3. Effectively preparing and developing teachers in vocational education and training

Compared to teachers in general education programmes, teachers in vocational education and training (VET) require additional layers of skills and experience. VET teachers need to have not only theoretical and practical knowledge and relevant experience of the broad package of skills required for the profession they teach, but also knowledge of and experience in effective teaching for learners who often struggle with academic study. Moreover, they also need to continuously update their knowledge and expertise in response to changes in technology and working practices, as well as innovations in pedagogical approaches (OECD, 2014[1]; OECD, 2010[2]).

The education level attained by VET teachers varies across countries, and is often quite different from that of general education teachers (Figure 3.1). Differences in the levels of qualifications between VET and general education teachers are not surprising given their very different skill requirements and the more widespread use of alternative entry pathways into VET teaching. It is more common for general education teachers to have a bachelor’s or master’s degree, i.e. International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) Level 6 or 7, compared to VET teachers. On average across 24 OECD countries, 72% of VET teachers had attained a bachelor’s degree or higher while 94% of general education teachers did. Less than half of VET teachers had a bachelor’s degree in Austria (42%), Italy (43%) and Sweden (42%). Only in Switzerland were VET teachers more likely than general education teachers to have a bachelor’s degree (83% versus 78%), although the difference was less than 10 percentage points in England (United Kingdom), Latvia, Luxembourg and Portugal. VET teachers’ level of education may also differ depending on the type of VET institution and the level or subject they teach (see Box 3.1 for the situation in England, for example).1

In terms of fields of study, VET teachers show more diversity than secondary education teachers (Figure 3.2). In all countries with available data, general education teachers are more likely to have specialised in education-related fields than VET teachers (45% versus 32% on average). Among those general education teachers with a different specialisation, the most common broad fields are arts and humanities (25%) and natural sciences, mathematics and statistics (11%). Among VET teachers, engineering, manufacturing and construction was as the most common broad field (14% on average).

One of the main limitations of the data source used for these statistics is that it only records the field of study for the highest attained qualification. A person with an engineering degree might also have an education degree at the same or a lower level, but this would not show up. Hence, the lower share of VET teachers with a specialisation in education-related fields does not necessarily imply that they do not have such a degree, nor that they provide low-quality teaching. Nonetheless, evidence from Sweden confirms that VET teachers may be less likely to have a pedagogical degree: more than 90% of general education teachers in Sweden had a pedagogical higher education degree in 2018-19, but only 60% of VET teachers, according to the Swedish National Agency for Education. However, the share varies depending on years of experience and teaching subjects: among senior-level teachers of vocational subjects 97% have a pedagogical degree, and teachers of vocational subjects with a large share of female teachers, such as child care and treatment, are more likely to have one.

The differences between VET teachers and general education teachers in education levels and fields of study is also largely due to the fact that vocational teachers may instead have non-academic qualifications or hands-on experience (so-called “industry currency”), depending on countries’ recruitment routes and requirements. Nonetheless, this indicates that some VET teachers might need to increase their skills, particularly their pedagogical skills or qualifications. In contrast, VET teachers who do not have relevant industry experience might lack practical skills or up-to-date industry knowledge and might therefore be in need of training in these areas.

While upper secondary VET graduates are highly employable compared to those with a general upper secondary education, they tend to have lower levels of the basic skills – literacy, numeracy and digital skills – that are indispensable in adapting to changing labour market needs (OECD, 2020[7]; Vandeweyer and Verhagen, 2020[8]). Differences in skill levels between VET and general education students and graduates could reflect differences in the importance of general subjects in VET curricula, but could also reflect selection issues if students with weak skills in the early years of education disproportionately enrol in VET programmes. The share of low performers in mathematics is twice as large among 15-year-old students enrolled in VET programmes (pre-vocational, vocational and modular programmes) than among those in general education programmes. On average across OECD countries, 41% of students pursuing VET were low performers in mathematics in 2012, whereas 21% of students in a general academic programme were. Students in vocational tracks are five times more likely to perform below the baseline level of proficiency in mathematics than those in academic tracks, before accounting for other student characteristics, and are 4.4 times more likely after accounting for those characteristics. In most countries, 15-year-old students who were enrolled in VET appeared to have a lower mean reading score in the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), compared with students in general education. For students in France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania and the Netherlands the difference was more than 100 points (Figure 3.4). Although 15-year-old students may be different from those studying at ISCED Levels 3, 4 and 5, their characteristics provide some useful insights into the skills needs of VET teachers.

