[Translation (French- English) : EPALE France]
Isabelle HOUOT, thematic expert at EPALE France and lecturer at the University of Lorraine, met with professionals specialised in validation and certification in French-speaking Belgium. In this first episode, she presents her encounter with Danielle COOS, head of the methodological experts. Together, they discussed the competence validation consortium, which enables Belgian citizens to acquire credentials on the basis of experience.
The competence validation consortium was launched in 2003 under a cooperation agreement between the three French-speaking Belgian governments (the French Community, the Walloon Region and the French Community Commission).
An advisory and approval commission chaired by the social partners is responsible for the overall task of evaluating and approving the validation centres.
This commission has a steering committee to organise and manage the programme, standards commissions responsible for designing the standards according to needs, and an executive unit responsible for operations and administration.
The validation centres are approved by profession: 48 professions are available for validation, and 51 centres have been approved in French-speaking Belgium.
How is the programme organised?
Competence validation enables anyone over 18 years of age who has developed professional competences to have them officially validated by obtaining "credentials".
To obtain credentials, the person must pass a test at an approved validation centre in the form of a simulation, evaluated by a panel of professionals.
Since 2011, candidates have been able to apply for these credentials either on the basis of their professional experience or their educational background.
How are the standards designed?
Credentials are designed as "HR tools at the service of the company stakeholders"
The standards used to award credentials are based on trade-specific standards divided into several units of competences corresponding to coherent and relevant "parts of jobs" in relation to the job market.
The standards commission (COREF), which manages the design of validation standards, is composed of a chairperson, technical experts, methodological experts, representatives of the social partners, vocational training operators and representatives of the public employment services.
The validation standards for the use of the evaluators specify
- testing conditions (location and type of situation),
- accreditation conditions for assessors and observers,
- description of the task to be carried out (statement, conditions of performance, instructions to be given to the candidates),
- the duration of the test,
- the human resources materials allocated to the test for the candidate and for the assessor,
- options for adaptation,
- evaluation methods: grids and criteria
Validation standards are based on observables (outputs), or what the person proves they are capable of doing during the test, whether they reached this level of performance through professional experience or training.
Validation standards and their appendices (evaluation grids) are confidential documents.
What criteria are used by the assessors?
Assessors use an evaluation grid with criteria (what is expected from the output), indicators (what is observable), scoring (OK or not OK, 2/3 of the indicators must be achieved for the criterion to be passed) and comments.
This grid also includes a level of success that will allow the grading to be weighted according to the candidate's profile (for example, the number of errors will be judged differently for a beginner than for a seasoned professional).
Meeting the assessors at the automobile centre was very interesting from this point of view and allowed us to understand how the assessors work with the candidates in practice, how they closely observe the behaviour of the candidates in-situation and use their own experience as observers to deliberate and decide between the "achieved" or "non-achieved" grade.
The spacious, well-lit workshop used for assessments is a reassuring space for candidates.
The assessors are benevolent, their mission is one of guidance towards the candidate both before and after the test: they will first explain what is expected during the assessment and answer any questions about the procedure of the test. Secondly, they will provide the candidate with a roadmap helping them to negotiate their way through the tasks they are asked to perform in chronological order. Again, assessors can answer the candidate's questions, for example, about a misunderstanding of everyday vocabulary. As for questions concerning professional vocabulary, the assessors decide whether they can provide the answer or if the fact that the candidate is not familiar with the term is prohibitive for the remainder of the test.
Throughout the test, as well as filling in the evaluation grid, assessors will judge if it is necessary for them to intervene in the situation to correct or help the candidate in their work.
At the end of the test, they will be able to explain to the candidates how and where they succeeded or failed in carrying out the requested tasks and advise them how to proceed if they did not pass: retry the test with more preparation, take a training course, or wait until they have a little more experience, etc.
What about validation of prior learning?
In order to simplify learners' pathways and relieve congestion in validation centres, a second way of obtaining a qualification has been available since 2011: validation of prior learning.
Here, the training operators make a voluntary approach to the consortium by way of an application file for recognition of prior learning, to be examined by the commission.
Trainees graduating from a course for which an application file for recognition of prior learning has been accepted will then automatically receive one or more credentials.
