3. Preparing young people in slovenia for the labour market

Educational policies cannot eliminate all hurdles youth face when they enter the labour market, but they can shrink them. Young people who complete their education during an economic downturn generally struggle more than during boom periods, and the COVID-19 crisis will likely be no exception. Nevertheless, graduates with in-demand skills will find a quality job more easily than dropouts; and this is where educational and other preventive policies can play a role in decreasing individuals’ risks of becoming NEETs.

This chapter follows the order in which obstacles may appear that can lead youth to become NEETs. First, teenagers who drop out of school are likely to have long-term employment problems, be it that they become unemployed or permanently stuck in low-paid positions. The first section explores the risk of school dropout and policies to reduce it. Second, young people who train or study in fields that are not in demand or that they are not interested in or suited for may not be able to find or keep a job. The second section investigates skills mismatches and discusses how career counselling for secondary students can reduce them. Third, countries with strong work-based learning programmes tend to have fewer education-to-employment transition problems. The third section discusses the recent reintroduction of apprenticeships in Slovenia and develops ideas to strengthen programmes. Fourth, tertiary students can take a long time to graduate, with possible negative consequences on the youth labour market. The last section explores the role of student-work in delayed graduation and suggests interventions to speed up university graduation and facilitate the first post-graduation job search.

Few young Slovenians do not graduate from upper secondary school, but those who do not are at a much higher risk of becoming and remaining NEETs. School dropout is more common among some groups of teenagers, such as those of immigrant and Roma descent. The already-strong Slovenian upper secondary system can therefore deliver even better results for all when a few general policy changes that include an extension of the mandatory education participation age are combined with measures that address the obstacles faced by these groups in particular.

Older youth who do not complete upper secondary school are much more likely to be NEETs. This is not initially apparent when looking at NEET rates by educational attainment for youth of all ages combined: in Slovenia among 15-29 year-olds, a smaller share of those who did not complete upper secondary school than of upper secondary and tertiary graduates are NEETs (Figure 3.1, Panel A). Across the OECD, NEET rates are equal between those who did and did not attain an upper secondary degree, and only slightly higher than for university graduates (Figure 3.1, Panel B). However, this statistic is misleading because the majority of youth who have not yet completed their upper secondary education are still in school, and thus automatically not NEETs.

The longer-term risks of school dropout become clear when looking separately at younger and older youth: Among 15-19 year-olds, the NEET rate for those who did not complete upper secondary school are lower than for those who did in both Slovenia and across the OECD. This relationship reverses drastically among 20-somethings: In Slovenia, the NEET rate among youth who did not complete upper secondary school is less than half as large as among those who did in the 15-19 age group, but it is 3.3-3.4 times as large in the 20-24 and 25-29 age groups. Across the OECD, the ratios are similar, with the exception of the 25-29 age group where it is equal to 2.4. Not surprisingly, the higher NEET rate also translates to a higher probability of being a long-term NEET: Among all youth as well as 25-29 year-olds only, completing an upper secondary or tertiary degree is associated with significantly lower NEET durations (see Table 1.1 in Chapter 1).

Comparatively few young Slovenians men and especially women do not graduate from upper secondary school. At 4.5%, the share of early school leavers, meaning 18-24 year-olds who do not have an upper secondary degree and were not in school in the past four weeks, is the fourth-lowest among European OECD countries for which the indicator is available (Figure 3.2, Panel A). The cross-country average for the same countries is 9.6%. Young men are more likely to drop out than young women. The difference in rates between the sexes is 2.1 percentage points in Slovenia and 3.6 percentage points across European OECD countries.