In light of VET students’ weaker basic skills and the importance of such skills for their working lives, VET teachers need to be able to work on improving their students’ basic skills as well as equipping them with occupation-specific skills. For example, in England a large share of young people who did not gain any GCSEs (ISCED Level 3) enter further education (FE), many in VET programmes, including apprenticeships. Therefore, teachers of both general and vocational subjects in FE colleges have to adapt and develop specific skills for teaching low-attaining students in the FE context, especially given that apprentices have to achieve certain levels of English and maths (Noyes and Dalby, 2020[10]). Similarly, in Sweden lower-performing students tend to enter upper secondary VET programmes and so VET teachers need to be able to develop basic skills among their students (Kuczera and Jeon, 2019[11]).

Although the OECD Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), does not allow the analysis of vocational teachers by country, an analysis using PIAAC and the Adult Literacy and Lifeskills (ALL) Survey shows that teachers on average have better literacy and numeracy skills than other respondents in almost all of the 15 countries in the samples (Golsteyn, Vermeulen and Wolf, 2016[12]). Among OECD countries participating in PIAAC (2011-12, 2014-15 and 2017), VET teachers’ literacy and numeracy skills were lower than general education teachers, however. While a smaller share of VET teachers have low numeracy skills (PIAAC Level 1 or below) than for workers overall (8% versus 23%), the share is slightly larger than among general education teachers (7%). Moreover, while 26% of general education teachers have high numeracy proficiency (Levels 4 or 5), this is only the case for 10% of VET teachers. The findings for literacy skills and for digital problem-solving skills (see Chapter 4) are similar.

As discussed in detail in Chapter 4, VET teachers also increasingly need to develop the digital and soft skills of their students, as these are increasingly in demand in the labour market. To do this, teachers need to have knowledge of innovative pedagogical approaches that foster the development of these skills. They also need to have strong digital skills themselves, to be able to use new technologies in teaching and remain up to speed with technological innovations in the workplace.

Initial teacher education and training (ITET), which allows future teachers to obtain necessary teaching qualifications, is a vital element of teaching quality and career development for teachers (OECD, 2019[13]). Designing appropriate ITET programmes for VET teachers is important to ensure a good mix of pedagogical skills, vocational competence and industry knowledge (Musset, Kuczera and Field, 2014[14]). VET teachers’ level of educational attainment, together with work experience and continuous learning opportunities,2 have a significant effect on their teaching competence, as confirmed in the case of Korea (Kim and Phang, 2018[15]). In particular, training in pedagogical skills is essential for VET teachers who used to work in other sectors, while developing industry-relevant hands-on skills and knowledge is key for VET teachers who only undertook academic study. In Australia, a national study (2015-17) found that higher qualifications in VET teaching, especially at degree level, made a significant difference to VET teachers’ skills, confidence and quality (Smith, 2019[16]).

ITET is organised differently across OECD countries. It usually takes place in a university teacher-training degree course, and in some cases, it is followed by a more practical teacher-training course and ends with a national or sub-national examination(s). It also depends on the academic and professional backgrounds of VET teachers and on national or sub-national qualification requirements.

For example, in Japan, Korea and Sweden, students usually enter ITET straight from upper secondary education. In Japan, ITET leads into an ISCED Level 6 qualification in education, with a vocational subject specialty for VET teachers. VET teachers in Japan3 are usually required to pass a teaching qualification exam before starting to teach in a VET school although other ways of certifying exist (see Chapter 2).

In contrast, direct access from upper secondary education to ITET is relatively less common in England and Finland. In England, no specific teaching qualification is required for teachers in the further education (FE) sector, but they are encouraged to start a course to obtain a teacher certificate in education (in general ISCED Level 5 or above). In order to access ITET, candidates may need to prove that they have a certain level of basic skills (either by qualification or tests) and are qualified and/or experienced in the subject although this may vary by ITET provider (Education and Training Foundation, 2016[17]). In Finland, those who apply for a place in vocational teacher education are older on average than applicants to other forms of teacher education, because applicants to VET teacher education are required to have prior work experience.

Initial teacher education and training is often provided by institutions of higher education or a public agency specialising in ITET, but could consist of multiple components that are provided by different institutions. Different organisations may provide training in vocational subjects or pedagogical knowledge while certification of knowledge and skills may be awarded by other organisations. For example, in England, ITET is provided by universities, but further education (FE) providers can also deliver their own ITET in partnership with universities or awarding organisations (England’s response to the OECD questionnaire).

