2. Creating responsive vocational education and training systems

As discussed in Chapter 1, skill needs in labour markets and societies are changing due to structural factors such as the digital and green transition. As the key role of VET is to prepare learners for the labour market, it should be ensured that the offer and content of VET is well aligned with the skills that employers are looking for. This requires a good understanding of current and anticipated skill needs. Such information on skill needs can inform the design of VET policies, as well as the delivery of VET.

Understanding skill needs is typically not an easy task and requires putting together information from various sources. One important input is that from employers, who generally have the most direct view on what their needs are. According to Renold et al. (2016[1]), employer engagement can take place in the curriculum design, application and feedback phase. In the curriculum design phase, employers can be involved in setting qualification standards, as well as in the development of student evaluation guidelines. Employer involvement in the application phase mainly happens through the provision of work-based learning, but employers can also be involved in other areas, such as quality assurance of work-based learning, cost-sharing agreements, the provision of equipment and teachers, and the inclusion of a workplace component in student evaluations. Finally, in the feedback phase, employers can share information about student outcomes and skill needs to feed into the re-design of curricula, and they can be involved in determining the optimal timing for curriculum re-design. The inputs from employers should be carefully balanced with other sources of information, to ensure that VET design and delivery reflects a wider view on skill needs, including those that go beyond the needs of a limited group of employers and those that reflect longer-term needs and broader societal needs.

This chapter discusses key questions for designing responsive VET systems. It looks at two important sets of inputs into VET design: information from labour market data and engagement with social partners. Moreover, it looks at the role of professional tertiary education as a way to develop the VET offer at higher levels of education as the demand for higher-level technical skills grows. Lastly, the chapter discusses the importance of also updating the skills of VET teachers in line with changing skill needs in labour markets and societies.

High-quality information on skills demand and supply can help designing responsive VET policies and programmes that support economies in getting access to workers with the right skills. This type of information can contribute to avoiding and tackling skills imbalances and to improving labour market outcomes of VET students. Countries differ widely in terms of methods used to identify their skill needs, but also in terms of the level at which these exercises are conducted and stakeholder involvement (OECD, 2016[2]).

In general, an assessment of skill needs should build on a wide range information, including quantitative information from a variety of sources (e.g. labour force survey, employer surveys, vacancy data, graduate tracer surveys) and qualitative information gather from key stakeholders in the skills system. Box 2.1 provides examples from the Unites States and South Africa on the use of various data sources to determine local and national needs.

Information about labour market outcomes of VET students provides interesting insights that can be used in VET policy making. To gather more detailed information on these outcomes, a tracer study can be put into place. Such a tracer study allows following VET graduates in the labour market or further education at different points after graduation. Information can be collected on aspects such as the time needed to find a job, characteristics of the jobs (e.g. occupation, tasks, wages, working time arrangements), reasons for working in jobs outside of one’s field, etc. Moreover, if these tracer studies collect detailed information about the type of VET training the graduate went through (e.g. dual programmes, other forms of work-based learning, detailed field of study, private versus public institutions), it is also possible to compare outcomes by types of VET provision. This type of information can be used to improve the quality of VET and to align programmes better with the needs of the labour market. Box 2.2 provides more details of tracer surveys in the VET sector.

To shape effective and timely VET and skills policies, decision-makers need faster and more detailed collection and analysis of information on current and future skill needs and trends. Using information available online – or ‘web-based big data’ – for labour market analysis and skills intelligence is currently high on the policy agenda – especially in light of the changes brought about by the green and digital transition. Such web-based big data include electronic CVs available through online platforms or social networks, job advertisements published on job portals, and online descriptions of education and training programmes and qualifications on offer. The ‘bottom up’ information contained in web-based big data is its main added value. The more detailed information on skills, occupations and careers, qualifications and other job requirements and characteristics in online job advertisements and CVs opens up many opportunities to strengthen labour market and skills intelligence. Trends analysis can be undertaken because data can be collected frequently. Table 2.1 gives an overview of the potential of web-based big data on skills for government, education and training providers, employers and individuals.

Producing web-based big data requires a data production system for data ingestion, data pre-processing, information extraction and data use/ presentation, and developing such a system is complex. Moreover, using web-based big data for skills analysis requires a mature online job market. A well-developed internet infrastructure and good and widespread connectivity are preconditions. Statistical biases, representativeness and conceptual challenges complicate big data analysis and make drawing valid conclusions challenging. Big data are unstructured and usually non-random and tend to cover particular labour market segments (such as highly skilled or ICT occupations in public portals or lower-skilled positions in some public employment service sources) better than others. As such, when analysing and presenting big data, especially to the public, researchers and policy makers must always bear in mind the nature and character of such data to avoid misinterpretation. Cedefop; European Commission; ETF; ILO; OECD; UNESCO (2021[9]) note that is not advisable to use big data as a substitute for mainstream labour market analyses, but rather to treat such big data as a complement to labour market and skills intelligence. This is the approach taken in Malaysia, for example, where the Critical Occupations List is elaborated by combining information from online job advertisements with other traditional data sources and bottom-up quantitative or qualitative inputs (OECD, 2019[10]).

Across OECD countries, results from skills assessment and anticipation exercise have mainly been used by governments to update occupational standards; design or revise training policies for workers or the unemployed; design, revise or decide on the allocation of courses provided in formal education. In addition, some governments use this information to guide migration policy, as well as their transition to a digital or green economy. Social partners (employer organisations and trade unions) also use this information to lobby governments on education and employment policy, develop training programmes, or provide advice to their members on skill development. Both social partners and governments use the information for broad dissemination purposes to inform workers and students about trends in current or future skill demand and supply (OECD, 2016[2]).

Despite some good practices in the use of skill assessment and anticipation information in countries, governments and social partners still face several barriers when it comes to using the available information. In general, the identified barriers are twofold: i) involving and co-ordinating with stakeholders; and ii) bringing the skills assessment and anticipation exercises closer to the needs and requirements of policy makers (OECD, 2016[2]). In Australia, Jobs and Skills Australia (former National Skills Commission) was set up to provide more and better information on skill needs to government, employers and learners (Box 2.3).

The engagement of social partners (i.e. employers and trade unions) ensures that the skillsets embodied in vocational qualifications reflect occupational needs, that the mix of training provision between different occupations matches the mix of demand for jobs of different types, that programmes reflect the broader needs of workers, and that opportunities for work-based learning (see next section) are of high quality.

How employers and trade unions are involved in VET typically depends on the organisation of labour and employers and the role they play more broadly in designing and implementing policy. In places where trade unions are weak or non-existent (e.g. South Carolina in the United States), employers are the ones to have the strongest voice in the VET system. Likewise, where employer associations are weak, it may be difficult for employers (and especially small ones) to influence VET if they fail to coordinate and agree on a common position. Figure 2.1 shows that employer organisation density various considerably between OECD countries.

Social partners’ involvement can be described as a continuum between two extremes: on the one hand social partners run vocational education and training that is provided entirely on-the-job, and on the other hand bodies in charge of VET institutions such as national, regional and local governments keep the full responsibility for vocational education and training with no input from social partners and no training in companies. The majority of initial VET programmes targeting young people fall somewhere in between. Social partners’ engagement would typically be strong in apprenticeship systems whereas in school-based VET it would be less prominent.

Countries differ substantially in the extent to which they involve social partners in VET and the mechanisms for doing so. A Swiss study attempts to measure the degree of linkage between actors from VET and employment systems across countries (Renold et al., 2016[1]), focussing on employers only and their co-operation with other stakeholders during development, implementation and evaluation of VET curriculum. The study finds that VET systems balancing the influence of the education side and social partners contribute to strong labour market outcomes among VET completers. According to the authors, in such VET systems (e.g. in Denmark and Switzerland) students receive a substantial part of their education and training in companies and social partners are involved in the design and update of qualification standards, examination and assessment requirements (Renold et al., 2016[1]).

Strong VET systems, drawing on social partner engagement, yield benefits to employers by increasing the pool of qualified labour, and benefit students by facilitating their transition to skilled employment. In Sweden, a study looking at the provision of work placements in upper- secondary VET shows that a strong partnership between the school and local councils improves outcomes from VET (Lundin, 2016[14]). Moreover, the collective involvement of social partners in VET as a valuable spin-off, can encourage innovation in firms. Social partners are able to reflect upon, and share information, new technologies, production and training methods while updating the components of VET programmes. This effect is found to be stronger for small firms, implying there is a transition of knowledge and innovation from larger companies to smaller ones (Rupietta and Backes-Gellner, 2017[15]).