Youngsters with a migrant background and Roma are more likely to leave school prematurely. In Slovenia, at 11.6%, the early school-leaving rate is around three times as large among foreign-born compared to native-born youth (3.6%) (Figure 3.2, Panel B). Nevertheless, the dropout rate among immigrants – who may have spent their schooling years either in Slovenia or in their country of origin – is nonetheless still on the lower end compared to other European OECD countries. In contrast, around 2016, the share of early school-leaving among native-born children of immigrants (so-called second generation immigrants) in Slovenia was 1.2 percentage points above the EU average. Among the 24 European OECD countries included in the analysis, only Austria had a larger difference in the early school leaving rates between native-born youth with and without foreign-born parents (Figure 3.2, Panel C). Young Roma likely also have much higher non-completion rates. This is particularly true in the Dolenjska region, where settlements are less likely to be formally legalised and integration problems particularly pronounced (Necak Lük and Novak Lukanovic, 2011[1]). However, unlike for youth with a migrant background, statistics on the early school leaving rates among Roma youth are unavailable.

The relatively few early school leavers in Slovenia are composed of those who do not graduate from basic education, those who do but do not enrol in upper secondary education and those who enrol in an upper secondary programme but do not graduate from it:

  • Around 1.5% of youth leave school after the compulsory nine years without graduating from basic education (which encompasses primary and lower secondary education) (Ministry of Education, 2019[3]).

  • The share of youth who do not proceed to upper secondary education cannot be easily estimated. For example, in the 2018/19 school year, the number of new entrants into upper secondary programmes exceeded the number of graduates from basic education by around 1 800, or roughly 10% (Own estimate based on data from the Statistical Office’s education database (Republic of Slovenia Statistical Office, n.d.[4]). One partial explanation may be that newly arrived foreign-born students enrol in upper-secondary school, in addition to some youth taking a break from education but returning later and others not officially graduating from basic school but being able to advance to upper secondary education.

  • The share that drops out from upper-secondary school differs strongly by educational track. In 2018/19, around one-third (34.5%) of new entrants into the first grade of an upper secondary programme entered a general education programme leading to the general degree for university entrance (matura). Four in ten (40.8%) and two in ten (21.7%) entered a technical four-year or vocational three-year programme, respectively, and 3% a vocational two-year programme. The estimated share of students who drop out (Figure 3.3, Panel A) and repeat a grade (Figure 3.3, Panel B) are generally higher in earlier compared to later grades, suggesting that an initial mismatch plays a role in both. Dropout rates in three-year vocational programmes are slightly higher than in technical and general education programmes, at for example 6% before the transition to second grade compared to 4% in general and 2% in technical programmes. Much more drastically, more than one in four students in vocational two-year programmes do not make it into the second year. Students who attend short vocational courses tend to be academically weaker (Makovec and Radovan, 2018[5]). It is possible that in a different school system, they would have already dropped out.

Young people do not to complete school for many reasons. Lack of motivation, lack of identification with the school, lack of educational success, including low marks and grade repetition, absences and delinquent behaviour all appear to be risk factors for early school leaving. They are in turn connected to the family background and the school environment (Lyche, 2010[6]). For example, an analysis for Slovenia revealed that individual (sex, intelligence, locus of control, social anxiety) as well as family factors (mother’s education, familial attachment, economic situation) played a role in students’ success in secondary schools (Flere (2018[7]) cited in ReferNet Slovenia (2014[8])). Schools in which teachers can treat students as individuals and avoid interacting with them in a highly bureaucratic way can reduce the risk of dropout.

Even though different studies find similar risk factors for early school leaving, their actual predictive power is limited. A study based on seven European countries notes that while teenagers living with a single parent, blended family or guardian, whose parents had low levels of education and who had health or psychological problems had a higher risk of becoming early school leavers, the vast majority of students with these background factors nonetheless complete their schooling (Tomaszewska-Pękała, Marchlik and Wrona, 2017[9]). Similarly, another study identifies students who are not aware of in-school support programmes, do not participate in any out-of-school programmes, miss class and have low expectations for school success at higher risk of early school leaving; but also notes that the explanatory power of all these factors remains low (Kaye et al., 2017[10]).