In Germany, ITET is lengthy compared to other countries: after completing a bachelor’s or master’s degree in teacher education in two subjects, trainee teachers need to go through a preparatory service whereby they combine teaching practice with reflection and training for 2-3 years, before becoming a fully qualified teacher. The first stage of ITET for VET teachers is provided by universities or teacher training colleges. The preparatory service stage, including introductory seminars, sitting in on lessons, and accompanied and independent teaching, is provided by state seminar institutes. All ITET courses are modularised and provided with a credit point system in accordance with the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). For example, depending on regulations under Land law, up to 60 ECTS credits from the preparatory service can be credited towards a master’s degree. Credits which are acquired at universities of applied sciences as part of an accredited bachelor’s or master’s study course can be used as part of the requirements for all teacher training courses (KMK, 2017[18]).

Teacher educators who train VET teacher trainees in ITET normally have at least an advanced degree (master’s or doctorate) in the areas they teach. In several European countries/regions,4 ITET providers have significant autonomy in determining the exact qualifications required of their teaching staff, provided they meet minimum standards (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2013[19]). For example, the Dutch association of teacher educators (VELON) has established a register and professional standards for teacher educators at all levels including VET. In order to register (which is not obligatory), teacher educators need to fulfil the requirements of the professional standards, including didactical, interpersonal and organisational competences (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2013[19]). In Belgium (French Community), supervision of ITET units is provided by staff members with various profiles but with a master’s degree in teacher training or a doctorate (which must be obtained within six years after the first appointment in a function), whose pedagogical interventions are co-ordinated and articulated between them (FWB, 2019[20]).

Experienced, incumbent VET teachers often train future VET teachers in France and Germany. In Germany, such teachers (often with a master’s degree or higher) are hired either full time or part time by state seminar institutes, which offer preparatory services (practical training after teacher training at university) for future VET teachers. In France, master trainers (carrying out ITET or professional development and supporting internships) are VET teachers who have acquired a certificate of aptitude for the functions of a teacher (Cafi-PEMF) (French Ministry of Education, 2020[21]). In England, teacher educators must have a teaching qualification equivalent to ISCED Level 5 or above, teaching experience and be engaged in further studies at ISCED Level 7 (Education and Training Foundation, 2016[17]).

Initial teacher education and training programmes are designed to train future teachers to deliver high-quality teaching to their future students (OECD, 2019[13]). For incumbent teachers who have no teaching qualification but do have industry experience, which is often the case for VET teachers in some countries, ITET’s added value is in developing their pedagogical skills.

However, ITET for VET teachers appears to be weaker at developing the required pedagogical skills than ITET for general education teachers according to data from the 2018 Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS; see Figure 3.5).5 On average across countries and regions with available data, upper secondary VET teachers were less likely to report that certain elements were included in their ITET than their general education peers. This was the case for general pedagogy (86% of VET teachers reported that general pedagogy was included, compared to 91% of general education teachers), pedagogy in the subjects they teach (78% versus 86%) and classroom practice in the subjects they teach (73% versus 82%). The difference was particularly wide in Sweden: a gap of 17 percentage points for subject-specific pedagogy, 18 percentage points for classroom practice and 11 percentage points for general pedagogy. In contrast, VET teachers in Turkey were slightly more likely to have had these pedagogy elements included in their ITET than general education teachers.

The effectiveness of ITET is well evidenced. VET teachers who benefitted from training in specific teaching responsibilities or tasks in their ITET (e.g. general pedagogy, subject-specific pedagogy, subject content and classroom practice) felt more prepared for taking up these responsibilities in their teaching (Figure 3.6, Panels A-D). However, a non-negligible share of VET teachers still felt unprepared in general pedagogy (16%) and subject-specific pedagogy (17%) even if they had undertaken ITET in those areas. The shares were particularly high in Portugal and Sweden.

Having strong pedagogical skills will also support teachers when engaging with a diverse group of students. As discussed above, VET teachers teach more diverse groups of students with different abilities and different aspirations. According to TALIS 2018, 57% of VET teachers in countries with available data reported that their ITET prepared them for teaching in a mixed-ability setting, which is roughly the same share as for general education teachers (Figure 3.5). Having this type of training makes VET teachers better prepared for diverse classrooms; on average, 71% of VET teachers whose ITET covered teaching in a mixed-ability setting felt prepared for this responsibility by the time they completed their initial training (Figure 3.6 Panel E). This falls to 31% among VET teachers who had not been trained in this area. In Alberta (Canada), only 58% of teachers who had training in mixed-ability teaching felt prepared in that area. In Slovenia and Sweden, almost one-third of VET teachers who undertook ITET in this area did not feel prepared when they completed the training.

