Marijke Dashorst has been involved in the Dutch ECVET LLL pilots since their start. She was highly involved in the strategic thinking behind implementation of the Dutch NQF. Marijke was also a national seconded expert in the European Commission DG EAC in the adult learning unit.
Simon Broek, EPALE Thematic Coordinator for Learning Environments, interviewed Marijke on how, in the context of the ECVET pilot, European tools support adults in their learning and working pathway.
ECVET pilot in the Netherlands
In the Netherlands, ECVET LLL pilots started in 2012 with the support of the Ministry of Education Culture and Science. They aimed to carry out research to identify:
- how to retain workers in the workplace;
- how to support mobility in the workplace; and
- how to contribute to re-integration in the labour market.
The basic approach is to divide existing qualifications (formal, but also sectoral qualification) into smaller units (so-called ECVET units) and assess whether an individual has already acquired the learning outcomes associated with one or more units. This opens up the possibility of accumulating these units for the purposes of obtaining a full qualification.
Pilots are taking place in the health care sector, in companies in technical areas, in the staffing industry (particularly for low qualified people), in social work companies, in pedicure branch, and in the army.
The pilots are in their last year and Marijke has given an indication of the three vital factors of a successful ECVET project.
1) Tools must be useful at European level, not just national
The European transparency tools (the European Qualification Framework (EQF), the European Credit system for Vocational Education and Training (ECVET) and validation of non-formal and informal learning) have to be used and communicated in a unified way. If you only speak about national qualifications frameworks, ECVET units or validation, citizens and employers will find it difficult to understand it and get enthusiastic about them. How would you explain the value of the EQF if you do not at the same time explain how it could be used for validation purposes and finding routes to obtain a formal qualification on the basis of what you’ve learned elsewhere? The principle of using learning outcomes plays a crucial role in the development of the methodology.
2) No heavy procedures in validation, but tailor to specific needs
Validation is an important part in the ECVET pilot. Validation takes account of what a person already has in terms of knowledge, skills and competences. The effect is twofold:
- a person avoids unnecessary training and frustration;
- employee absence from the workplace to pursue education and training is reduced for employers.
Based on the learning outcomes of a unit, a validation procedure has been developed. The clear description in each unit in terms of learning outcomes (“shopping list”) facilitates a person to collect the evidence necessary to demonstrate the learning outcomes required by the unit. This can be done step-by-step, unit-by-unit. Competent assessors base their conclusions of whether the person has the learning outcomes on a review of the evidence and an interview with the applicant. It can also, if deemed necessary, include a visit to or assessment at the work place.
3) Involve all stakeholders in the process – especially the demand side!
The point of departure is the demand of the employer / sector which varies and may arise from amongst others:
- a need to up skill workers;
- challenges in relation to filling job vacancies;
- preparing employees for leaving a company;
- new legal requirements to the sector.
ECVET units from different qualifications can respond to these situations, as there is not always a need, on the part of the worker or the employer, for a specific full qualification. Without a clear demand from the employer/sector a pilot is not initiated.
Furthermore, in developing the validation process it is vital to have the examination committees of education and training providers endorse the approach from the start to ensure trust being built between them and hence a smooth implementation. Such committees must approve the ‘shopping list’ and the procedures before decisions can be taken on exemptions for candidates in relation to education and training and/or examinations.
New paradigm, new reforms?
As with everything that is based on a learning outcome approach, also the ECVET unitisation approach depends on trust:
- trust by employers that assessments are correct;
- trust by individuals that they only need to learn what is necessary;
- trust by quality assurance bodies that the students in the end obtained the stated learning outcomes;
- trust by policy makers that what they pay for is put to good use.
The right level of trust needs to be carefully build up from the ground.
Dividing formal qualifications into smaller units runs into a number of (political) issues which might need to be addressed:
- How does it changes the dynamics in financing programmes?
- Does the approach apply to students enrolled in initial VET as well?
To conclude, the ECVET pilot, and the division of qualifications in units fits very well with the general tendency: Adults are willing to invest in their own development through courses of a limited duration with maximum labour market impact. This opposed to enrolling in multi-annual education programmes to obtain a qualifications for which the labour market impact at long term is a big unknown.
Marijke Dashorst, owner STEP support, NL, has more than 30 years of experience in the different fields of education: HE, VET and adult learning. Currently she is involved in bridging EQF, ECVET and validation of non formal and informal learning in the light of LLL. Her main interest is putting policy into practice and the other way around. She is a member of the ECVET team Europe supporting policy development at ministerial level and project leader for ECVET pilots LLL in The Netherlands.