The engagement of social partners in the design of VET programmes and policies often happens through employer associations and trade unions which represent the interest of groups of employers and workers. For example, Germany has a network of Chambers of Commerce and Industry that represent the majority of employers from different sectors. The membership is compulsory as all registered companies in industry, commerce or service are required by law to be a member of a Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The Chambers play a key role in provision of VET (among other things). In some countries such as Switzerland, the role of different stakeholders in defining VET qualifications and standards of VET programmes is legally defined and guaranteed (Box 2.4).

In countries where employers (and trade unions) are less well organised, involving them in VET is more challenging (Gallacher and Reeve, 2019[16]). In particular, it is more difficult to identify employers who represent interests of the entire industry, and it can be particularly difficult to engage medium and small enterprises. From this perspective, the recent Scottish efforts to engage employers in VET is informative. In Scotland (United Kingdom), employers’ input into education and training has traditionally been limited - notwithstanding a clear political will of the Scottish Government to involve employers into VET policy. Gallacher and Reeve (2019[16]) show that despite financial incentives for VET providers to forge partnerships with employers, involvement of companies in VET in Scotland remained limited. To address this issue, the Scottish Government has built over recent years a framework to facilitate social partners’ involvement in apprenticeships. The framework takes into account features of social partner organisations and the way they interact with educational institutions, recognising that models of social partners’ involvement from countries with different characteristics may not be appropriate for Scotland. In the Scottish model, Technical Experts Groups (TEG) play a key role in the development of new and update of existing apprenticeships. These are bottom-up bodies composed of 10 to 15 people including employers and trade unions. TEGs are short-lived as they are set up with the sole aim of developing or updating apprenticeships. In a context where employers’ input into VET policy has been limited, it may be easier to guarantee employers’ involvement if it is done on an ad hoc basis, when specific needs emerge (Skills Development Scotland, 2022[17]). Annex 2.A provides more information on how Scotland (United Kingdom) involves social partners in the development of apprenticeship qualifications.

New Zealand is another country that has recently strengthened the position of social partners. Major VET reforms were announced in 2019 and implemented from 2021 to address a range of issues, including employer engagement (Huntington, 2022[18]) and concerns that a lack of skills availability could threaten future economic growth (Rother, 2019[19]). The reforms aimed to create a stronger, more unified, and sustainable system by reforming funding and establishing a single national public provider (Te Pūkenga). Te Pūkenga absorbed the regional public providers of off-job VET and most industry training and must “develop meaningful partnerships” with industries and communities (Ministry of Education, 2020[20]). While previously, industries had significant power over workplace-based education through New Zealand’s industry training system but weak direct influence in other parts of vocational education, the reforms established six industry-led Workforce Development Councils (WDCs) with employer and employee governance. The WDCs retain the qualification and standards development function of former industry training organisations, but they have an expanded remit to cover all VET – not just workplace learning. They also give industries stronger strategic levers in the skills system, as WDCs have a formalised skills leadership function, provide advice on public investment in VET, and are explicitly expected to engage with issues such as sustainability, workforce supply, equity, and the needs of Māori.

Also in the Republic of Türkiye (hereafter ‘Türkiye’), efforts have been made to increase collaboration with employers in VET. The Directorate General of Vocational and Technical Education of the Ministry of National Education (MoNE) carries out sector co-operation agreements with various stakeholders representing public institutions and organisations as well as private sector and non-governmental organisations. These agreements cover aspects such as support for improving the qualifications of VET teachers, updating VET curricula, and transferring technological developments from industry to VET providers. The Turkish the Ministry of National Education has more than 200 co-operation agreements with institutions and organisations (status in 2023). In addition to the protocols signed centrally, protocols can also be signed by provincial and district national education directorates.

Social partners are involved in VET at different levels. They can sit on bodies advising national and regional governments, collaborate with local VET providers, and provide input into VET programmes corresponding with their sectors. National level bodies typically coordinate and overview VET policy. Depending on the country, some of these overarching responsibilities can be shared with regional levels.1 Germany provides an interesting example, as school-based VET is fully managed by Länder (regions) whereas in apprenticeships the responsibility is shared between the federal (i.e. national level) and regional administrations. Social partners are typically organised by industry sectors and provide input in VET programmes corresponding to their area of expertise. For example, social partners representing the construction sector contribute to the development and update of curriculum of VET programmes in construction.

In some countries, VET institutions (i.e. schools or providers) are also expected to set up relationships with social partners. For example, in Denmark, VET colleges and local training committees are encouraged to work closely together to ensure better coherence between school-based and work-based learning, for example through identification of specific tasks or problems that companies face and subsequent alignment of the contents of school-based education and training (Box 2.5) (National Educational Authority Danish Ministry of Education, 2008[24]).

The influence of social partners can be just consultative, or alternatively can involve full decision-making. Typically, social partners’ role is stronger in apprenticeships than in school-based VET. The high level of involvement of the social partners in the former reflects the central role of the employer in apprenticeship: relative to other forms of vocational training, employers therefore have more obligations but also more control. In many apprenticeship systems social partners decide on occupational qualifications, corresponding skills, assessment requirements and methods, and the content and delivery of work placements (e.g. in countries such as Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway and Switzerland). Norway has recently reinforced the role of social partners in apprenticeship in relation to the content of training taking place in companies (Utdanningsdirektoratet, 2017[25]).

Irrespective of the exact institutional organisation, effective arrangements should allow social partners to provide their input into VET regularly, in a timely manner, and in all relevant areas. Box 2.5 describes the form of social partner involvement in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. In the three countries, systematic arrangements give the social partners an active role either at national regional or institution level and provide them with an opportunity of shaping the content and provision of VET programmes.

In most countries, schools share the responsibility for delivering VET with companies, i.e. some vocational education and training is provided in schools and some by companies. Employers’ provision of training to students, i.e. work-based learning (WBL), represents their largest contribution to VET. WBL refers to learning through participation and/or observation of work under the supervision of an employer. The intensity of WBL differs across VET programmes. In some VET programmes a mandatory WBL component represents an important element of the learning experience. Other VET programmes are more dependent on schools, with work-based learning being an optional and sometimes minor element. In programmes with longer periods of WBL students typically contribute with some productive work, whereas the amount of productive work performed by students in shorter WBL is limited. Table 2.2 compares work-based learning in apprenticeship and school-based vocational programmes – recognising that it provides a simplified picture since VET programmes are very diverse.

As shown in Figure 2.2, in some countries, such as Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Latvia and Switzerland nearly all upper-secondary VET students receive WBL, while in Italy, Japan, Korea and Spain, VET is provided mainly in schools. In countries with apprenticeships such as Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland students spent most of their time while in WBL (i.e. 60-80% depending on the country).

Learning in a workplace is an essential part of VET and can yield benefits to students and employers. The benefits depend on both the length and quality of work placements and together these factors define how effective WBL is in developing the skills required in target jobs, and in transitioning people, particularly young people, into the labour market.

  • Workplaces provide a strong learning environment. WBL allows students to acquire practical skills on up-to-date equipment and supported by trainers familiar with the most recent working methods and technologies. Rapidly changing technologies mean that equipment quickly becomes obsolete, and VET schools are sometimes unable to afford modern equipment. Workplace training will therefore often be more cost-effective since it makes use of equipment already available in enterprises.

  • WBL improves school-to-work transition. There is some evidence that VET graduates who have experienced more WBL (such as apprentices) have stronger labour market outcomes, in terms of lower duration of job search, fewer unemployment spells and higher wages, than those who choose another type of upper-secondary education. Overall, countries with a high share of youth in apprenticeships have lower rates of disconnected youth and youth experiencing a difficult transition to employment (Quintini and Manfredi, 2009[35]).

  • WBL is beneficial to employers. WBL yields useful work for the employer and is a means of recruitment (Kuczera, 2017[36]; Walther, Schweri and Wolter, 2005[37]; Muehlemann, 2016[38]). In 2016, Switzerland estimated that Swiss companies involved in VET programmes enjoyed an average net benefit of CHF 3 170 per apprentice per year (SEFRI, 2019[39]). These companies gained an additional benefit of about CHF 10 700 on average per apprentice if they hired the trained apprentice after completing the apprenticeship. The benefits varied by the firm size, sector and apprenticeship duration. In Sweden, a study evaluating the employer benefits of WBL shows that WBL of 20-40 weeks in total in school-based programmes lasting three years facilitates future recruitment and lowers its cost, and increases the skills and motivation of company staff, especially for those employees who supervise students (Höghielm, 2015[40]; Karlson and Persson, 2014[41]).