As Chapter 4 discusses, soft skills are playing an increasingly important role in the labour market, and VET teachers need to develop these skills among their students. TALIS 2018 data show that 68% of VET teachers were prepared for teaching cross-curricular skills in ITET, which is slightly higher than for general education teachers (64%). Among the VET teachers who had ITET in teaching cross-curricular skills, 75% felt prepared by the time they completed their ITET. This compares with 36% of those who had not been trained in this area (Figure 3.6 Panel F).

The TALIS data clearly highlight the benefits of preparing VET teachers for their diverse responsibilities through ITET. However, the data also show that for a significant proportion of VET teachers, ITET programmes do not sufficiently develop the broad range of skills that are important for future VET teachers, especially pedagogical skills. Therefore, ITET needs to be strengthened to provide course elements to develop such skills, and more future teachers need to be encouraged to participate in it. There are several strategies that could help strengthen ITET for VET teachers; in particular, the education and training institutions that provide it should keep their curricula up to date, collaborate with VET institutions to offer practical teacher training, and develop research and innovation in pedagogical approaches. For example, in Bavaria (Germany), “university VET schools” combine theoretical and academic teacher training at the university and the practical aspects of teaching training in university schools through close connections between these two types of institutions throughout the ITET phase. Moreover, trainee teachers in Germany usually teach in VET schools during their preparatory service while also participating in training and seminars provided by Länder-level teacher training institutes. These help prepare trainee teachers for teaching and help them reflect on their learning and practice in their early careers. In the United States, the Teaching to Lead programme, which provides both ITET and professional development (PD), helps career and technical education (CTE) teachers build their pedagogical skills (see Chapter 2).

Faced with the relatively limited attractiveness of VET teaching as a profession and persistent VET teacher shortages (Chapter 2), many countries have provided multiple and flexible ways to recruit and qualify VET teachers while strengthening their pedagogical skills. In some countries, VET teachers can undertake ITET after recruitment, often with a focus on pedagogical training in the subjects they teach. Therefore, for VET teachers, many of whom enter the profession after working for many years in industry, the distinction between ITET and PD may be less rigid than it is for general education teachers. Indeed, providers of ITET and PD overlap in most countries. For industry professionals who have years of work experience, ITET that focuses on pedagogical training may be shorter (Sweden) or function more like professional development while they are already teaching (Denmark and England). Similarly, for VET teachers who have been teaching for many years without pedagogical qualifications, professional development may cover pedagogical training to give them an opportunity to renew or update pedagogical approaches.

There are many barriers to training participation, often related to time constraints or scheduling difficulties (see the next section for more details). To overcome such barriers to ITET participation, flexibility is crucial. Some countries provide ITET through weekend and evening classes. For example, in Australia, training courses for VET teachers at universities are part time and offered flexibly, as most students are working full-time in VET or in industry and may not live close to their university. In addition, many countries offer online ITET and this has become more widespread due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Financial barriers can also be important, in which case financial support can be helpful for prospective ITET participants. As discussed in Chapter 2, financial incentives to attend ITET can also help make teaching a more attractive career choice and therefore contribute to reducing or avoiding VET teacher shortages, especially if these incentives are targeted at fields of study for which it is hard to find qualified VET teachers. 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 (Swedish National Agency of Education, 2020[23]).

In England, ITET for VET teachers is fee-based, which can be a disincentive to enrol in ITET given that it is not mandatory for them. Moreover, very few bursaries are attached to ITET training in the VET sector compared to the compulsory education sector. According to the 2018 College Staff Survey (CSS), only 15% of teachers had accessed any financial support for ITET whilst working in FE, and more experienced teachers were more likely to have accessed any funding, as the most widely used funding scheme (the FE training bursary) ended in 2012 (Thornton et al., 2018[6]). In recognition of the financial barriers, new funding schemes have been introduced in England for those obtaining formal FE teaching qualifications, including the Taking Teaching Further programme, as discussed in Chapter 2 (Box 2.2). In Wales (United Kingdom), where a teaching qualification is required to become an FE teacher, teacher training incentive grants of up to GBP 1 000 are available (2019-20) for eligible students who start full-time pre-service Professional or Post-Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) initial teacher education courses leading to a qualification to teach further education (ISCED Level 5 or above). The incentives for specific subjects are higher, with grants of up to GBP 3 000 per student for subjects such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); Welsh; and literacy and numeracy (Welsh Government, 2019[24]).

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 training 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.