Immigrants of the first and second generation may be at higher risk of early school-leaving for various reasons. First, depending on the country and the composition of their immigrant population, students whose parents or who themselves were born abroad may have more risk factors associated with early school leaving, such as lower levels of parental education. However, students whose parents’ economic situation suggests a higher dropout risk may sometimes be ‘protected’ by the fact that while their parents struggle economically, they are more highly educated than their current economic status suggests. Second, students who do not speak the local language well are more likely to struggle in school. And if their parents are not fluent in the local language, it is harder for teachers to communicate with them about any potential academic or social problems of their children (Smith, Stern. Kenneth and Shatrova, 2008[11]). In contrast, fully bilingual students may have higher graduation rates (Lutz, 2007[12]). An analysis of school leaving expectations of European students who participated in the PISA test suggests that once individual and school characteristics are taken into account, first- and second-generation immigrants are not at an increased risk of believing that they will not complete school (Hippe and Jakubowski, 2018[13]).

Some of the risk factors for early school leaving for Roma youth are similar to those of immigrants, while others are specific. First, as for immigrants, Roma students may have individual or family characteristics associated with increased risk of dropout, such as living in poverty or having parents with low educational achievements. In areas where the socio-economic background of Roma is more comparable to the majority population, such as in Maribor, Roma students’ perceived degree of exclusion and hence their risk of dropout, may be much lower (Macura-Milovanović, Munda and Peček, 2013[14]). Second, they may live in remote areas with poor infrastructure, making it more challenging to attend school regularly. In Slovenia, Roma settlements’ lack of access to basic infrastructure such as drinking water is one factor that lowers their school attendance and school success (Human Rights Council, 2019[15]). Third, they may face various types of discrimination. In some cases, it may be ‘purely’ social and expressed through disdainful attitudes of their fellow students or teachers. While in some Central and Eastern European countries, the practicing of isolating Roma students in separate classes or schools appears to have increased relative to the communist period (Messing, 2017[16]), in Slovenia, there has not been a legal basis for forming homogenous Roma classes since 2003 (Necak Lük and Novak Lukanovic, 2011[1]). Yet Roma students are significantly over-represented in special education programmes (Human Rights Council, 2019[15]). As a result, Roma students may receive an education of poorer quality and may feel excluded, leading to less skill acquisition and a higher likelihood of school dropout. Finally, among a sub-set of the Roma population, there may still be social norms that favour early marriage among girls and that see upper- and post-secondary education as less important for girls than boys (Zahova, 2016[17]).

At the time of writing, it is still unclear whether the school closures necessitated by COVID-19 will increase dropouts in the short and medium term. In Slovenia, as of 25 January 2021, schools were fully or partially closed for 23 weeks since the onset of the pandemic. This is similar to the duration in some EU countries such as Hungary, Italy and Poland (26 weeks), but above the average for Europe and North America (17 weeks) (UNESCO, 2021[18]). The length of school closures in 2020 exceeded the OECD average both for primary and general upper secondary schools (OECD, 2021[19]). Schools organised distance learning and donations made it possible to provide the necessary equipment to students (European Commission, 2020[20]; The Slovenia Times, 2020[21]). With over 95% of 15-year-old students reporting access to a computer for schoolwork and nearly 100% having access to the internet, as well as three-quarters of students of that age being in schools where principals agreed that that teachers have the necessary technical and pedagogical skills to integrate digital devices in instruction, Slovenia is already comparatively well set up to move towards online learning (OECD, 2020[22]). In fact, during the second round of school closures, Slovenia was one of only three countries in which all primary and secondary students received distance education (OECD, 2021[19]). Despite these advantages, some students have likely fallen behind; in particular because not all students returned to school during the periods of school openings. In a Slovenian survey, one-fourth to one-third of students – depending on their grade level – reported that they found it more difficult to learn during the distance schooling phase (National Education Institute Slovenia, 2020[23]). To address this risk, for example Roma teaching assistants have worked on maintaining contact with parents and students and on collecting and distributing ICT equipment (OECD, 2020[24]).