  • WBL ensures VET provision matches labour market needs. Employer willingness to offer work-based learning is an indicator of their support for the associated vocational programme. Employers can influence the number and mix of places in VET through their willingness to offer workplace training. In programmes dominated by school-based provision, with little or no WBL, the mix of provision may be biased towards the training that schools and colleges can easily provide, based on their existing equipment and teaching staff.

A study by Renold et al. (2016[1]) argues that collaboration between public authorities responsible for education and training and employers yields optimal outcomes, as all the involved parties benefit. Education authorities are best placed to teach as they have access to teachers, curriculum designers, and students. Employers, on the other hand, possess the latest equipment and technology and the most qualified trainers, and can provide students with real world experience (Renold et al., 2016[1]).

When individual VET schools play an active role in reaching out to employers they may need support in developing their links with employers and their capacity to foster WBL. Sometimes this support may come from organised bodies, such as the SBB in the Netherlands (Samenwerkingsorganisatie Beroepsonderwijs Bedrijfsleven). It will often also be helpful for schools to find means to share their experiences. In Finland, a manual has been developed by the Finnish National Board of Education for fostering the transfer of innovative work-based learning practice. Box 2.6 provides further details about the Dutch and Finnish experience.

When employers are reluctant or unable to offer WBL places, the government and social partners may want to promote it through a range of incentives. These incentives include financial incentives such as rewarding employers who train with additional funding or by making employers who do not train to pay. Employers’ capacity to train can also be supported with measures other than financial ones. Provision of training requires additional efforts from the employer such as filling administrative duties, organising training on the site, appointing and often training employees who are responsible for trainees. Some employers may not feel able to train students as they lack training capacity. Training capacity depends on the quality of trainers, training methods and training equipment. It is typically less well developed in small companies that do not have dedicated training arrangements hindering their capacity to offer training to students. Figure 2.3 shows that companies with fewer employees are indeed less likely to engage in VET. Small companies may therefore particularly benefit from measures designed to enhance training capacity, such as training for trainers, assistance with administrative work and sharing responsibility for training.

To ensure that training in firms is beneficial to students, regulations can define the competencies that students should develop, how work-based learning should be delivered, qualifications of VET teachers in schools and trainers of learners in companies. The regulations and WBL standards are more important in programmes with longer periods of WBL as that is where students spend most of their time. While regulations ensure WBL develops in students the required skills, they may impose additional burden on employers and discourage them from offering training to students. Countries apply different approaches to the quality control of WBL. In Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway, for example, bodies involving social partners set up the standards and assure the quality of WBL. In some countries VET schools play a more active role in the delivery and quality control of WBL. For example, in Estonia, the school designs a plan for apprenticeship study and may also set up an individualised curriculum for the apprentice (Estonian Ministry of Education and Research, 2017[47]). In Sweden, similarly to Estonia, only recently work-based learning has been promoted and expanded in upper-secondary VET, and schools play an important role in arranging and supervising work placements with companies (Ministry of Education Sweden, 2018[31]).

Trainers in companies, who are typically company employees, are at the forefront of education and training as they are in charge of conveying knowledge and developing skills in trainees. In general, in-company trainers are expected to have a relevant education background and work experience. In Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway, for example, trainers are expected to have a relevant vocational qualification and several years of relevant work experience. In Norway, the company needs to appoint a training supervisor who bears the overall responsibility of the apprenticeship as well as one or more trainers. A few countries also require in-company trainers to have a specific education or training related to their training duties. In Germany and Switzerland, for example, there are specific requirements regarding a training qualification to ensure trainers have the necessary teaching skill. In Germany, trainers must have a relevant professional qualification and pass a trainer aptitude examination to demonstrate one’s vocational and pedagogical knowledge. Training companies need to be accredited in order to offer work-based learning for VET students and they must have at least one ‘qualified’ trainer (i.e. a trainer who passed the trainer aptitude examination). In Switzerland, trainers at companies providing apprenticeships have to have a special qualification that is awarded upon attending 100 hours of training in pedagogy, VET law, VET system knowledge, and problem-solving methods for adolescents. VET trainers for intercompany courses have to complete 600 hours of pedagogy preparation and there are also special requirement for examiners (Hoeckel, Field and Grubb, 2009[48]).

Many countries provide access to training by trainers without making it mandatory. Governments may also facilitate networking among employers to share knowledge and experience on how best to support, develop and make use of the skills of learners. Box 2.7 provides examples of initiatives targeting training of trainers.

To support employers that on their own would not be able to deliver WBL, many countries have arrangements that allow employers to share responsibility for it. Small companies may particularly benefit from such measures, as they are less able to benefit from the economies of scale that can reduce the unit cost of apprenticeship training. Such economies are realised when, for example, a trained instructor provides training to a few students at the same time, or the company bears the fixed cost of understanding the administrative and other requirements associated with apprenticeship. Small companies may also be unable to train for the full range of skills required by a specific qualification, which is particularly important in apprenticeships.

Examples discussed below are mainly for apprenticeship but they can be easily transposed in the context of WBL of shorter duration. In Germany “apprenticeship sharing” includes the following models (Poulsen and Eberhardt, 2016):

  • Lead enterprise with partner enterprise model: the lead enterprise bears the overall responsibility for training, but parts of the training are conducted in various partner enterprises.

  • “Training consortium” model: several small enterprises work together and take on trainees.

  • “Training association” model: the individual enterprises establish an organisation for the purpose of the training that takes over the organisational tasks (contracts, etc.), while the master enterprises offer the training. The organs of the association are the general meeting and the honorary committee. A statute regulates rights and obligations of the members.

In Austria, companies that cannot fulfil certain standards (for instance because they are too small or too specialised to provide their apprentices with required training) may form training alliances (Ausbildungsverbünde) to share apprentices. Alliances of training firms are supervised at the state level by the Apprenticeship Offices (Lehrlingsstellen) appointed by Economic Chambers. The Economic Chambers help to find partners for firms willing to create new training alliances. Lachmayr and Dornmayr (2008[54]) show that training alliances help to improve the quality of apprenticeship provision. In 2008, at least 5 000 training firms, or 15 000 apprentices, were organised in training alliances.

In Norway, Apprenticeship Training Agencies (ATA) (opplæringskontor) are owned by companies and aim to establish new apprenticeship places, supervise companies with apprentices, train staff involved in the instruction of apprentices, provide career guidance and recruit apprentices. Many ATAs organise the theoretical part of apprentices’ training. While county authorities must approve each individual company with apprentices, ATAs often sign the apprenticeship contracts on behalf of enterprises providing apprenticeship, thereby becoming accountable for completion of the apprenticeship and its results. About 70-80% of companies with apprentices are associated with ATAs. These bodies are indirectly funded by the state, as typically companies pay half of the amount received from the state for apprenticeship training to ATAs. The prices of ATA services are set in an agreement between ATAs and the member companies (Kuczera, 2017[55]). Recent reforms as part of the new Education Act (June 2023)3 have brought changes to the ATAs, which are now called “samarbeidsorgan for lærebedrifter (opplæringskontor)” in the law. The ATAs can now be part of the apprenticeship contract, and they can receive funding on behalf of the apprenticeship enterprise.

Several countries provide financial incentives to encourage and support employers to provide work-based learning to VET students. Such incentives can come directly from the public purse (e.g. tax breaks and subsidies), flow from VET schools to employers, or take the shape of a training levy on employers.

First, the cost of financial incentives for companies to offer training can come out of general public expenditure, and therefore from taxpayers, as: 1) a reduction in the tax base or tax due by companies providing apprenticeships; or 2) a subsidy to firms with apprentices. These incentives are mainly targeted at companies providing apprenticeships as they incur a much higher cost than companies providing shorter work placements for students. Often they include an element of targeting, e.g. focussing on SMEs or on specific sectors or learners. Some examples include:

  • In Austria, tax incentives were abolished in 2008 and replaced by direct subsidies for apprenticeships. The Ministry of Economics and Labour considered the tax incentive scheme failed to target companies that would benefit most from additional support for apprenticeships (Cedefop, 2011[56]). Since 2016, every training company gets a direct public subsidy for each apprentice. This basic subsidisation is linked to the apprenticeship wage and is gradually reduced over time to compensate for the low productivity of apprentices in initial years. Criteria-based subsidies in Austria intend to increase quality (e.g. coaching, building training alliances, providing extra preparation for the final examination or the qualifications of trainers), and/or foster provision for specific target groups (e.g. by employing apprentices from supra-company scheme). Companies must apply at their local apprenticeship office, provide proof of their expenses, and will get them partly reimbursed up to a certain amount. Finally, employers have non-labour costs related to apprenticeships (such as social security contributions, unemployment and insurance), waived.