What is the purpose of credentials?
Validation centres issue credentials (for parts of trades) based on experience
71 trade-based standards are already available via this channel throughout Belgium.
Competence validation of is limited to level 4 of the European Qualifications Framework.
At 31 March 2018, 37,684 credentials had been issued in French-speaking Belgium, either through a simulated professional situation in a validation centre, or through training approved by the consortium
- 23% of candidates over 45 years old
- 32% in the 35-44 age group
- 32% in the 25-34 age group
- 13% in the 18-24 age group
The most sought-after occupations are those of administrative employee, housekeeper, forklift operator, PC-network technician and company tutor.
Credentials are an official document, used by both private employers or public services and public training operators, for resuming studies.
They allow access to (and exemptions from) training courses run by education for social advancement institutions (EPS) as well as in training centres associated with the consortium.
Credentials are accompanied by a supplement to the Europass certificate, which the successful candidate can download from the consortium's website.
The consortium is currently developing a new way of obtaining credentials through an application file.
The candidate would receive support in putting together a portfolio. The conditions and modalities of support are currently being developed.
They would then be interviewed by a panel (the same one as for the test).
Here again, the panel would use an evaluation grid.
These provisions have already been tried out on the professions of hairdresser and administrative employee.
Analysis and Perspectives
In French-speaking Belgium, there is a clear distinction between formal education (general education or education for social advancement) and non-formal and informal training (vocational training). However, prior learning that has been validated in one system can be recognised in the other.
This has a number of consequences:
Competence validation is a system for the evaluation and certification of acquired experience based on the proof provided by the candidate of his/her ability to act in a manner that is consistent with expectations in a professional situation.
- This proof is established in the context of a test (a professional situation)
- Proof may also be demonstrated in a portfolio
Unlike other European countries (France, Luxembourg) which have established their certification standards in direct link with the standards of the training courses that lead to these certifications, French-speaking Belgium has established professional standards for the infra 4 levels. This means that professionals can have their skills certified regardless of the way in which their level of performance was attained.
This is made possible by dividing the professional standards into distinct "units".
This has the advantage of focusing directly on professional practice and thus provides a system that is accessible to all professionals, including those with little or no basic academic knowledge. In other European systems for validating professional experience, which are often more closely linked to academic standards, verification of the presence of basic knowledge seems to be more prohibitive in the recognition process.
The current questions surrounding the increased use of portfolios for competence validation are a sign of this, and two essential issues remain, though they are not specific to Belgium and concern all similar European programmes:
- What are the links between qualification and professional certification?
- How can competence validation in the form of individual tasks or sets of tasks correspond to more general professional certification? In other words: what defines "professional"?
- In professional certifications, is it necessary to take into account not only the ability to perform the necessary tasks in the required manner, but also equally important ability to enter a professional activity, to situate oneself in it and to consider the possible forms of performance, in other words to deploy and develop oneself in the occasion?
 The Walloon Office for Vocational Training and Employment, known as FOREM, is a public service in Belgium specialising in employment and vocational training in the Walloon Region only, the political entity on which it depends.
 IFAPME is a public interest organisation subsidised by Wallonia. The letters in the acronym stand for : Institut Wallon de Formation en Alternance et des indépendants et Petites et Moyennes Entreprises (Walloon Institute for Block-release Training, the Self-Employed and Small and Medium-sized Companies).
Among its missions, IFAPME's main objective is to offer training for professions in a multitude of professional sectors. These courses are organized according to the principle of theblock-release training(courses at the centre and practical training in a company).
 Bruxelles Formation is based in Belgium, and is in charge of the public vocational training service for French-speaking people in the Brussels-Capital Region.
 The Service Formation PME (SFPME) is a department of the French Community Commission (COCOF).
The SFPME works in collaboration with the EFP, organising block-release training courses. There are two types of training: apprenticeship training and business manager training.
 Education for Social Advancement (EPS) in French-speaking Belgium includes more than 160 establishments and is aimed at a heterogeneous audience. The students in Education for Social Advancement come from a wide range of ages, backgrounds, professions and social and cultural backgrounds.