Establishing a VET graduate system can be a strong element of your quality management system and can contribute to evidence-based improvements in your VET institute. Nevertheless, the establishment of such a system is not an easy task, it will require commitment, time and human resources. You need to develop your strategy and define your methodology, you will probably need to involve a team of persons and cultivate a feedback culture among your graduates. In this short article, we present the steps of this process and some tips that you will find useful.
Establish your objectives
If you want to introduce a VET graduate tracking system, the first thing to consider is why. The reason behind establishing such a system will give direction to your strategy, e.g. how often the tracking will take place, how comprehensive it will be, what methodology will be followed, if it will be a sample survey or a population survey, what resources your Institute is willing to put in place, how the results of the tracking system will be used, etc. If your main objective is to establish a regular tracking survey of your graduates, in order to access their career paths, then you may opt for an annual survey with a limited set of indicators related to employment. If you want your tracking survey to provide you feedback on the quality of your educational processes , you will need to set relevant indicators of quality of studies , relevance with the labor market, development of skills and competences etc. If the tracking of your graduates addresses a regulatory requirement, then probably you will need to use a standardized procedure and tool. It is very important to clarify why you want to establish a tracking system before actually designing it.
Set your indicators
After setting your overall objective, you should agree on the set of indicators to be measured. The indicators must be based on the objective of the tracking system and should respond to your need for information. The indicators will determine what information needs to be gathered and should therefore be selected on the basis of what information can be realistically and efficiently collected. Another important parameter to think of is how you will use the information you will get. there is no point to collect information and measure indicators that you cannot affect afterwards unless this is part of an overall data collection strategy, for example in national or regional survey.
Select your data gathering method.
You have different options that you can use, i.e a questionnaire-based survey, conducting interviews or organising focus groups. The parameters that will affect the choice of the appropriate data collection method are: the number of graduates to be reached, the type of indicators - if they are qualitative or qualitative, how exhaustive the tracking should be, the time and resources that you are willing to put into the tracking and the skills of the staff that will be involved in tracking. If you want to address a large number of graduates, then a survey seems the most appropriate method. On the other hand interviews or focus groups can be used to collect qualitative and more in depth information. You can also use a combination of the quantitative and qualitative methods.
Develop your tool
When you develop your questionnaire (or interview protocol), you should always have in mind the set indicators that you need to measure. Starting from the indicators you want to measure, phrase your research questions to collect the data that you want. Make the questions short and clear and make sure that the respondents will understand and will be willing to answer them. Make the questionnaire short, do not include questions that provide you information that you cannot use. When you gather demographic data, ask for those parameters that will help you make your analysis (e.g. gender, age) and do not ask for information that you will not use.
Pilot test your tool.
Once you develop your questionnaire, you need to test it with a small sample of respondents, in order to make sure that they understand the questions and their replies provide the data that you want to gather. It is a good idea to pilot test the questionnaire with a sample similar to your target recipients. The best would be if you can test it among graduates, the second best option is to test it among your current students. Use the feedback of this pilot testing, in order to finalize your questionnaire, rephrase the questions if they're not understandable, split complex questions, delete questions that they don't provide you valuable information.
Create a feedback culture
If you have ever tried to do a questionnaire-based survey, you already know that the most difficult part of the process, is to get enough responses to be able to derive statistically credible results. Especially, when we're talking about graduates who do not have active links with your institute, and they do not have a motivation to participate in your survey. It is important to provide to your graduates recipients a good reason to respond to your survey. Explain why you do the tracking survey, how the tracking survey results will be used, how important is their contribution and what will be the motivation for them to participate in it.
It is also important to keep open channels with your graduates through other activities. For example, you can offer them the possibility to receive your newsletter, participate in seminars, open days and career events, you can establish an alumni network. If you want them engaged, make sure that you use the feedback that they provide to you in a meaningful way. There's no point gathering feedback and comments from your graduates, if you do nothing to improve. On the contrary, if your efforts for improvement are consistent, your students and future graduates will be motivated to participate in your continuous improvement cycle.
Despite all the measures that you may take, it's very probable that the first time you run the survey you will have low response rate. Do not give up! Try different methods to approach your recipients and see what works best. You can use direct e-mail, your webpage, Facebook, even telephone to approach your graduates. Remember that participation rate will increase every year with consistent efforts. It takes time and continuous effort to change behaviour of people, if you want to incorporate tracking graduates in your processes, design your tracking system and be patient and persistent.
How to use the results
The use of the results from of the tracking system depends strongly on the objectives that you have set initially. If your objective is continuous improvement, then you should use the results, in order to improve processes and outcomes of your institute. Prepare a written report and make sure that you feed it, into the decision making system of the organization. It can be an input to the management review or other decision-making processes you have in your institute. Make also sure that you communicate the results and your response, to your stakeholders and the community of your graduates.
If you have decided to develop a VET graduates tracking system, the project ‘On Track’ can provide you further support. “On Track” developed a tracking methodology, tracking surveys and methodological guidelines for VET institutes that want to implement a tracking system. Check out the project website http://www.ontrack-project.eu/en/ for more information.