  • The Slovak Republic introduced a new form of dual education in initial VET in 2015. WBL accounts for approximately 60% of the programme duration, with VET schools providing theoretical education. Tax incentives are provided to companies offering dual education, with the amount of the tax benefit for the entire period of study depending on the programme duration. Employers meeting certain requirements can claim EUR 9 600 and EUR 12 800 of tax benefit for a 3-year and 4-year studies, respectively (BusinessEurope, 2016[57]). Dual education has expanded over time4 (Slovakia State Institute of Vocational Education and Training, 2019[58]), however, it is unclear if the subsidy contributed to the increase in apprenticeship provision by employers as the effect of the subsidy has not been evaluated.

  • France provides subsidies for companies employing apprentices. The subsidy equals EUR 6 000, which employers receive in the first year of the apprenticeship. While no conditions apply to employers with less than 250 employees, larger companies can only receive the subsidy if they have at least a specific share (3-5%) of apprentices among their workforce.

  • In Türkiye, apprentices and VET students in other forms of work-based learning receive a salary of at least one-third of the national minimum wage (increasing to 50% for apprentices in their final year, i.e. grade 12). In the case of apprenticeships, the entire wage is subsidised by the government in the form of state support to the enterprise. In the case of work-based learning for VET learners in Vocational and Technical Anatolian High Schools,5 one-third of the salary is subsidised by the government (and the rest is covered by the enterprise). This goes up to two-thirds of the salary in enterprises employing less than 20 employees.

  • In Ireland, subsidies target gender imbalances in apprenticeships. Employers who recruit female craft apprentices are eligible for a EUR 2 667 bursary per female apprentice registered. This female craft apprenticeship bursary has recently been expanded to all programmes with greater than 80% representation of a single gender.

  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, some countries provided additional support to firms with apprentices. Germany, which does not provide subsidies to firms offering apprenticeship on a regular basis, put in place a temporary financial scheme “Secure apprenticeships”. It targeted small and medium-sized companies that were particularly affected by the crisis to maintain or even increase their level of training. In 2021 only, the country disbursed EUR 500 million for this purpose.

Second, some countries transfer funds that would otherwise be channelled to schools to employers with WBL opportunities - in recognition of the role of employers in education and training of young people. For example, in Norway, apprenticeships are part of upper-secondary VET (which starts for most learners at age 16) and they are typically organised on a 2+2 basis, with learners spending the first two years in full-time school-based education and the last two years in full-time work-based learning (Utdanningsdirektoratet, 2020[59]). As such, these programmes are one year longer than most other upper-secondary programmes (which last three years). However, public funding for the apprenticeship programme is in line with other three-year programmes: the state funds the two years of school-based education and provides grants to employers who train apprentices of an amount approximately equivalent to one year of school-based education. As such, this model allocates resources from schools to firms without increasing the total cost of provision. It is thus a special type of subsidy based on the cost of VET provision (Cedefop, 2019[60]). In countries without a tradition of employer engagement in VET, schools sometimes play a more active role in initiating and organising work placements and sometimes in funding. In Estonia, for example, the school finances the training at school, supervisors’ training and salary for the school supervisor. Based on the apprenticeship contract between the school, the company and the student, the school can transfer up to 50% of the funding for the cost of the study place to the enterprise to cover the salary cost of workplace supervisors (Estonian Ministry of Education and Research, 2017[47]).

Third, the costs of financial incentives can also fall on employers, with either all employers or some employers contributing, typically through a levy on turnover or payroll. Under levy schemes, funds from contributions may be used to support VET or training more broadly. Levy training funds can span across all sectors at a national and regional level. They can also be set up to address skills needs of a specific sector (or a few sectors). For example, in Denmark and France, all employers share the costs of apprenticeships, while in England (United Kingdom), only large employers contribute. In Austria, Brazil (Box 2.8), Germany and Switzerland, levies are collected by sector.

Levy training funds are often set up to correct market failures by spreading the cost of training across a large group of employers and decreasing the individual employer’s risk of investing in training. For example, employers do not provide training because they fear that the workers they train will be recruited by other employers and they will not be able to recoup their investment. Training levies thus support training that is in the collective interest of employers and society. Employers benefit from a well-trained pool of potential recruits and should therefore contribute to the cost of the training (rather than, or in addition to, contributions from general taxation). Levy funds can also be used to reduce inequalities by targeting training of disadvantaged populations, or support of small employers in the informal economy (UNESCO, 2022[63]). Overall, the effectiveness of the levy fund and employers’ support of the fund depends on how it is designed, managed and evaluated. Employers tend to be more sceptical of universal levy schemes, often perceived by as a tax (UNESCO, 2022[63]; Müller and Behringer, 2012[64]). Levy training funds receive limited support from employers when the funds are diverted to purposes other than training, and when employers (and in some cases social partners) have little control over how the money is spent. Palmer (2022[63]) argues that some cross-subsidisation of non-levy payers can be beneficial (e.g. funding of training in small enterprises). However, too much cross-subsidisation may result in disengagement of the levy paying companies with the scheme. For example, levy payers may consider that their contribution is wasted if funds are diverted to low quality initial VET where the provision is driven by school capacity (e.g. available equipment and VET teachers) rather employers’ needs.

As argued by Palmer (2022[63]), evidence on training levy funds is too scarce to draw conclusions on their effectiveness. Westergaard and Rasmussen (1999[65]) found a significant positive effect of public subsidies in Danish firms, but only in manufacturing, business and retail. In Austria, subsidies appear to have had a limited impact (Wacker, 2007[66]). In Switzerland (where there are no subsidies of this type), a simulation exercise suggested that subsidies would have an impact on firms not involved in apprenticeships, but would have no effect on the supply of apprenticeship training in firms that train already (Muehlemann, 2016[38]). An evaluation of the Australian scheme shows that the subsidy had only a small impact on the decision of employers to train. This was mainly because the subsidy covered only a small part of the company cost of offering an apprenticeship (Deloitte, 2012[67]). Another Australian study evaluates the impact of the withdrawal of a subsidy on employers (Pfeifer, 2016[68]), showing that it had no effect on employers using apprenticeships as a recruitment tool. However, the withdrawal of the subsidy led to a decline in apprenticeship provision in sectors where employers could not count on the long-term benefits of apprenticeships. These employers were not able to break even by the end of the programme without the subsidy. Muehlemann (2016[38]) argues that in Australia the reduction in apprenticeships was particularly strong in the service sector, where the quality of apprenticeship provided was often low (as measured by graduation rates and employment outcomes). The subsidy may therefore have been promoting apprenticeships that were of limited value to individuals.

The overall implication is that financial subsidies will typically involve a significant amount of “deadweight”, i.e. training that employers would have funded anyway, even in the absence of the relevant incentive. Some element of deadweight is inevitable, usually the objective is to minimise its scale so that incentives increase the number of trainees. A further risk is that financial incentives may succeed in engaging employers who are primarily interested in the subsidy, rather than in training. Countries where employers have not been traditionally involved in training of students are more likely to subsidise employer provision of work placements.

Large employers tend to benefit disproportionately from financial incentives (Müller and Behringer, 2012[64]). For employers to benefit from the subsidy they need to be informed about the scheme, e.g. on the existence of the measures, the criteria of eligibility, and procedures of application. Access to accurate and timely information may be easier for larger employers that often have training departments and staff dedicated to training issues. The provision of training and the use of subsidies also involves costs. The cost of these procedures may be less significant for bigger enterprises, relative to their overall training costs. Small enterprises may lack the capacity to determine training needs, plan accordingly and file applications for cost reimbursement or grants. It is therefore important to assist small companies with access to and the processing of available funding in parallel to providing financial incentives for training (as discussed above).

