Executive summary

Labour markets and societies are undergoing profound changes, due to structural factors such as the green and digital transition. These changes have implications for skill needs, and vocational education and training (VET) can play a key role in ensuring that young people and adults have the skills that societies and labour markets require today, but also for the (near) future. At the same time, VET can equip people with the transversal skills needed to be responsive to change. Sitting at the intersection between the education system and the labour market, VET is well placed to respond to changing skill needs. It is a major part of education systems around the world, enrolling a large proportion of learners at various levels of education.

Nonetheless, VET systems may require re-engineering on various fronts to achieve their full potential in today’s evolving context. Firstly, VET will need to stay relevant to changing skill needs in labour markets and societies. This will require aligning the supply and content of programmes with employer requirements, but also giving sufficient opportunities for learners to develop the transversal skills needed to be adaptable. Often still, VET enrolment is concentrated in a fairly narrow set of fields, and VET programmes focus on preparing learners for specific occupations with limited attention to transversal skills. Secondly, VET needs to be a vehicle for lifelong learning, both in terms of offering programmes that are accessible and relevant for adult learners and in terms of providing effective pathways for learning after VET. Today, in most countries VET caters mostly to young learners and is often perceived as preparing for the labour market and not for further learning. A re-engineered VET system should be underpinned by solid career guidance efforts that help young people and adults navigate change and find their way into VET. It should also be coupled with efforts to make the VET system inclusive, so that it is an attractive and accessible option for learners from various backgrounds and with different needs and aspirations. These re-engineering efforts could be supported by increased technology use in VET, which has the potential to make VET more accessible, attractive, effective and efficient.

This report looks at different elements of future-ready VET systems, focussing on responsiveness, flexibility and inclusion, supporting transitions, and innovation:

  • Creating responsive VET systems: To ensure that VET programmes remain relevant for students and employers in a changing world of work, they need to be aligned with labour market needs. VET programmes could be provided at various levels of education, including at the tertiary level, and in a variety of fields. Higher-level VET programmes are receiving increasing attention in light of the growing demand for advanced technical skills. The use of high-quality information on skill needs, based on a range of data sources and stakeholder inputs, is crucial in the design of responsive VET systems. Moreover, strong engagement with social partners in the different phases of VET policy can contribute to ensuring that relevant and up-to-date programmes are provided. Information on skill needs should also be used to inform skills development opportunities for VET teachers.

  • Making VET more inclusive through increased flexibility: VET can play an important role in providing training opportunities to a broad audience. Therefore, sufficient flexibility is needed to ensure that students with different personal characteristics, needs and aspirations can have access to VET programmes that are tailored to their needs. For instance, learners who are at risk of dropping out of education or those who have basic skills gaps would benefit from additional guidance and support or tailored VET programmes. In light of changing skill needs, VET can foster lifelong learning by providing accessible and relevant opportunities for up-skilling and re-skilling to adults. Modularisation and microcredentials, coupled with mechanisms that allow for the recognition of prior learning, are ways to make VET more flexible for adult learners, alongside part-time and online provision.

  • Supporting transitions: A changing world of work implies that individuals will need to be able to adapt to change throughout their working lives. Ensuring that initial VET students leave the education system with strong foundational skills will be important to ensure that they can successfully engage in further learning to keep their skills up to date. Striking the right balance between general and vocational content in initial VET is challenging, and countries have adopted different approaches to the degree of specialisation and choice in upper secondary education. Moreover, strong transversal skills and a lifelong learning mindset will help VET graduates be resilient and adaptable. To ensure that individuals can navigate a changing labour market and are able to find VET programmes that suit their needs, solid career guidance is essential.

  • Innovating in VET: The use of new teaching and learning methods can support the effective delivery of VET. This includes the use of new technologies, such as simulators and virtual reality, in classrooms and in workplaces, but also the use of innovative pedagogical approaches. Technology can be integrated in various aspects of VET provision and contribute to making the system more accessible, attractive, relevant, transparent, effective and efficient. Such innovation requires strong leadership in VET institutions, well-trained VET teachers, and strong co-ordination with the world of work. Moreover, the adoption of technology can be facilitated by policies that address the high cost of digital tools, improve knowledge about existing VET technologies, and stimulate the development of new tools.

For each of these dimensions, this report presents a set of key questions that policy makers and other VET stakeholders should consider when re-engineering VET to meet the needs of the future world of work. While the report does not aim to come up with one particular answer or solution for these questions -and different VET systems will require different approaches-, it provides an overview of data and evidence that highlight the importance of the questions for the future of VET and describes a large range of policies and practices put in place in OECD countries and beyond to move towards more future-ready VET systems.


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