important that between different stages of the education process, the option to follow a variety of different career paths should always remain open. For example, after choosing the route of an apprenticeship, the option to pursue an academic higher education should still be viable and accessible. Currently, the rigid and fragmented structures of most European education systems do not allow such flexible educational paths, thus limiting permeability and mobility. In many countries, if a student is following an academic track, their path will lead them on to university, but if a student is on a technical or vocational track, they have limited alternatives and might have restricted access to academic higher education. The concept of permeability, however, should make such switches possible if you can show that you have the necessary qualifications and skills to be able to seek the education you want to.

One example of successful implementation of permeability is Danube University Krems. It grants access to master’s degrees to people with a non-traditional or non-academic background. This concept is called “academic continuing education”. The university relies on an accredited system of validation, which examines the prior experiences and competencies a candidate has acquired. Based on the evaluation of these factors, access to a master’s degree programme might be granted. The key is not having a formal degree but rather having the necessary competencies and skills.

An important issue for implementing permeability are systems for validating, identifying and recognising learning outcomes, previous skills and competences. Only then can these parameters become visible and transferable. Looking at the concept from this perspective, what conclusions should be drawn for the role of career guidance? What should career guidance and counselling do and achieve?

In open education systems, career guidance and counselling plays a more important role than in the traditional linear system. This is because in an open system, people have the possibility to decide themselves what to do and how to create their own learning path.

Especially in the future, when people will need to further broaden their existing skills, for example, or they have to do reskill because their competencies have become  obsolete, we will need career guidance and counselling more than ever. Only then can we really be  able to help individuals find and/or create their optimal path by providing them with information and guidance on their options and empowering them so that they are really capable of making a decision.

C4PE - Concept for Professional Education in Border Regions

Now, I would like to present an attempt to empower young people who are living in  border regions. In Austria, almost 80% of students are educated through a technical and vocational or apprenticeship system. The Interreg-project C4PE - Concepts for Professional Education in Border Regions - was founded to help border regions to create a more permeable and open system. It should allow  graduates from Czech Republic and Austria to broaden their horizons in terms of the job market and learning outcomes. 

The idea is to create a common understanding of the needs of the region and what kind of system or model we can develop in this area. It is an attempt to create the basic conditions for cross-border vocational training in Austria and the Czech Republic and to improve the coordination between the two education systems. The  geographical regions of Waldviertel and Weinviertel in Austria and Brno and Jihlava in Czech Republic stand at the focus of these efforts. Another goal is the notion of harmonisation. It is used to support pupils in their decision-making process with regard to their future careers and to help them to orientate themselves in the labour market. Finally, the project strives to improve vocational orientation in the border regions and to promote cross-border cooperation between the education and business sectors.

It’s not only about bringing two education systems closer together but also about creating closer ties between business sectors in each country and the school system, i.e. the education system. This also effort represents a wider goal as well. The coordinator is the Danube University Krems, and partners are PH Niederösterreich—the Pedagogical University College of Teacher Education and three partners from Czech Republic: the SSŠ-Brno; the Vysočina Education authority and SPŠT technical school. Moreover, five Austrian and five Czech schools are involved, representing three types of schools (HAK, HTL, vocational schools), with two schools working together in pilot school cooperation projects.

In the course of the project, the following measures will be adopted:

- Cross-border classrooms: Pilot-school cooperations form the basis for cross-border vocational training. In addition to the preparation of a cooperation guideline for VET colleges and vocational schools, curriculum-compliant, bilingual teaching materials will be developed.

- Career Guidance: The Austrian and Czech school partners will learn from each other with regard to school and vocational training opportunities. Furthermore, there is the possibility of redesigning and modifying their own educational programme for career guidance coordinators.

- School meets economy: Pupils will have the opportunity to get to know the cross-border economic area in practice and to use it for developing their career orientation. The topic "Women in technical professions" offers an additional focus on gender-related issues. 

Presentation of the Interreg-project C4PE at the Austrian Euroguidance Conference 2019 © OeAD/APA-Fotoservice/Hörmandinger
 
Yet, this is not only a practical project; we are also trying to conduct some research on this topic. We are especially interested in the impact of social-individual factors on the students’ career decisions, why they are following the vocational track, what was their motivation, what were their reasons to be there—we try to understand this and draw connections to their career aspirations: for example, what they want to do, where they want to end up when they finish their school. Of course, our research covers both countries as we are interested in cross-cultural differentiations of career guidance in technical and vocational education. Our investigations also aim to compare and contrast the systems to see how they differ from the normal education system. Since the students are receiving a purely technical and vocational education and they are already in saome kind of occupation such as placements and internships, they have a closer experience of work life. We aim to examine how these schools differ from more academically oriented schools.

 

Career guidance for social inclusion

In the conclusion, I want to return to the role of career guidance and counselling. It is crucial that we provide students with the possibility to make informed decisions. In order to increase mobility, both on a horizontal and on a vertical level, it is important what we can do and how we can help in our role as guides and counsellors so that students and parents alike can receive the support they need.

Of course, social justice and socially inclusive work are crucial aspects of career guidance and counselling. Career guidance and counselling are particularly essential for who we call vulnerable groups or disadvantaged groups. After all, when we look at the key factors determining decision-making processes in the field of career choices, a significant social and class divide becomes evident. It is not only about poverty, the issue is far more complicated than that. That is why vulnerable and disadvantaged groups need career guidance and counselling to be able to choose the right track or to be able to get back on track, both in their education and in their professional lives.

Summary:

Filiz Keser Aschenberger gives an analysis on current and future challenges within the global educational system and labour market. The future of education lies within educational paths that follow neither the formal nor linear systems we are accustomed to. She presents the concept of permeability, both horizontally as well as vertically, that provides solutions to upcoming changes within our current system. First efforts towards promoting permeability are already being undertaken. To provide an example of one possible implementation, Aschenberger concludes by presenting the Project C4PE – Concept for Professional Education in Border Regions‘. This project, which she herself has been involved in, presents one tangible approach on how to adapt to the changing requirements for skill acquisition and further education across national borders.

About the Author:

Filiz Keser-Aschenberger © OeAD/APA-Fotoservice/Hörmandinger

Dr. Filiz Keser Aschenberger, MA, is Assistant Professor at the Department for Continuing Education and Educational Technologies, Danube University Krems.

Her research interests include benefits of adult learning, adult education, academic continuing education, lifelong learning, professional and career development, educational policy, and policy analysis. She has been conducting national and international projects funded under different schemes as Erasmus+ Adult Education (LIB(e)RO) and Interreg (C4PE). She is a member of the Austrian EPALE Advisory Board.

This article is based on notes and transcripts from a Workshop held at the Euroguidance Conference (link is external)(link is external) ‘Opening Opportunities – Career guidance approaches through a social justice lens’ on 7 November 2019 in Vienna.

 

 

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