Medium-term projection exercises, including for the European Union (EU), Canada and the United States, suggest that employment growth in some of the common occupations for VET graduates will be modest or even negative in the coming decade(s). This is especially the case for craft and related trades occupations, which have already seen declining employment relative to other occupations in recent years. By contrast, employment levels are projected to continue to grow in high-skill occupations (professionals and technicians). According to projections from Cedefop and Eurostat (2018[69]), the sectors that are projected to have the strongest employment growth in the EU in the period 2016-2030 are R&D, consulting services, computer programming and advanced manufacturing. Managers, service and sales workers, and elementary occupations will also experience growth, but at a slower pace. Employment levels are projected to go down for craft and related trades workers, clerks and skilled agricultural workers. These changes imply that there is an increased need for higher-level professionally oriented qualifications and for easy pathways between medium-level VET and these higher-level qualifications. Higher level professionally oriented programmes include those at postsecondary, short-cycle tertiary and bachelor’s level, and some countries also identify some programmes at master’s level as “professional” (i.e. levels 5 and above in the International Standard Classification of Education, ISCED). In addition to helping meet the demand for high-level skills, effective learning pathways can help increase the attractiveness of VET, support lifelong learning, reduce inequalities and promote social inclusion and mobility (Field and Guez, 2018[70]).

At short-cycle tertiary level, a wide range of qualifications exist across OECD countries. Many countries offer associate degrees or short higher vocational programmes, like for example associate degrees taught in universities of applied science in the Flemish Community of Belgium, associate degrees (BES qualifications) in the French Community of Belgium, Higher National Qualifications and foundation degrees in the United Kingdom, and college diplomas in Canada. Business academies in Denmark, and higher vocational programmes in Norway and Sweden offer an opportunity for upper secondary VET graduates to acquire advanced technical skills. Some programmes are closely connected to upper secondary education and are provided within the same institutions as upper secondary VET programmes. For example, in Austria year 4 and 5 of Berufsbildende höhere Schulen (BHS) programmes follow-up on three-year upper-secondary programmes and are delivered within the same colleges. In countries like Austria, Chile, Colombia, Japan, Spain and the Republic of Türkiye, over one third of new entrants into tertiary education enter at the short-cycle level (Figure 2.4). There are sometimes articulation arrangements between short-cycle tertiary programmes and bachelor-level programmes. For example, in Denmark some business academy programmes allow graduates to continue to a 1.5 year top-up programme to obtain a professional bachelor’s degree. In the United Kingdom, those who hold a Higher National Certificate may enter the second year of a degree programme (while those holding a Higher National Diploma can enter the third year of a degree programme).

At bachelor’s level, it is harder to describe the international landscape due to the lack of internationally agreed definitions.6 Around half of OECD countries do not report data by programme orientation at this level due to various potential reasons (because the distinction is less relevant to their system, it is difficult to implement because they have a unified tertiary system, or because they prefer not to report a distinction that is possible ambiguous given the absence of agreed definitions). Several countries have established designated professional bachelor’s programmes, which involve professional training through a bachelor’s degree (see Box 2.9 for some examples). They are often taught in dedicated institutions, such as universities of applied sciences or university colleges. They have seen rapid growth in several countries, where enrolment now rivals or exceeds the level of academic bachelor’s degrees (e.g. Belgium, the Netherlands). While some programmes prepare for a single occupation (e.g. nurse, teacher), many take as their point of departure the applications of a particular type of science – for example food technology or business management. This means that they provide the knowledge and skills associated with a family of professions or a particular sector, linked to the application of that type of science.

Professional examinations are a distinct form of professional qualifications. One of their key characteristics is that they usually do not require any specific programme of preparation, although having several years of relevant work experience is a common requirement. In several countries such examinations are led by industry at the national level, leading to a qualification that is standardised and unique across the country. Examinations have traditionally led to meister or master craftsman qualifications for traditional VET occupations, preparing for example qualified electricians and plumbers to run their own business and train apprentices. Mirroring developments within the VET system, qualifications have diversified in terms of targeted sectors and are now available in sectors like healthcare, ICT and finance. Depending on the country and target occupation, the qualifications obtained are equivalent to a short-cycle tertiary degree, bachelor’s or master’s qualification. For example, in Austria VET graduates may prepare for the examination in a Meisterschule and obtain an ISCED 5 qualification. At the same level, Germany offers meister qualifications in a range of occupations (e.g. optician, plumber, heating engineer). Equivalent to bachelor’s degrees, in Germany examples of professional examinations at ISCED level 6 include mechatronics meisters or certified accountants. In Switzerland, most professional examinations are situated at this level and examples of qualifications include audiprothesists, international trade experts or cyber security specialists.

Postsecondary or tertiary programmes with a professional orientation may play different functions in national skills systems. These different functions are associated with different patterns regarding the age of students, the use of part-time participation, both across countries and between programmes within individual countries.

Younger adults dominate in programmes providing initial preparation for labour market entry. Programmes are designed to equip recent upper secondary graduates with occupational skills. Short-cycle tertiary programmes in Austria, France, Italy and Slovenia usually play this role. Similarly, professional bachelor’s programmes across various European countries (e.g. Belgium, France, Lithuania and Slovenia) tend to enrol young adults and prepare them for a first skilled job.

Older adults dominate in programmes offering other functions, including:

  • Upskilling for existing professionals: Programmes build on a relevant prior vocational qualification and several years of relevant work experience. Students often combine studies with employment in a relevant sector. For example, professional examinations in Germany and Switzerland often have this function.

  • Reskilling for adults:7 Programmes are used to support a career shift. While students may have work experience and work part-time, their employment is not necessarily related to the targeted field of study. A programme may serve as a tool for reskilling if it does not require relevant work experience – instead participants may obtain such experience during their studies through work-based learning. For example, in Denmark professional programmes may be pursued full time (with an internship) or part time for those with relevant work experience.

Close connections with the world of work are important for all tertiary programmes, especially for programmes with professional orientation. A series of case studies of professional tertiary education in Europe found that strong links with social partners represents one of the strengths of this sector. Strong employer engagement appears to be facilitated by looser regulation compared to upper secondary VET, making it easier to adapt provision to changing needs, and employer interest in the type of skills provided by this sector (Ulicna, Luomi Messerer and Auzinger, 2016[72]).

As described in the previous section, the institutional framework underpinning employer engagement typically includes bodies at national and regional level (sometimes involving different bodies for different economic sectors) and/or at the level of individual institutions. For higher vocational and professional tertiary education, advisory committees at the national (or sectoral) level commonly include social partners and provide strategic guidance regarding policy development and implementation in the light of skills needs. Examples include the Advisory Council for Technical Professional Training in Chile, the Assembly of Councillors of state-owned higher education institutions in Estonia, National Professional Advisory Commissions in France, the National Council of Vocational College Education in Norway, the Council for Vocational and Professional Education in Slovenia, and the General Council for VET and Regional Councils for VET in Spain. Several countries also require individual institutions to have systematic engagement with employers through institutional education boards or committees. For example, in France employers are members of higher education institution boards, in Denmark each provider institution is required to have employer panels or education committees with labour market knowledge and in Estonia institutions must include employers in the committees associated with each study programme.

Primarily at national level, but also sometimes regionally, most countries report systematic involvement of social partners in the development and updating of higher vocational or professional tertiary education programmes and curricula, through their involvement in advisory bodies such as those set out above and/or accreditation criteria, which require support from social partners for the proposed programmes and curricula. For example, in the Czech Republic the Accreditation Commission for Tertiary Professional Education includes representatives of the world of work and in Luxembourg accreditation committees are composed of 50% national experts or professionals and 50% international experts in quality assurance. At a more local level, employers and practising professionals also often play an important role in the delivery of professional programmes. Several countries report that professionals often work as regular teaching staff or guest lecturers (e.g. France, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway). Spain has a specific category of teaching staff, “specialist teachers”: these are experienced practitioners who completed some pedagogical training and teach certain modules part-time. In addition, Spain also encourages teachers to regularly pursue job-shadowing for short periods of time to update their technical skills. More directly, employers may also deliver training themselves through work-based learning, when they host interns or apprentices. They may also support their employees (financially and/or by granting them release from work) who pursue part-time programmes.

Finally, in some countries industry representatives take an active role in the design and delivery of final assessments. Their engagement is fundamental in professional examinations – in Switzerland, employers are involved through their professional organisations, which set up examination regulations and employers participate in examinations as examiners. In other types of professional programmes (not professional examinations), industry representatives are less often involved. In Italy, they are systematically engaged, as the final assessments of courses in higher technical institutes are led by examination boards that include experts from the world of work. In addition, a few other countries report that employers may participate in assessments – such as in examination boards in tertiary professional programmes in the Czech Republic.

