The Young adults’ skills programme (NAO) administered by the Ministry for Education and Culture was started in 2013 as a part of the youth guarantee system. The target group of the programme implemented in 2013–2016 is young adults aged 20–29 who don’t have an upper secondary qualification. They are now offered the opportunity to obtain a vocational upper secondary qualification, a further vocational qualification or a specialist vocational qualification or get credits for parts thereof. The programme has now been implemented in approximately 60 educational institutions for a bit over one and a half years. So it’s a good time to see how the programme is doing.
Importance of student support
Many providers of education have been surprised by the issues needing support of the typical “NAO student”. Many of them need support for developing the skills needed in work life, to improve their self-esteem and group behaviour skills. Also orientation periods are needed before the actual studies.
As a result, corrective actions are being implemented. Providers of education have had the opportunity to learn from their peers in working seminars arranged by us. It has been important to get an opportunity to share information on how to get students to start the education, how to find the right field of study or to commit them to studies and support them all the way until they obtain a qualification.
Peer support between students has been improved, and tutor counselling or personal coaching have been emphasised. Study courses have also been divided into smaller sections to speed up progress at the beginning of studies and improve motivation.
Programme goals mainly achieved
Until now, 5,323 students have started in education institutions and 430 in apprenticeship training under the Young adults’ skills programme (NAO). It is estimated that approximately 8,000 students had started in the programme by the end of 2014. The programme has successfully reached also uneducated young adults with the most challenging situations.
Because of the current economy, however, apprenticeship training is not taking in as many students as we had hoped for. Training for specialist vocational qualifications has also clearly been too demanding for a large part of the NAO students. Opening up vocational upper secondary education and training for the NAO programme by temporary legislation from the beginning of 2014, on the other hand, has been a good solution. No reliable information on early terminations are available as of yet.
What have we learned from the programme?
The Young adults’ skills programme can only succeed if it makes studying more attractive and is able to “personalise” education for those young adults who have not completed their previous studies.
We have found it interesting to see how educational institutions have changed or are changing their operations in order to reach a new kind of target group and to get them to obtain qualifications. New methods of implementation include, amongst others, teachers/NAO counsellors working as partners, internal multiprofessional teams and further education to teachers on how to approach the students. Also cooperation networks are important. The most popular partners to education providers were the employment and economic development centres, outreach youth work and workshops for young people.
To those considering providing a NAO course, education providers repeatedly emphasise that it’s about adult education and training carried out by means of work-based methods and that resources are needed for support, guidance and counselling. The studies are personalised. Skills acquired previously can be identified and recognised. Opportunities are provided for finding one’s own field, and orientation courses for adult education are offered. The students are also encouraged by the fact that the education gives exactly the same proficiency and competence-based qualification as any other studies aimed at qualifications or parts thereof.
Erno Hyvönen is a project planner of the Young adults’ skills and Improving the competence of adults programmes at the Ministry for Education and Culture. His duties include monitoring the results of programmes, supporting the institutions carrying out the programmes as well as sharing the programme results.