Experience from prior pandemics indicate reduced educational attainment due to school closures (Meyers and Thomson, 2017[25]). Online and other remote learning channels are likely to mitigate some of the negative consequences. However, media reports from different countries suggest that teachers have lost contact with a substantial share of students (Goldstein, Popescu and Hannah-Jones, 2020[26]; Plantard, 2020[27]; Munziger, 2020[28]; Mayr, Riss and Taschwer, 2020[29]). Students who are already weak academically or whose circumstances make it difficult to study at home are at higher risk, deepening existing performance gaps. For older students who are no longer subject to mandatory schooling, this can increase their immediate risk of dropout. Younger students will return to school, but if they have fallen behind compared to their peers, they may disengage from school and drop out several years later.

The Slovenian school system has many features associated with low dropout rates. With a common nine-year basic school that combines primary and lower secondary schooling, the regular education system does not have early tracking. Early tracking usually amplifies performance differences and social segregation, which can contribute to early school leaving. The upper secondary level offers general and vocational programmes, thereby potentially lowering the share of students who drop out because they are less interested in a more academic track (Lavrijsen and Nicaise, 2015[30]). In addition, grade repetition in primary and lower secondary school, which is associated with early school leaving even after taking into account selected background characteristics (Roderick, 1994[31]), is among the lowest in OECD countries (Ikeda and García, 2014[32]).

A further strength of the Slovenian system is that it allows students who dropped out to re-enter either the regular or the adult education system. One of the ramps leading back into the education system is the Project Learning for Young Adults programme that primarily addresses 19 and 20-year-olds and increasingly includes immigrants. Three mentors each accompany 15-20 youth over a flexible time span. According to participants’ self-reports from a 2010 evaluation, around two-thirds returned to formal education (Slovenian Institute for Adult Education, 2010[33]). Adult education programmes are free at the lower but not the upper secondary level, though tuition fees can be reimbursed under certain circumstances. In the 2017/18 school year, 1 010 adults were enrolled in basic and 18 689 in upper secondary programmes; and 140 and 2 940 graduated from these programmes, respectively. More than 40% of the enrolees in adult basic education are under the age of 20 and 70% are under the age of 30. In upper secondary adult education, 16% are under 20 and 75% are between 20 and 29 years old (Own calculations based on the education database (Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia, n.d.[34]).

The government also has specific policies and programmes in place to help raise academic achievement of Roma and immigrants:

  • Educational policies promote the inclusion of Roma children in pre-school education and their better integration in particular in primary and lower secondary schools. In close co-operation with the Roma Union of Slovenia, the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports developed a strategy on the education of Roma in 2004 and updated it in 2011. The strategy introduced Roma language and culture instruction and Roma assistants at school (UNESCO, 2012[35]). The 2017-21 National Programme of Measures for Roma (Republic of Slovenia, 2017[36]) prolongs financing for the Roma teaching assistants. It also includes plans for e-learning opportunities to improve Slovenian and Roma language skills and continues funding for the seven Roma educational incubators. The long-term goal of the incubators is to increase co-operation with educational institutions, local authorities, employment services and centres for social work. Several projects built upon the strategy, including a European Social Fund co-financed 2014 project that offered extra-curricular activities to Roma children and teenagers and supported Roma school assistants (Government Office for Development and European Cohesion Policy, 2014[37]). Multipurpose Roma Centres in settlements offer a variety of extracurricular activities. However, despite these positive initiatives, it is important to not lose sight of one particularly important observation of the Roma education strategy: living conditions shape educational opportunities, meaning that various ministries need to co-operate to reduce the educational disadvantages of Roma.

  • Policies for immigrant children mainly focus on language acquisition. Up until recently, newly arrived immigrant children initially took a grade-appropriate 160-hour intensive Slovenian language course. Newly published norms and standards for basic education in 2019 allocate a higher number of teaching hours: during the first year of their schooling in Slovenia, students receive 120 to 180 hours of language training, depending on the number of immigrant students. If the student enrols only in the second semester of a school year, he or she receives 35 hours of language training and then a further 120-180 hours of instruction the following year. Recent immigrant students in upper secondary education benefit from 160 hours of intensive language teaching, if necessary complemented by another 70 hours of language and 75 hours of subject-specific support instruction. Since early 2020, basic schools with many immigrant students are able to hire an additional staff member (European Commission, 2020[20]). Individual schools offer introduction courses to get to know the school and town prior to the beginning of the school year; differentiated Slovenian-learning tasks for academically weak and gifted students; and intercultural lessons during which immigrant students present their country of origin and mother tongue to their classmates. Some schools co-operate closely with local youth centres and encourage immigrant students to participate in the centre’s leisure activities (Vizintin, 2013[38]).