In all types and levels of programmes designed to prepare for the labour market, work-based learning is a powerful way of aligning the content of programmes with labour market needs, developing both technical and broader employability skills and connecting learners with potential employers (as described in the previous section). One important difference with upper secondary VET, which in most countries tend to serve young people in initial education, is that higher vocational and professional programmes engage a more diverse group of learners. Some programmes are specifically designed for adults with several years of work experience (e.g. professional examinations often require relevant experience). Part-time programmes commonly enrol students who work part-time, often in a related occupation. As a result, past work experience sometimes replaces the work-based learning component in some programmes, or coursework may build on past or ongoing work experience. At the same time, there is often a need to include an element of work-based learning in programmes. In some countries and programmes a large share of learners are young and have little or no work experience. Others might have held previous jobs, but seek a career change and therefore need to acquire work experience in their new chosen occupation.

The development of work-based learning has been highlighted as one of the main trends shaping the professional tertiary landscape in Europe (Ulicna, Luomi Messerer and Auzinger, 2016[72]). Yet various barriers mean that not all professional programmes make effective use of work-based learning. For employers, providing high-quality work-based learning is demanding, requiring the capacity to manage partially skilled workers and integrate them into work processes, as well as dealing with the associated administrative burden. There are often barriers on the education provider side too, as integrating work-based learning into programmes requires a different organisation of the learning process and different ways of assessing learning outcomes. As a result of these barriers, work placements are sometimes optional additions to programmes or lack quality assurance.

In short-cycle tertiary education work-based learning is very common, either a mandatory component for all students, or more selectively, in some programmes and for some of the students (see OECD (2022[71]) for details by country). Several countries have made work-based learning mandatory for all students and specify its minimum duration. Associate degrees in Belgium (both French and Flemish community) include at least a third of the programme spent in work-based learning. In Denmark full-time business academy programmes include a mandatory internship, while in part-time programmes there is no work placement but relevant work experience is an entry requirement and programmes build on it. In France short-cycle tertiary programmes either include a mandatory internship or may be pursued via a dual pathway with alternating periods of school-based and work-based learning. Many other countries use work-based learning in short-cycle tertiary programmes, but not necessarily in all programmes and by all provider institutions.

At bachelor’s level, the use of mandatory work-based learning is less common (see OECD (2022[71]) for details by country). Work-based learning is systematically used in professional bachelor’s programmes in Denmark, bachelor of technology or professional bachelor’s programmes in France (which may also be pursued through dual training), professional examinations in Germany, professional examinations and professional education and training (PET) colleges in Switzerland, professional higher education in Slovenia (though its duration may account for less than 25%) and higher VET in Spain. Many countries report using work-based learning but not for all students, with some variation across programmes and provider institutions. Some countries have also introduced apprenticeships at the bachelor’s (and/or short-cycle tertiary) education level. This is the case, for example for graduate apprenticeships in Scotland (United Kingdom) (levels 8 – 10 in the Scottish qualifications framework, equivalent to ISCED levels 5 - 7) (OECD, 2022[73]), as well as degree apprenticeships in England (United Kingdom) (levels 6 and 7 in the English qualification framework, equivalent to ISCED levels 6 and 7). In some cases, this has allowed the expansion of apprenticeship to new sectors or fields, see Box 2.10 for an example of cybersecurity apprenticeship in England (United Kingdom).

Responsive VET systems that adapt to the needs of the labour market also require teachers who have up to date knowledge and skills. VET teachers require multiple layers of skills and experience: they need to have both theoretical and practical knowledge and skills and have the capacity to effectively transfer their knowledge and skills to students. VET teachers usually acquire their knowledge and skills through years of study and practice, leading to a VET teaching qualification. Most VET teachers have a tertiary degree, although in most OECD countries their level of attainment is lower compared to general education teachers. However, the majority of countries require VET teachers to have teaching qualifications of at least ISCED level 5 (short-cycle tertiary) or above (OECD, 2021[78]).

Given that students in VET are often very diverse (see Chapter 3) – including young people in initial education and adults who are upskilling or reskilling – VET teachers also need to be able to work with students with very different backgrounds, motivations and aspirations. Often VET attracts learners who are more interested in practical skills rather than academic study, who are not motivated by traditional forms of teaching and learning, or who are at risk of dropout – VET teachers need the pedagogical knowledge and skills to effectively engage with these learners. In many countries, learners in VET have weaker basic skills – such as literacy or numeracy – than those in general education, and thus VET teachers need to be able to identify possible basic skills gaps, contribute to closing them and engage strong performers. Moreover, VET teachers increasingly need to develop transversal skills in their students, as these are in growing demand in the labour market (see Chapter 4). To do this, teachers need to have knowledge of innovative pedagogical approaches that foster the development of these skills (as discussed in Chapter 5). They also need to have strong digital skills themselves, to be able to use new technologies in teaching and training and remain up to speed with technological innovations in the workplace (OECD, 2021[78]).

Many countries struggle to attract and retain VET teachers with relevant skills, which has translated into significant shortages. Despite a lack of comparative data, evidence suggests that several OECD countries or several fields are facing VET teacher shortages. An ageing VET teacher population could reinforce existing shortages in the coming years if the supply of new teachers does not increase. Teacher shortages may hamper the sustainable provision of VET, especially if they result in an increased reliance on teachers who are not well prepared for their role or a reduced VET offer (OECD, 2021[78]).

One strategy to avoid or overcome VET teacher shortages is attracting industry professionals to teach in VET. These industry professionals can bring practical skills and up-to-date industry knowledge to the classroom and strengthen co-operation between VET systems and the world of work. However, they often lack the necessary teaching qualifications and pedagogical skills, and therefore need access to flexible qualification and training opportunities. Moreover, flexible working arrangements could also make it easier for industry professionals to combine their job in industry with teaching responsibilities in VET (OECD, 2021[78]).

Relaxed entry qualification requirements can smooth the path from industry into teaching in VET but should not come at the expense of quality. Several countries attract industry professionals to enter the teaching profession without the required teaching qualification, but still require or encourage them to obtain the qualification afterwards. Relaxing entry qualification requirements for industry professionals can be particularly helpful in fields for which no relevant teaching qualification or training for VET teachers exist yet, to meet rapidly changing labour market demand (OECD, 2021[78]). In the Netherlands, for example, ‘Lateral entry’ (zij-instroom) into the teaching profession allow individuals coming from another profession (or another subject) to teach in VET – provided that they complete a shortened teacher training within a certain period (typically the Pedagogical didactic certificate, PDG) and are deemed suitable for the teaching profession (OECD, 2022[52]). Industry professionals hired through the PDG route are generally well regarded and considered as key players in VET, especially to bring in industry expertise and to prepare teachers for those VET programmes for which no dedicated regular teacher qualification exists (Regioplan/ECBO/ROA, 2021[79]).

Moreover, flexibility and support to help industry professionals obtain necessary teaching qualifications is crucial. For example, countries can provide flexible, modular initial teacher education and training (ITET), which allows prospective VET teachers to focus on skills and knowledge gaps without having to go through a full ITET programme (OECD, 2021[78]). In Denmark, for instance, the Diploma in VET Pedagogy (DEP) programme can be organised in different ways according to individual needs. Courses can be provided full time or part time, and can be delivered on the site of the college, in school premises or virtually. Participants also have an option of completing the DEP as a self-study (OECD, 2022[52]). In Saskatchewan (Canada), post-secondary teachers should take Adult Teaching and Learning courses, which are offered online and on campus and combine theory and practice. Instructors who have a degree in education may apply for exemption of the programme, and it is possible to receive transfer credit or a prior learning assessment and recognition credit if the instructor has gained the knowledge provided by the programme through other formal or non-formal training (OECD, 2022[52]).

Financial barriers can also be important, in which case financial support can be helpful for prospective ITET participants. In Sweden, state grants, administrated by the Swedish National Agency of Education, are available for VET teachers to combine work and studies to obtain a vocational teacher degree. This grant addresses training needs for VET teachers who lack pedagogical training, since most VET teachers are recruited from the relevant industries. To receive the grant, the principal must reduce the teacher's working hours by at least 25% to facilitate the teacher training (OECD, 2021[78]).

