Towards a sustainable regional and local structure for adult education and training for low skilled adults in the Netherlands. Results of the Dutch project of the National Coordinator for the Implementation of the European Agenda for Adult Learning 2015
Ina den Hollander
Adult education as a basis for social inclusion and a modern knowledge based economy.
A modern knowledge based economy like the one of the Netherlands can only reach social inclusion for all citizens and sustainable economic growth, when education and training provides adults with sufficient basic and transversal skills to participate fully in society and keep them employable for the (future) labour market. The Netherlands expect to have a shortage on the labour market in different sectors because of a rapidly aging population, a change from low skilled jobs to jobs requiring higher qualifications and the gap between sectors most in need of good skilled employees (for example technic and science) and the choices individuals make for their education. The coming of significant numbers of immigrants in the years coming from the Middle East and Africa means a larger group of adults that must find their way in a new society, build a future for themselves and their children by finding work and education.
To face the challenges described above the long-term aim the project “Towards a sustainable regional and local structure for adult education and training for low skilled adults” defined two main objectives:
- analysis of success factors by desk research and stakeholder interviews in three pilot regions to help all 35 labour market regions to develop such a sustainable regional structure;
- the development of a data model combining PIAAC data with data from the Statistics Netherlands and the UWV to help municipalities make policy choices in the field of education and basic skills. What, in outline, is the target group for literacy initiatives in my municipality, what should be the focus of municipal policy and what is the relationship between low levels of literacy and the labour market in my municipality?
Whilst the data model primarily provides support for policy choices for target groups in the region or the municipality, the description of good practices and success factors offers tools for an efficient and effective approach.
Why this project: future impact
In 2015 the Dutch government introduced a new action program regarding basic skills: “Count on skills 2016 – 2018”. Count on Skills is a joint initiative of the ministries of OCW (Education, Culture and Science), SZW (Social Affairs and Employment) and VWS (Health, Welfare and Sports). With this new action program the three ministries will jointly prevent the situation in which people with limited literacy skills become marginalised giving by giving support to regional and local initiatives in the 35 labour market regions.
The analysis of success factors in the project of the National Coordinator will be used for Action 1, the implementation of the regional approach, in this new program Count on Skills. The data model must lead to the development of a national database that provides all 35 labour market regions with necessary information to develop efficient strategies. From 2015 onwards these labour market regions are responsible for adult education policy and the development of a strong infrastructure for basic skills education for adults.
Analysis of success factors to develop a sustainable regional structure.
In order to obtain a clear picture of the criteria for success and good practices for a strong regional structure for adult education three regions were chosen in which a regional cooperation between stakeholders was already established.
The research design for the structured interviews and desk research is based on the so-called Stuttgart Report of the European Commission's Working Group on Adult Learning of September 2014. It was used as a basis for the questionnaire, which was used in the semi-structured interviews conducted in the regions. In the semi-structured interviews with stakeholders themes like initiative, leadership, ownership and forms of cooperation, awareness raising, political and administrative commitment, the relationship with European, national and regional policies in the social domain, problem analysis and the use of data and research, results and monitoring, strategy, funding were discusses
It is important to mention here that the formulated criteria for success and potential pitfalls were analysed on the basis of interviews and documentation supplied by the stakeholders in the region itself. In other words, the analysis in the final report is not about describing and comparing results within the regions on the basis of objective data but rather about outlining criteria for success and pitfalls which have been highlighted by the stakeholders themselves.
The most important identified success factors found in the three pilot regions:
- Make use of existing networks and partnerships in the specific context of the region and create mutual trust between partners. It is important that the region itself shapes the process.
- Make sure the approach is adequately managed and directed by the municipalities and embedded in the municipality’s broad policy goals for the social domain with commitment from all stakeholders.
- Identify the target groups you want to address on the basis of the policy goals of the municipality and/or the region, the goals you want to achieve for these target groups (labour market or social participation) and through what provision.
- Use data available for the social domain market to understand the relationship between poor basic skills, the factors that promote social inclusion, the relationship between poor literacy skills and poverty, the role of education in social activation etc. The national government can have an important role in the development of data and knowledge. An example of this is the data model developed in the context of this project.
- Pay more attention to the involvement of employers.
- Use needs assessments to develop a suitable, tailor-made offering for all target groups and create a central point that provides an overview of provision and is in charge of a professional intake and assessment.
- A professional, methodical and standardized approach, such as that taken by the Language for Life initiative, speeds up the process and produces better, faster results.
- The national government should provide the regions with usable models for monitoring, reporting and impact measurement and benchmarking. Monitor not only quantity but also quality.
- Data that must be recorded and measured and clear performance indicators must be communicated upfront in the regions.
The development of a data model for policy makers
For this part of the project CINOP asked the research institutes E,til, the Kohnstamm Institute, the employee insurance agency UWV and ROA (Research Institute for Education and the Labour Market) to jointly investigate the options for providing data on the extent and nature of low levels of literacy at the level of municipalities and labor market regions based on PIAAC data.
The result is a data model that generates factsheets on local and regional level. The factsheets have a fixed structure and layout and comprises the following components:
• National facts and figures on functional illiteracy;
• Functional illiteracy in the municipality;
• Regional differences in functional illiteracy;
• Functional illiteracy and the labour market;
• Non-working jobseekers without qualifications entitled to unemployment benefit
• Implications for policy;
• Sources, method and follow-up research.
It is clear from the initial responses that the factsheets fulfil a need for more specific information on the make-up of the functionally illiterate target group by municipality. The ability to compare the situation in their own municipality with regional and national figures also appealed to the municipalities consulted during the feedback sessions.
The emphasis at the moment is mainly on language development, not on other basic skills, which are important if people are to succeed on the labour market. For a successful approach to basic skills in the context of the Life Long Learning agenda, in which adults are prepared for the labour market of the future and the future e-society, a broadening of provision from language to other basic skills and the linking of adult education and vocational education for adult learners is absolutely essential.
 UWV is the Employee Insurance Agency and is an autonomous administrative authority commissioned by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment (SZW) to implement employee insurances and provide labour market and data services.
 The action programme consist of 5 action lines: Local network approach, Language agreements, Promoting reading, Experimental pilots, Knowledge and communication