Despite these initiatives, some problems persist. While pre-school groups that include Roma children can be smaller than usual and institutions can receive additional funding, Roma children frequently do not attend pre-school, making the transition to primary education more difficult. Similarly, a smaller share of two to five year of children of foreign- compared to native-born parents attend pre-school. The difference is much more pronounced than among the 22 EU countries for which the data are available, but slightly lower than among the OECD-25 average (OECD/European Union, 2018[2]). However, it also needs to be noted that a number of measures have recently been introduced or are in preparation that address this lower attendance of immigrant and Roma children in early childhood education: Since 2018, children who do not attend pre-school can participate in a free 240-hour short programme one year before entering primary school. Yet the number of institutions that offer this programme is still small; and longer 720-hour programmes are not free of charge. Moreover, a Slovenian language syllabus for kindergartens is in preparation. Finally, a proposed evaluation study would analyse the needs, conditions and possibilities of introducing compulsory participation of all children in one of the pre-school programme with the aim of alleviating inequities in education.

Given Slovenia’s low rate of early school leaving, a focus on populations at higher risk – Roma, first and second generational immigrants and youth attending short vocational programmes – is warranted. Nevertheless, certain general measures that would affect all students should also be considered.

Consider raising the mandatory participation age. A first suggested general policy change is to extend the mandatory education participation age from 15 to 18, with an ‘early release’ clause for students who graduate from an upper secondary programme before age 18. As of now, Slovenia has one of the lowest end ages for compulsory schooling in the OECD (Figure 3.4).The extension would give schools and local authorities the right to intervene with early school leavers aged 15 to 18, while having no repercussions on the majority of Slovenian students who complete upper secondary school in any case. Evaluations of prior extensions of the mandatory schooling age in different countries on the dropout probability are inconclusive (Lyche, 2010[6]). But while higher mandatory school ages may not always boost graduation rates, they do appear to improve employment and earnings outcomes (Harmon, 2017[39]). Finland recently followed the OECD recommendation to increase the compulsory school age to 18 (OECD, 2019[40]; European Commission, 2020[20]). As an alternative to a full-on increase in the compulsory schooling age, the United Kingdom raised the ‘participation age’ to 18 in 2015 (OECD, 2019[40]). Teenagers can either choose to stay in full-time education, pursue an apprenticeship or be in part-time education or training along with (self-) employment or volunteering for at least 20 hours a week (Cambridgeshire County Council, n.d.[41]). Similar changes have been introduced in Austria in 2017 (Förster and Königs, 2020[42]) and in France from the 2020/21 school year onwards.1

Create comprehensive transition programmes at the upper secondary level. Programmes during the transition period from basic to upper secondary education that can include remedial and other components could facilitate the move from one school to the next for all but in particular higher-need students. At the start of upper secondary school, some students may have gaps in individual but not all subjects that could put at risk their overall academic success. While these students may end up at all types of upper secondary school, they may be particularly concentrated in short vocational programmes. Other students have the necessary academic skills, but find the change of schools difficult for social or other reasons. For the former group, early identification of weaker students and remedial offers may help. A good practice from New Zealand is that staff from the prior and new school meet and discuss high-needs students (Education Review Office, 2016[44]). Such meetings are likely particularly important in the case of students whose specific remedial educational or other needs are not immediately apparent based on their prior grades. Slovenia already provides remedial classes, but not all who could benefit from them may be enrolled: in a 2011 international test of 4th grade reading levels, teachers estimated that about 20% of students needed remedial classes and 16% received it, leaving a small share out (Doupona Horvat et al., 2016[45]). Remedial programmes have been shown to improve educational attainment in different contexts, though effects may be stronger for girls (Rodríguez-Planas, 2012[46]). Programmes might also include components that concern non-cognitive skills and community involvement. In general, a comprehensive literature review of dropout prevention policies found that successful interventions generally combined actions both within and outside of schools (Lyche, 2010[6]). The review also demonstrated that successful programmes typically included training components (for example for teachers or other professionals tasked with supporting the programme) as well as detailed implementation guides, student or parent workbooks or other written material. Finally, to ease the transition of all teenagers, students and their families in New Zealand can start visiting the new school one or two terms prior to the transition, allowing them to feel ‘at home’ from the start (Education Review Office, 2016[44]).