In addition, flexible arrangements such as part-time teaching and co-teaching with fully qualified teachers (e.g. guest lectures or practical demonstrations) can help industry professionals to combine working in industry and teaching in VET. To fully take advantage of the benefits of these flexible arrangements, the teaching quality and job quality of these industry professionals with teaching roles need be ensured (OECD, 2021[78]). Flexible work arrangements for industry professionals to teach in VET can also be further promoted and facilitated through close collaboration between VET institutions and industry. Industry and the VET sector can co-ordinate in terms of exchanging personnel between industry and VET schools, and this can be facilitated, for example, by making it easier for in-company trainers to become VET teachers and vice versa (OECD, 2021[78]).

Work-based learning (WBL) is as important for VET teachers as it is for their students. There are two aspects to WBL in the context of training VET teachers. First, part of their initial teacher education and training (ITET) can take place in a VET institution to give them direct experience of teaching students in a classroom. Second, part of their ITET could be organised as an internship, externship or secondment to a company to equip future teachers with industry-relevant skills. Both forms are equally important as VET teachers need to be well prepared not just in terms of pedagogy in VET, but also in terms of industry knowledge and experience related to the subjects they teach. In countries that have minimum industry experience requirements, the need for internships or other forms of work-based learning in industry is less pressing (OECD, 2021[78]).

In order to ensure that future VET teachers build their industry knowledge, partnerships between ITET providers and employers are crucial. Through such partnerships, trainee teachers can spend time in industry. For example, in 2014-15, Denmark initiated VET teacher traineeships in enterprises with 25 participating VET colleges, as part of its VET reform to strengthen the links between school-based and work-based learning. This initiative provided VET teachers with the opportunity to have a short period of in-company training to develop relevant teaching skills (OECD, 2021[78]).

Professional development (PD) is critical in the face of change. Not only are the skills that need to be taught in VET changing, but so too are the pedagogical approaches and technology used in the classroom. Therefore, VET teachers need to regularly update their pedagogical and industry knowledge. In this context, PD can be a tool for improving their skills, changing how they teach or putting research results (such as proven pedagogies aimed at making VET schools more competence-based) into practice. Across the six OECD countries/regions with available data from the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS),8 78% of VET teachers perceived PD as having a positive impact, similar to general education teachers (80%) (OECD, 2021[78]).

Effective professional development for VET involves a wide range of stakeholders. Making sure that VET teachers receive the necessary training – whether it be on pedagogical, industry or technological aspects of teaching – requires collaboration and co-ordination of multiple stakeholders at different levels (OECD, 2021[78]):

  • VET institutions and relevant associations play a key role in facilitating access to PD for their teaching staff. Institutional leadership is often a key factor in the provision of and participation in PD and enables institutions to take a systemic approach to teachers’ PD. In Denmark, large VET schools often have a department dedicated to PD for teachers and offer PD services while connecting key stakeholders. Such services include improving the skills and performance of middle-level leaders in assessing teaching quality and providing additional coaching support for underperforming teachers.

  • Teachers’ and school networks can be an effective means of sharing experiences and encouraging participation in PD. In England (United Kingdom), collaborative forms of PD such as peer observations, formal and informal networks, coaching and mentoring, and action research, are most valued by teachers in further education colleges. Japan uses a cascade model whereby trained teachers disseminate professional skills and knowledge to colleagues.

  • Local companies and industry associations can provide and encourage PD. They can provide industry placements for VET teachers, just as they do for students from VET programmes. They may already be in close communication with VET teachers through setting up and improving students’ apprenticeships. In Denmark and Germany, VET teachers participate in work placements in industry to update their knowledge. Companies in these countries are interested in offering work placements to VET teachers to help improve how they train their apprentices under the dual VET system. England (United Kingdom), Spain and the United States also have several initiatives to foster this type of work-based PD. There are also other more indirect ways VET can benefit from exchanges with industry, including VET teachers shadowing workplace trainers for periods of time and in-company trainers teaching in VET institutions.

  • Local universities and relevant associations can provide PD for VET teachers, but can also improve the quality of PD by sustaining the connections between practice and research. Partnerships with VET institutions can lead to joint research, for example action research by VET teachers with support from university research mentors. Partnerships may also be critical for informing universities about areas of need as well as changes in practice that need to be reflected in VET teacher education courses, and allow the development of coherent work-integrated teacher education programmes. In countries where universities provide PD, such as Austria and Germany, universities often have a strong connection with VET institutions and their practice.

VET teachers need the right, the support and the resources to participate in professional development. In many countries, participation in professional development is voluntary or dependent on senior management decisions. However, some countries give teachers the right to PD or make it mandatory by law in order to ensure their participation. In Slovenia, for example, PD is both a right and a duty for teachers by law and each teacher is entitled to five days of it per year. Teachers who participate in specific programmes, receive points which are necessary for career advancement. In Finland, participation in in-service training is compulsory for teachers in most VET fields and funded by the National Board of Education. In Bavaria (Germany), teachers are obliged to undertake regular, formal training, which is considered as part of their regular teacher assessment. In Italy, the 2015 reform of teacher training established compulsory, structured continuing in-service training for all teachers, including those in VET. Following this, the 2016-19 plan for the professional development of teachers identifies the motives, principles, governance mechanisms, quality aspects, ICT-based information systems, and – more importantly – content, priorities and financial resources for teachers continuing PD. To further enhance their professional development, the plan provided for skills needs analysis, incentives, more flexible training arrangements and a substantial increase in financial resources. Funding was increased from EUR 18.5 million in 2013-16 to EUR 270 million in the period 2016-19 (OECD, 2021[78]).

Even in countries where training rights or duties are not included in legislation, mechanisms can be put in place to foster access to PD. In Nordic countries, for example, PD is often personalised and based on negotiations between teachers and their employers. In Sweden, the time allowed for PD is regulated in collective agreements between unions and employers. The current agreement concerning teachers employed by municipalities grants them 102 hours of training per year. Providers (in practice, school leaders) and teachers plan what content should be included in the training. In Denmark, VET schools map the present levels of their teachers’ pedagogical and vocational competence, evaluate their need for skills improvement, and provide the relevant professional development opportunities. A large VET school may have a department working on this. In Finland, schools and teachers generally draw up a professional development plan whereby teachers can plan and seek training opportunities; 43% of VET teachers have such a professional development plan, which is a larger share than for teachers in other levels of education in Finland (OECD, 2021[78]).

Teachers are more engaged in professional development when it is relevant to their teaching practice, curriculum and subjects. 2018 TALIS data confirm that teachers consider personalised approaches to training to be helpful. Across TALIS countries/regions with available data, 91% of VET teachers who considered a positive impact of their PD on their teaching reported that PD built on their prior knowledge, while 76% reported that PD was adapted to their personal development needs (Figure 2.6). Practical and collaborative learning (82% and 75%, respectively) were also identified as a characteristic of PD by a large share of VET teachers who reported that their PD had a positive impact on their teaching. Collaborative learning can have many benefits, as involving teachers within the same VET institution or across different VET institutions can motivate them to learn new practices, and plan and implement putting their newly learned techniques into practice. Collaborative approaches to PD enhance motivation, responsibility and professionalism. Teacher networks or unions are an important source for self-organising professional development activities (OECD, 2021[78]).

Support measures for VET teachers’ professional development activities include time off work, access to materials needed to participate in the activities, financial support and career incentives. In addition, identifying VET teachers’ training needs enables relevant, customised and engaging professional development to be provided. Teachers are more engaged in professional development when it is relevant to their teaching practice, curriculum and subjects. Linking professional development programmes directly to the planning of VET programmes for coming terms and years can be useful for teachers. Customising PD to teachers’ needs may require a training needs analysis. To keep their programmes relevant and up to date, PD providers should regularly seek inputs from industry, VET institutions, teachers and leaders (OECD, 2021[78]).


[3] ACTE (2019), Maximizing Perkins V’s Comprehensive Local Needs Assessment & Local Application to Drive CTE Program Quality and Equity, https://www.acteonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Local_Tool_Needs_Assessment_FINAL_3.18.2019.pdf.

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One of the main tasks of social partners (employers and trade unions) in Scotland is to ensure that apprenticeship qualifications provide skills in demand on the labour market. The diagram below shows the process of development (or update) of apprenticeships (standards, frameworks and qualifications) and the bodies taking part in this process. Social partners are key actors in these bodies and their engagement spans across different levels. The process of revision or development of new apprenticeship can be divided into three stages:

  1. 1. The process is initiated bottom-up by the Technical Expert Groups before being passed on to Apprenticeship Approval Groups for approval.

