Musing on Apprenticeships, part 3

07.04.2011 10:00

In twoprevious articles, we debated the issue inherent to historical evolution,showing that although things were better in the past, apparentices are not aswell off any more: they are hardly well equipped to tackle professional life,because it differs from everything they have, until then, known. And that thisis where the skills the ECo-C teaches can help.

Butwe have, to date, been very theoretical. We need a good case study; because ofthe existance of a strong and vital apprenticeship system in Austria, becauseit is the country where the ECo-C is best established, we have chosen to use itas a working example.

InAustria, an apprenticeship begins when compulsory training ends; apprenticesconclude an apprenticeship agreement, and henceforth spend 80% of their time ina company, and 20% in an institution for vocational training, which teach thema „special curriculum defining both thekey issues of the technical theory and practical training for the respectiveapprenticeship trade“. However, according to information publishedby the Austrian Federal Ministry for Education, the Arts and Culture, thesystem is in dire need of reform: „TheAustrian apprenticeship training system is highly practice-oriented andesteemed all over the country. In recent years, however, apprenticeshiptraining has experienced a loss in attractiveness due to the poor permeabilityof educational pathways, the concentration of apprentices on a few occupationsand the permanently decreasing willingness of Austrian enterprises to providetraining facilities“. This echoes our previous article, showingthat what we principly saw as inherent issues of the apprenticeship system areactually affecting the physical, existing system in Austria.

Thesame source goes on to say that reform should focus on resolving the followingissues as a way to adress the greater problems

  • Apprentices are typically geared towards crafting trades, thus creating a gender imbalance and insufficiencies in the more forward-looking sectors
  • The system is inflexible, allowing little leeway to apprentices wanting to change pathways or grain further qualifications, something which is clearly attributed to lacks in the vocational school training.
  • Enterprises need more incentive to take on such youths.
  • And lastly, there need to be more quality assurance mechanisms in the  curricula.

Andthen, there is the ECo-C: a tool that helps with all of these problems.

Withrespect to point (1): In itself, the ECo-C will not turn people away fromcrafting trades; it may, however, help people wanting to work inforward-looking sectors, because these sectors need to rely on small firms,more than on isolated inventors and individuals. In these firms, personalcompetency is important, and providing it might encourage young women toposition themselves as tough professionals, in defiance of gender-basedstereotypes, as well as encourage firms to hire these young apprentices; henceit also works on point (3).

Withrespect to point (2): As a general certificate for training in socialcompetency, the ECo-C is by nature applicable to all trades, and as such,flexible per se. It is worth noting that the Ministerial source quoted abovesuggests that vocational schools haveconsidered Communication Skills something they need to teach ( „The main criteria when it comes to defining thesubject matter is its contribution to the improvement of the students'communication and co-operative skills. In order to meet this aim, the subjectmatter contains elements of verbal, non-verbal and written communication aswell as spelling.“); however, the ECo-C differs in that unlikethese schools, it follows stringent quality assurance requirements andobligations, which presumably aren’t the strong points of these vocationalschools (else why would the Ministry name it „reform measure“?). In meetingthese, the ECo-C is in line with point (4).

Lastly,in being valid across the European continent, the ECo-C brings toapprenticeships something that national systems have generally failed tosupply: the transboundary applicability of certifications, in line with theEuropean drive to increase intra-European mobility. Certificates valid in onecountry only hamper it - and by being a qualification that is specific to onecompany, one city, one country even, apprenticeships have in the past beenseverely hampered there.

Oneonly hopes that others will follow the example of the Land Niederösterreich andintegrate ECo-C training in vocational education, thus improving thecertifications, the quality of the young professionals thus trained, and therecognition of the Apprenticeship system within Austria and Europe as a whole.

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