In many countries, ITET concludes with a teacher practicum or internship in VET schools. In Belgium (French Community), both bachelor’s and master’s level ITET involves internships which are supervised by staff members in charge of theoretical training, teacher practitioners from the institutions in which the internship takes place and the internship supervisor. The higher education institutions organise training courses for internship supervisors, preparing them to interact with student teachers and observe, analyse and evaluate elements of their professional teaching practice in order to advise and help readjust these practices (FWB, 2019[20]). In England, a minimum of 100 hours of teaching practice is required to obtain Level 5 Diploma in Education and Training, ideally in a variety of settings (e.g. different locations/settings/contexts; teaching subject levels; a variety of learners, individuals and groups; and workplace mentoring) (Education and Training Foundation, 2016[17]). In Austria, practice schools are incorporated into universities of teacher education and provide a place for pedagogical practice for both trainee teachers and their ITET teachers (Box 3.2). In Germany, practical activity related to the vocational subject area is required as part of the first ITET stage and generally lasts 12 months. Preparatory service also includes teaching practice in a VET school for 2-3 days a week and reflection/theory and practical training in state seminar institute for the remaining days (Box 3.2).

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 (and industry practitioners can teach in ITET; see Chapter 2). 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 (Andersen, Gottlieb and Kruse, 2016[27]).

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 (Chapter 4). Therefore, VET teachers need to continuously develop a diverse set of skills and 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 (Cedefop, 2015[28]). Across the six countries/regions with available TALIS data, 78% of VET teachers perceived PD as having a positive impact, similar to general education teachers (80%).

Countries use various methods to encourage teachers in VET to acquire and improve their qualifications as part of PD. This is important given that higher qualifications in VET teaching make a significant difference to VET teachers’ skills and confidence, as mentioned above (Smith, 2019[16]; Kim and Phang, 2018[15]). PD also contributes to increasing teachers’ satisfaction with their profession. Career development through PD is often correlated with teachers’ job satisfaction and retention rates. However, PD is important not just for individual teachers but also collectively. Skills developed by individual teachers contribute to the development of the teaching staff as a whole and their VET institution, and more broadly to the quality of the VET sector overall, as the Mixed Commission on Teacher Education (Gemischte Kommission Lehrerbildung) in Germany recognised (KMK, 2017[18]).

The forms of professional development range from relatively long programmes leading to qualifications (formal), to one-day seminars and short online courses (non-formal).6 Formal training for teachers usually extends over a longer period than non-formal training, and includes various courses. In some cases, it can open up new career prospects such as teaching a new subject or in an additional field or possibly result in a promotion. It also offers opportunities to acquire qualifications for other careers in the education sector, such as counselling teacher. Non-formal or in-service training courses can have many different formats including seminars, study groups, conferences, study trips, colloquia and distance learning courses. Some countries explicitly distinguish the more formal programmes from others. For example, Germany refers to formal training as further training for teachers, and to non-formal one as in-service teacher training (KMK, 2017[18]).

Participation in professional development among teachers in VET varies across countries. Various factors could explain cross-country differences, including differences in regulation, financial support and learning culture. According to TALIS 2018 data (OECD, 2019[13]), about eight out of ten upper-secondary teachers across the six OECD countries/regions with available data responded that they had participated in any type of PD activities during the last 12 months, including attending qualification courses or online seminars, taking part in teacher networks and reading professional literature (Figure 3.7). The differences in participation rates between VET and general education teachers are small (78% of VET teachers and 80% of general education teachers), except in Denmark where the participation rate of general education teachers is 17 percentage points higher than among VET teachers. The most popular type of PD was attending courses or seminars, for both VET teachers (78% on average across countries) and general education teachers (80%). However, VET teachers were more likely to undertake visits to business premises (45%, compared to 25% for general education teachers), visit other schools (21% versus 16%), follow online courses (34% versus 29%) and attend formal education (22% versus 16%). Although VET teachers and general education teachers have similar overall participation rates, the intensity was higher among VET teachers: on average, VET teachers across the six OECD countries/regions reported having spent about 2.5 hours on PD activities during the most recent complete calendar week in their job, which is more than for general education teachers (1.9 hours on average) (Figure 3.8). Only in Sweden was the intensity slightly lower for VET teachers than for general education teachers.