Fill learning gaps left by school closures. A very important measure in the wake of the COVID-19-caused school closures will be to help students who fell behind catch up without having them repeat a grade. Students who are older than most of their classmates are at much higher risk of dropping out. One reason can be the stigma associated with being a repeater. Another is that factors that make it more likely that someone will drop out – such as teenage pregnancy or employment – are more frequent in older students (De Witte et al., 2013[47]). It is likely that more students will require remedial instruction. In some contexts, it may be necessary to hire additional teachers or teachers’ assistance to carry out this remedial education. In others, peer or cross-age tutoring of older to younger students may be sufficient to fill gaps (Maheady, Mallette and Harper, 2006[48]). A modular structure of grade advancement, whereby a student can advance in those subjects that he or she masters and repeat those where gaps are too important to fix through remedial instruction only, may also reduce overall repetition. This is already successfully practiced in a number of countries including Canada, Finland and the United States (OECD, 2012[49]). Summer programmes can also be considered as an option: Belgium (Flanders region) introduced voluntary summer schools in August 2020 for children and teenagers who wanted to revisit the material covered in the last months before the summer break, and provides financial support to schools to organise extra classes on Saturdays to allow students to catch up with their peers.

Further support for Roma students. Turning to the population groups at higher risk of dropout, Slovenia is already in the process of strengthening existing policies and programmes for Roma student. In particular, the country updated its strategy of education of the Roma students in 2020 and plans to approve it through the competent Council of Experts in 2021. There can be a tension between creating policies targeting specific population groups and thereby potentially stigmatising them as a ‘problem group’ on the one hand and having non-specific policies that disregard the issues of a particular group (Miškolci, Kováčová and Kubánová, 2017[50]). The combination of ensuring that more Roma toddlers attend pre-school and that Roma pupils attend integrated classrooms with targeted interventions (Roma class assistants in primary school, educational incubators, Roma and Slovenian language training) likely strikes a good balance within this tension. Additional efforts could strengthen these goals:

  • Trainings on intercultural communication and Roma history and culture can make teachers more effective when they teach in multicultural classrooms. The Enhancing social and citizenship competencies of professional staff in education project for the continuous professional development of education staff can provide general insights into intercultural teaching and communication. However, the courses need to convey extensive-enough knowledge to have an impact, and should stress that different histories and cultures are interwoven (Symeou et al., 2009[51]). Generally, evidence from Canada suggests that students who learn about their culture and history are more academically successful and less likely to leave school early (Lamb, 2014[52]; Kanu, 2007[53]). Longer-term, the experience of first-nation students in Canada also points to the possibility that increasing the number of Roma school teachers could improve educational outcomes for Roma students.

  • Evidence from the UK suggests that a teaching assistant who provide targeted support to Roma students and deepen links between schools and Roma parents can also be beneficial at the secondary and not only the primary level (Gould, 2017[54]). The experience from a ‘re-launched’ school in Spain that many Roma students attend indicates that an increased involvement of parents in the school’s decision making process and in students’ education can boost attendance and academic results (Flecha and Soler, 2013[55]). A similar involvement of the community in curriculum planning and staff cultural awareness training is also pursued in a school with Aboriginal attendance in Australia (Helme and Lamb, 2011[56]).