  2. 2. Apprenticeship Approval Groups ensure apprenticeships meet the Principles of Apprenticeships as agreed by the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board (SAAB) Standards (Skills Development Scotland, 2022[17]).

  3. 3. SAAB scrutinises, challenges, and approves all apprenticeship frameworks for use in Scotland. It oversees quality assurance in apprenticeships (Skills Development Scotland, 2022[80]).

In 2021, SAAB approved 18 new and updated apprenticeships (Ruth, 2021[81]).

Technical Experts Groups (TEG) are bottom-up bodies that work and develop new or update existing apprenticeships. Technical Expert Groups are composed of 10 to15 people with relevant experience and represent employers, industry and professional bodies qualification and education experts, social partners such as trade unions. Members of a group take part in a minimum of four half-day meetings over a six-month period and an initial induction. The group refines and validates apprenticeship by identifying the skills, knowledge and behaviours needed to do the job effectively. The group also develops guidance on how to deliver the apprenticeship. The process usually takes around six to eight months (Apprenticeship.scot, 2022[82]).

The process also involves consultations, through which representatives of the sector/occupation and VET providers can provide feedback on the draft apprenticeship and ensure that it meets their needs. Consultation happens via an online survey, which is circulated widely to networks within industry once the apprenticeship is in draft form. Survey links are included on pertinent industry websites and highlighted within social media channels (Skills Development Scotland, 2022[17]). After the apprenticeship is developed, discussed, checked and agreed, it is issued to the Apprenticeship Approval Group for approval. 

An interesting feature of TEGs is that they are short-lived as they are set up with the sole aim of developing or updating apprenticeships. In a context where employers’ input into VET policy has been limited, it may be easier to guarantee employers’ involvement if it is done on an ad hoc basis, when a specific needs emerge (Skills Development Scotland, 2022[17]).

Apprenticeship Approvals Group (AAG) reviews the documentation submitted by the TEGs. Membership consists of the chair representing employers and 13 other organisations, including employers, trade unions, Scottish Government, and governmental agencies concerned with qualifications. Individuals are proposed by their organisations and appointed as members of AAG by SAAB. The Group meets approximately every month. AAG provides assurance and recommendations to SAAB in relation to Scottish Apprenticeship development, gives feedback and reports on AAG performance to SAAB, Scottish Government officials and minister. Concerning the development of apprenticeship frameworks, apprenticeship documentation submitted by the Technical Expert Groups is reviewed by the AAG subgroup for technical checks. AAG ensures apprenticeships meet the Principles of Apprenticeships as defined by the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board Standards. Since 2020 AAG approves all Scottish apprenticeships. In the process of creation or revision of apprenticeships consideration is given to the needs of the Scottish economy, the preparedness of the sector to deliver new or revised apprenticeship frameworks and budgetary constraints (Skills Development Scotland, 2022[83]).

The Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board (SAAB) is a high-level group with a mandate covering various aspects of apprenticeships policy and providing recommendations and guidance to the government. The Group Board comprises a minimum of 20 members with a membership that consists for the majority of employers. Members should occupy senior roles within their respective organisations and represent a wide range of sectors. Representatives from Scottish Government, the Scottish Funding Council and Skills Development Scotland attend scheduled meetings as observers. SAAB covers policy, standards and frameworks, communications, and funding. SAAB is composed of the Group Board and four other groups working on specific topics such as standards and frameworks, employer equalities, employer and apprentice engagement. Each group is chaired by an employer. The chair of the group on apprenticeship engagement represents employers and is at the same time also a former apprentice (Skills Development Scotland, 2022[80]). The Board meet twice during the financial year. The Board engagement activity and communications are supported by Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council (Skills Development Scotland, 2022[80]).

Skills Development Scotland (SDS) – the national skills body- reviews and improves the approach related to apprenticeship development and overviews the related processes. SDS also works to engage employers and other stakeholders to identify members of Technical Expert Groups. In case there are more employers willing to participate in Technical Expert Groups than places available, SDS have developed a modified lottery to ensure a good representation of TEG members by geographical location, business size and sector (public/private). SDS also works with the Federation of Small Business and the Scottish Chamber of Commerce to engage small and micro business (Skills Development Scotland, 2022[17]). SDS reviews internally all new and updated apprenticeships to ensure that language is unbiased. It provides guidance and supporting resources to carry out assessments of apprenticeships.

There is no direct evaluation of the impact of the described framework for social partner’s involvement in Scotland on the provision of apprenticeships. Implicit indicators include changes in the provision of apprenticeship places by employers and outcomes from apprenticeship, bearing in mind that both provision and outcomes can be affected by a rage of various factors not related to the social partner’s organisation. According to the Scottish Employer Perspectives Survey, 19% of employers took on apprentices in 2021, as compared to the 16% in 2019 (Scottish Government, 2019[84]; Scottish Government, 2021[85]).

A recent OECD report (OECD, 2022[73]) suggests that Scotland (UK) can build upon the successful establishment of SAAB, the TEGs and AAG and their products and achievements, including the key principles, standards and frameworks, to further strengthen employer engagement in the apprenticeship system. Specifically, the report recommends that Scotland (UK):

  • Provide incentives and support mechanisms for employers to offer workplace training and engage in the governance of apprenticeships. Targeted financial support can be offered to encourage employers who would not otherwise take on apprentices to do so and compensate for the costs involved. In addition, non-financial support, for example, for setting up training alliances or intermediary agencies and offering guidance and tailored advice, can also make it easier for employers to take on apprentices and build and strengthen training capacity.

  • Establish a legal framework that not only ensures consistent policy and financial support for apprenticeships and employers but also defines the role of employers in the apprenticeship system. The aim should be to increase systemic, stable employer engagement and reduce the burden of time and resource costs involved in updating principles and guidelines. It will require a whole-of-government and stakeholder consultation to agree on the form and content of such a framework. This legal framework does not necessarily need to focus solely on apprenticeships but should in some form achieve the goal of supporting apprenticeships and increasing employer engagement covering the entire apprenticeship family and all learners.

  • Increase the capacity and influence of the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board (SAAB) to help strengthen the role of employers in the apprenticeship system. This can be done through better co-ordination and co-operation with the relevant stakeholders, in particular employer groups. SAAB should focus on consolidating fragmented activities by different employer groups and individual employers. SAAB should also increase co-ordination with and among non-employer actors, including unions and providers. These efforts can build upon existing sectoral and regional networks, with the assistance of SDS.

  • Strengthen the training capacity of SMEs and better integrate them into SAAB to increase their representation in the apprenticeships system. After assessing where SMEs need the most support, they can be given targeted financial and policy support, such as the option of collective or inter-company training.


← 1. Depending on the country nomenclature the regional level refers to regions, provinces, states, municipalities, etc.; It thus designates a level or multiple levels between the national level and the institutional (school/provider) level.

← 2. Due to a reform of the regions in Norway, from January 2024 there will be 15 regions and 15 vocational training boards (Norwegian Government, 2022[86]).

← 3. Further regulations on the ATAs will be on hearing in the autumn of 2023.

← 4. Between 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 the number of participating companies doubled from 353 to 725, and the number of VET institutions providing education and training to students increased from 95 to 176 over the same period. In 2019/2020 the companies offered 5 055 apprenticeship placement, 2 000 places more than in 2017/2018 (Slovakia State Institute of Vocational Education and Training, 2019[58]).

← 5. Apprentices in 9-12th grade attend one day of theoretical and vocational training a week in Vocational Training Centers, and four days a week of on-the-job training in enterprises. Students attending Vocational and Technical Anatolian High Schools in the 12th grade receive two days of theoretical and vocational training at school and three days on-the-job training in enterprises.

← 6. For ISCED level 5 it has been agreed to use the definition adopted for “vocational” programmes at lower levels. For ISCED levels 6 and above countries have been able to report a breakdown by orientation based on their own definitions of “professional” and “academic” or report programmes as having “unspecified orientation”.

← 7. The definition of ‘adults’ differs across countries. ‘Adults’ may refer to individuals who are eligible for VET programmes targeting adult learners. However, the age and other requirements the person should meet to enter VET for adult learners vary across countries. For example, in Norway. according to a recent reform, students in initial VET have the possibility to choose programmes designed for adults from the age of 19, In Denmark, upper-secondary VET programmes for adults (EUV) are designed for those 25 years-olds and above.

← 8. Alberta (Canada), Denmark, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Republic of Türkiye.

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