Other data tell a similar story. According to the EU Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS), on average 7% of VET teachers across countries report having participated in formal education in the past four weeks, which is higher than among general education teachers (5.8%). It is also higher than among all tertiary-educated workers (5.2%) on average. VET teachers in Finland (19%) and the Netherlands (17%) show a relatively high level of participation in formal education. Countries also differ widely in the level of formal training attended by VET teachers. More than 80% of formal training participation among VET teachers in Finland, France, Germany and Switzerland was ISCED Level 6 or above, compared to only 40% in Spain (Figure 3.9). Although it is not directly comparable with the EU-LFS, according to the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (2011-12), 24% of VET teachers in Canada reported having participated in formal education in the past 12 months, which was much higher than both general education teachers (4%) and tertiary-educated workers (10%). These data do not tell us if the participation in formal training constituted PD for VET teachers who already have a formal teaching qualification or if it was ITET for those who entered the teaching profession without the required qualification and were seeking to obtain it.

Participation in non-formal training is generally more common than formal training, and this is also the case among VET teachers. While not leading to a formal qualification, non-formal learning can play an important role in providing relevant and flexible training opportunities to improve skills, and can include valuable work-based learning opportunities such as industry internships. EU-LFS 2017-19 data show that 20% of VET teachers on average across countries reported having participated in such training in the previous four weeks,7 which is slightly lower than among general education teachers (22%). The differences between countries are large, with more than 40% of VET teachers participating in non-formal training in a given month in Luxembourg and Switzerland, but less than 5% in Greece, Latvia and the Slovak Republic.

National surveys focused on teachers report higher estimates, but this could be largely because of the longer reference period (i.e. the previous month in the EU-LFS compared to a year in many national surveys). In Finland, 69% of VET teachers participated in PD in the year 2019. Among those who had participated in PD, 41% had taken part in education leading to a degree (24%) or another qualification (17%), 23% in staff training, 4% in expert exchange programmes and 33% in other types of training (Education Statistics Finland, 2020[29]). In England, 91% of staff in colleges (including sixth form colleges) reported that they received some form of training or development activity in the past academic year (2017/18); on average this totalled 38 hours of PD per person trained (Education and Training Foundation, 2018[30]).

In general, the main providers of PD for VET teachers can be classified into three groups: (1) national or sub national-level government institutions or agencies; (2) VET institutions or higher education institutions; and (3) industry/professional organisations. In most countries, VET colleges and/or universities play a key role in providing professional development, while government institutions or agencies are the providers in Austria, Germany, Japan, Slovenia and Switzerland. In Australia, both public and private VET providers deliver PD programmes on regulatory compliance and pedagogy; and some government-owned and operated VET institutions (technical and further education or TAFE Institutes) base their offerings around a standards framework (ACDEVEG’s response to the OECD questionnaire). Box 3.3 provides examples from Australia and Germany of how government-supported PD can be provided at different levels and delivered by different institutions.

Teachers face a variety of barriers when it comes to participation in PD. Across the six OECD countries and regions with TALIS 2018 data available, a significant share of VET teachers declared they faced barriers to accessing professional development, mostly due to conflicts with their work schedule (63%) and a lack of incentives (57%) (Figure 3.10). The lack of incentives is more common among VET teachers than among general education teachers, although more general education teachers reported lack of incentives than VET teachers in Sweden (by 7 percentage points) and in Portugal (4 percentage points). VET teachers in Portugal are most likely to report barriers, with the most important one being a lack of employer support.

Among those VET teachers who did not participate in PD, 63% felt that they were too busy to update their skills and knowledge and 65% reported financial barriers – both higher than for general education teachers. Even in Slovenia where professional development is both a right and a duty for teachers by law, a slightly higher share of VET teachers report they faced barriers than general education teachers: VET teachers were more likely than general education teachers to report that cost, conflicting work schedules and lack of employer support were barriers, by 5-6 percentage points. Even VET teachers who were able to participate in PD still felt that there were strong barriers to accessing those opportunities.

VET teachers might particularly struggle to access training opportunities to develop their vocational skills and knowledge. Given that PD activities in England are often funded by VET institutions, teachers have little control over the content of those activities, which are mostly focused around other organisational needs and less around industry-relevant skills – this frequently leaves them with few opportunities to update their subject-specific knowledge (Broad, 2013[31]; Broad, 2015[32]). In Sweden, VET institutions are in charge of determining the content of teacher professional development as it is not regulated, it is often teachers who are responsible for updating their skills relevant to industry (Andersson, Hellgren and Köpsén, 2018[33]; Fejes and Köpsen, 2014[34]). Even where industry-relevant activities are regarded as legitimate by VET institutions, existing PD opportunities may lack quality and relevance, as has been seen in Australia (Schmidt, 2019[35]).

