By Ulrike Engels, academic staff at BIBB’s National Agency “Education for Europe” and current coordinator of the NetWBL Network
The German vocational education and training system is unique in the world: While most trainees worldwide complete their initial vocational training in vocational colleges, in Germany it’s customary for certain stages of learning to take place in companies, under guidance and closely linked to the school curriculum. Experts in educations economics confirm that this model of dual education and training contributes to a significantly lower rate of youth unemployment compared to other EU countries. In light of these findings and a relatively high youth unemployment rate, several EU Member States have become interested in dual vocational education and training and are launching pilot projects for the implementation of work-based learning. With NetWBL - funded as part of the Programme for Life-Long Learning - a support structure is also forming to facilitate information exchange and implementation.
The project ‘Thematic Network Work-based Learning and Apprenticeships’, abbreviated form NetWBL, officially ended on 31 August 2016. In the preceding three years, 29 national agencies in Europe worked together intensively to make visible and above all useful the project results related to work-based learning (WBL). NetWBL identified, classified and disseminated WBL-related project results from the programme for life-long learning as well as, in the beginning, from Erasmus+. The project succeeded in strengthening the role of work-based learning in initial and continuing vocational education and training as well as higher education in Europe.
NetBWL also was and remains an active participant in the European Alliance for Apprenticeships, aiming to help politics and programmes mutually strengthen each other and to support education policy processes. Link to the project website
Slideshow about NetWBL ©NA beim BIBB
Work-based Learning TOOLKIT
The network’s core product is the WBL TOOLKIT, the first European web platform to offer extensive materials and transferable instruments for work-based learning. Politicians, social partners, higher education institutions as well as stakeholders in the relevant education sectors use the platform to get information and to implement WBL in their business, education institution and country.
The WBL TOOLKIT consists of three core elements: introduction to WBL, tools and resources. In the introductory chapter to WBL, the aims and principles of work-based learning are explained: It contains definitions, information on advantages, obstacles and the degree of WBL implementation in Europe. The centrepiece, a data bank of over 70 tools, offers instruments, models, methods and examples of WBL, and addresses eight key topics: Government and administration systems, partnership, implementation of WBL, information and advisory services, development of WBL, capacity building amongst teachers and trainers, evaluation and quality assurance as well as assessment and recognition.
A collection of additional resources rounds off the offer: a bibliography currently consisting of 300 publications available online in several languages, a collection of case studies concerning the implementation of WBL, a glossary of relevant technical terms as well as a list of projects which the tools and products delivered.
Thus the WBL TOOLKIT complements the European education policy initiatives and creates an effective link between policy and practice.
Study: Report on work-based learning needs and gaps
One of the network’s results is the study ‘Report on work-based learning needs and gaps’ (Link to study) with regard to future requirements. The projects evaluated within the framework of the network conferences were discussed and analysed in relation to the needs and deficiencies that have not yet been sufficiently addressed. Areas of possible future focus and existing challenges with regards to WBL were identified, so that they can be taken up within the framework of the current Erasmus+ Programme, which runs until 2020. Based on this study, recommendations to the European Commission were drafted and potential applicants for future Erasmus+ calls for proposals were also identified.
The network’s tasks are not yet complete. Collective involvement remains necessary in order to maintain momentum and progress in reforming the system of vocational education and training in Europe. The next step will entail NetWBL becoming part of the European Alliance for Apprenticeships’ online support platform, while the TOOLKIT will remain open to modifications, so that new tools from existing Erasmus+ projects can be incorporated.
Beyond initial vocational education and training
Work-based learning doesn’t only have a role to play in initial vocational education and training. Companies and political players have also discovered the workplace as a place of learning for basic and continuing vocational education and training and emphasised this in numerous model projects and studies. The tools can be creatively transferred in this context.