  • Tailored support and mentoring in lower and upper secondary school could increase graduation rates (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2014[57]). A low-cost option is mentoring programme that pairs youth in basic education with an adult mentor. Such a mentoring programme that was combined with a classroom-based life-skills curricula and community service was deemed successful for 9 to 13-year-olds in the United States living in communities with few after-school activities and adult role models (Lyche, 2010[6]). The programme need not target Roma specifically, but could be available to all youth living in economically depressed areas with few afternoon activities. Similarly, providing children and teenagers with spaces where they can do their homework and receive help if needed can improve academic outcomes overall. Primary and upper secondary schools already have to provide an extended educational programme of remedial and non-compulsory complementary classes. Finally, having school staff follow up with parents when students miss class unexcused can also significantly improve outcomes (Helme and Lamb, 2011[56])

Institute language level evaluations and train all teachers in the basics of Slovenian as a foreign language instruction. Currently, kindergarten teachers evaluate the language skills of pre-school children through observation and reach out to parents and counselling service where necessary. Since this misses children who do not attend the currently no-mandatory pre-school education, Slovenia could consider instituting mandatory language level evaluations for children of all backgrounds that are one to two years from entering basic education. This could allow them to identify students with any type of language difficulties and to address these early. Such assessments are common across a number of countries including Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands (Lisker, 2013[58]; OECD, 2010[59]; OECD, 2018[60]). In Norway, the assessment at age four occurs in both Norwegian and the child’s native language, if different, in order to be able to distinguish between linguistic and cognitive difficulties. In addition to dedicated language learning programmes at the pre-primary, primary and secondary level, a broader knowledge of teaching Slovenian as a second language among primary and secondary subject-matter teachers can reinforce language acquisition (OECD, 2010[59]). Including components on language training for non-native speakers in the curriculum at education faculties and in professional development courses for teachers can thus be beneficial. Moreover, teachers specialised in teaching Slovenian to non-native speakers can provide advice to other teachers on how to incorporate Slovenian learning elements into other classes. The results of a 2017-19 evaluation study on Slovenian as a second language teaching are expected to be released soon and will reveal mportant insights on the strengths of the current system and potential further improvements.

Involve immigrant parents. Informing and involving the parents of first- or second-generation immigrant students in school activities may require more efforts than is the case for the native-born parents. As a first step, basic information on the school system and on support for immigrant children and their parents should be available in the major immigrant languages (OECD, 2010[59]). This information is already available on the website of the Ministries of education and of the Interior, but local events organised by schools or municipalities can further disseminate it. Going further, intercultural mediators, who can be volunteers, can play a role in bridging language gaps and explaining the functioning of the Slovenian school system (SIRIUS Network, 2014[61]).

Reinforce educational and mental health support for young accompanied refugees. Refugee children and teenagers require support that goes beyond what most other students need. In 2019, about one in five asylum seekers in Slovenia were minors, compared to around one in three across the EU-28 (Eurostat, n.d.[62]). In Slovenia, the vast majority among them were aged between 14 to 17, and thus not necessarily subject to compulsory education. On top of the difficulties that students with immigrant backgrounds face in general, these youth may be traumatised and have missed school for prolonged periods. They may also arrive without their parents: at above 75% in 2017, the share of unaccompanied minors among first-time asylum seekers who were minors was the highest among European OECD countries (Cerna, 2019[63]). In Slovenia, unaccompanied minors are placed in the residence hall in Logatec and benefit from support by psychologists and social pedagogue. In schools, they have access to the school counselling services. Several countries, including Sweden and Finland, mandate the creation of individualised learning plans for students that take into account knowledge across different subjects as well as the local language. In Sweden, the assessment of subject-matter skills can be done in the student’s mother tongue. This ensures that a student’s skills are not under-estimated (Cerna, 2019[63]). In Slovenia, schools are advised to offer introductory and continuing classes to pre-school, primary and lower secondary refugee students, with the continuing activities being defined in an individual programme. Accompanied upper secondary refugee students would likely also benefit from individualised plans. In Australia, through the Refugee Action Support programme, education students tutor refugees one-to-one or in small groups. The young refugees improve their academic skills and knowledge of the country, and the student-teachers gain experience and learn about the special needs of immigrant students (Naidoo, 2012[64]). In addition to these academic supports, students with trauma should have access to free specialised mental health services.