Compared to general education teachers, VET teachers can particularly benefit from work-based learning (WBL) or other non-formal training in their corresponding industry. Given this is an extra element to VET teachers’ PD, time-related barriers can be even stronger for VET teachers than for other teachers. Timetables have a crucial impact on their ability to move between school and workplaces (Andersson and Köpsén, 2018[36]). In England, research on the development of teachers’ occupational knowledge in further education colleges (Broad, 2013[31]; Broad, 2015[32]) found that despite the need for VET teachers to engage with the industry and improve their industry knowledge, many of them reported facing barriers to WBL, due to lack of funding and time. While most VET teachers found WBL to be important, they perceived that it was less important to their employers. Only 10% of those teachers had secured an industry placement in an attempt to keep their industry skills and knowledge up to date. Unless employers offer support and time off work for PD activities, it is hard for teachers to dedicate time to them, and thus might face more difficulty participating in WBL.

Impactful professional development opportunities for VET teachers have various characteristics and can take many forms (Box 3.4). They build on teachers’ prior knowledge and provide teachers with opportunities to practise and apply new ideas in their own classrooms (OECD, 2019[13]). Literature shows that impactful PD for VET teachers include developing dual competencies, incorporating work-based learning, setting requirements for quality assurance and ensuring teachers’ rights to participate in PD (Andersson, Hellgren and Köpsén, 2018[33]). A national strategy for upgrading teachers’ qualifications and skills is also important (Cedefop, 2015[28]), particularly reskilling VET teachers teaching whose subjects are related to sectors or occupations that are being restructured due to automation or other labour-market changes. The success of PD activities depends on the engagement of institutional leaders, especially in countries where VET institutions are responsible for teachers’ PD and where VET teachers do not have a clearly established right or duty to participate in PD.

Promoting professional development and providing opportunities to participate can be challenging, and research shows that there remains room for improvement in the provision of PD for VET teachers. TALIS 2018 data show that many aspects of the provision of professional development does not meet their needs (OECD, 2019[13]). As seen in Figure 3.10, the lack of relevant PD is a barrier to participation for many VET teachers. In England, evidence suggests that FE teacher training is lacking in the areas of leadership and management skills, maths and English teaching skills, and competence in the use of digital and other new technology in teaching programmes (Education and Training Foundation, 2018[30]). Moreover, learner-centred pedagogies, such as group work, project work and enquiry-based learning, that have been proven to result in better student outcomes have been often advocated in many VET systems (see Chapter 4), but have not been implemented or have not been judged as successful (Cedefop, 2015[28]). This is partly because competences in these new pedagogies are not strongly developed in initial teacher education and training or teachers’ professional development (Cedefop, 2015[28]).

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, from VET institutions to teachers’ and school networks, local companies, universities and relevant associations.

  • 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, 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 (Greatbatch and Tate, 2018[39]; Education and Training Foundation, 2018[30]). Japan uses the cascade model whereby trained teachers disseminate professional skills and knowledge to colleagues (Box 3.4).

  • 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, Spain and the United States (Box 3.5) 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 (Box 3.4). 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.

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 (OECD, 2016[44]). 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 provides 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.

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 (Finnish Board of Education, 2020[45]).

Employer support is crucial for teachers’ participation in professional development. TALIS 2018 data include information about the proportion of VET teachers who reported receiving time off and/or financial support for their PD (Figure 3.11). Across the six OECD countries/regions with available data, the most common support measures for PD activities are time off from work (42%), access to materials needed for the activities (42%) and/or financial support (40%). Differences between countries are large. For example, 63% of VET teachers in Alberta (Canada) report receiving time off for PD activities, compared to only 15% in Portugal. In Slovenia, a large share of VET teachers report receiving access to materials and/or financial support (65% for both), while this is much lower in Portugal (24% and 10%, respectively). Differences between VET and general education teachers are small on average across countries, but VET teachers were less likely to report that they received financial support than general education teachers in Denmark (21 percentage points) and Alberta (Canada) (10 percentage points).

Financial support and incentives are important tools to facilitate access to PD. In Denmark, funds are set aside to enable teachers to participate in short occupational courses to acquire the most recent vocational knowledge in their subject and industry (Danish Ministry of Education, 2014[46]). In England, according to the 2020 Association of Colleges Innovation in Further Education Colleges survey (AoC, 2020[47]), nine in ten FE colleges financially support or sponsor their staff to take formal professional development courses (62% partly funded and 29% fully funded, Figure 3.12, Panel A). They mostly fund courses leading to professional qualifications (79% of colleges) or teaching qualifications (70% of colleges), but also degree programmes (Figure 3.12, Panel B). At the national level, England launched the Strategic College Improvement Fund pilot, which provided financial support to colleges to either pay, or make time in the timetable, to enable training for FE teaching staff that would not be provided otherwise. This included improving advanced practitioners’ skills, and hiring external experts to identify areas for improvement for teaching quality and provide training or toolkits (CooperGibson Research, 2019[48]).

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.

According to TALIS 2018 data, VET teachers feel they need professional development in a variety of areas, including vocational, pedagogical and transversal skills (Figure 3.13). On average across the six OECD countries/regions with available data, the most pressing training needs for VET teachers are information and communications technology (ICT) skills (46% of VET teachers), teaching in a multicultural learning environment (45%), and individualised learning (43%), but there are substantial differences between countries. Therefore, it is necessary to identify the diverse and changing training needs of individual VET teachers, and tailor professional development opportunities to fill their skills gaps. In England, training needs analysis is used to identify skill gaps and professional development needs at both VET institution (FE colleges) and teacher level, as part of the T Level Professional Development offer. Based on this analysis, those teachers who are involved in delivering T Levels are given a tailored plan for training and wider PD opportunities, including subject-specific training that focuses on practical skills development (Education and Training Foundation, 2020[49]).

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 3.14). 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. Chapter 4 discusses collaboration networks for supporting the development of VET teachers’ skills to use new technologies.

The VET teaching profession is unique as it lies at the intersection of the world of work and the education sector. On the one hand, VET teachers must keep abreast of the changes in industry to ensure that what they are passing on to their students is up to date and relevant. On the other hand, they are educators who must be able to effectively pass on their theoretical and practical knowledge to their students using modern and proven pedagogical approaches.

Finding VET teachers with this complex set of skills is challenging, and so is ensuring that VET teachers’ skills remain relevant and up to date. In many cases, VET teachers are not developing the same level of pedagogical skills as their counterparts in general education. Although many of them may wish to improve their teaching skills, existing training arrangements are not always designed in a way that takes into account the unique situation of VET teachers. At the same time, VET teachers face barriers to participating in training, often due to conflicting work schedules and a lack of financial incentives or support to enable them to take part.

To ensure that VET teachers have the right skills and are not faced with barriers to training participation, actions from a wide range of stakeholders are needed. Governments and training providers can use financial support to motivate VET teachers to participate in training, and can facilitate the provision of flexible and relevant training programmes. Industry and VET institutions also have a responsibility to support VET teachers’ skills development, as they are ultimately going to benefit from VET teachers who can better train and support VET students. All stakeholders must therefore work together towards ensuring that VET teachers have access to higher quality training that is more effective.


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← 1. According to a survey conducted by the European Training Foundation, more than 95% of the teaching workforce in VET schools in Turkey have a bachelor’s or a higher degree, and more than 95% of the teaching workforce had attended an initial educational or training programme; 98% of the teaching workforce is formally qualified as a teacher, instructor or a co-ordinator of practice (Akyildirim and Durgun, 2019[50]).

← 2. This is measured based on existing questionnaires from earlier literature, see Kim and Phang (2018[15]) for more details.

← 3. VET teachers of specialised training colleges do not have to have a specific licence, but the quality of colleges is ensured by the standards for establishment.

← 4. The Flemish Community in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

← 5. TALIS results are confirmed in survey conducted in Turkey by the European Training Foundation, which found that 84% VET teaching staff declared that they completed pedagogical training as part of their degree studies. One out of 10 reported that they completed a separate pedagogical training which was not part of a degree programme. 71% reported that pedagogy (or didactics) of the subjects they teach was included in their formal education. 70% declared that classroom practice in the subject they teach included as part of their formal education. Two-thirds of VET teachers declared that content of the subject they teach was included as part of their formal education for all subjects they teach. One fourth of the VET teachers stated that content of the subject, pedagogy or classroom practices they teach was included in their formal education only for some subjects (Akyildirim and Durgun, 2019[50]).

← 6. Formal training is a programme of instruction in an educational institution, adult training centre or in the workplace which generally leads to a qualification or certificate. Non-formal training involves programmes or training courses that are not usually evaluated and do not lead to certification, for example courses through open and distance education, organised sessions for on-the-job training or training by supervisors or co-workers, seminars, workshops or private lessons. Informal learning refers to typically unstructured learning resulting from daily work-related, family or leisure activities, for example learning by doing a task, learning from colleagues and supervisors, or learning new things to keep up with one’s occupation.

← 7. This comprises both job-related and non-job-related training. In countries with available data, most of the training was job related, except in France where 60% was not job-related.

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