While prevention is always preferable, Slovenia should nonetheless reinforce its procedures to follow up with former students who dropped out. As previously mentioned, Slovenia already has a strong adult education system and a second-chance programme. These programmes guide youth towards their reintegration into education and allow them to complete primary and secondary degrees that they previously dropped out from. The difficulty is that schools currently are not able to inform the employment services, centres of social work or municipal authorities when a student stops attending school or drops out altogether due to privacy regulations. Some young people may thus fall into a period of inactivity that lasts several years and during which no educational institution or other government authority reaches out to them.

Track school dropout. Sweden and Norway offer possible models for the follow-up with early school leavers. In Sweden, where students typically receive student aid, upper secondary schools report unexcused absences to the National Board of Student Aid. In addition, either the municipal administration or schools themselves track youth aged 16-20 who are not attending upper secondary school. They keep in contact with these youth to find out what their current activity is. Where appropriate, they offer the young people activities matching their individual needs, such as educational or counselling programmes or training at the public employment services (OECD, 2016[65]). If privacy laws currently prevent schools from reporting students to municipal or other authorities and if it is infeasible to change these laws, then the Swedish model could be followed as long as schools are responsible for tracking and follow-up. Several schools could share a co-ordinator in charge of this task. The evidence from Sweden also shows that schools need clear guidelines, such as on the number of contact attempts they have to undertake. A similar tracking approach is followed in Norway. There, an independent follow-up service present in each county compares population registries with school enrolment lists. In the 2016/17 school year, they were thus able to identify and contact 94% of youth who had not completed upper secondary education and who were not currently enrolled. The Norwegian example shows that it can be helpful for the co-ordinator to work in both schools and the public employment service (OECD, 2018[66]).

As discussed in the prior section, early school leaving has complex causes and requires complex solutions. But in some cases, dropping out is simply an indicator of a misalignment between a student’s expectations or his or her capabilities on the one hand and the content and demands of the programme on the other hand. At the EU level, 17.1% of students who dropped out of upper secondary school stated that they did so because the studies were too difficult or because they failed their exams. A further 28.2% dropped out because the programme did not meet their needs or interests.At the tertiary level, the shares are similar (17.6% and 22.2%) (Eurostat, 2016[67]). The breakdown of the different reasons is not available for Slovenia because of an insufficient sample size. A second type of mismatch becomes apparent only once someone graduates and enters the labour market: demand for their degree may be low, forcing them to search for a job for a long time or to accept one that does not correspond to their educational level or specialisation.

By helping students explore their interests and capabilities and their education options, career education and advice can contribute to reducing both types of mismatches. This section first presents evidence on the scope and effects of skill mismatches in Slovenia. It then discusses the career education and counselling Slovenian secondary students have access to, and provides suggestions on how to strengthen these offers.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, Slovenian employers reported increasing difficulties in filling vacancies. In 2018, about two in three businesses with at least ten employees indicated that they had such difficulties, compared to a cross-country average of around 53% for OECD countries for which the information is available (Figure 3.5, Panel A). In contrast, in 2014, the share of businesses having problems hiring was still 13 percentage points lower than the OECD cross-country average; and it was only in 2017 that the Slovenian and OECD shares were equal (Figure 3.5, Panel B). Other Central and Eastern European countries also saw large increases in the companies with hiring challenges.

Mismatches in the level of skills and qualifications of employed workers and the requirements of their job were relatively uncommon in Slovenia in the mid-2010s. Evidence from the OECD Survey of Adult Skills showed that Slovenia had the second-lowest qualification mismatch, with over-qualification being particularly uncommon compared to the OECD and EU averages (Figure 3.6). Skill mismatches were in the lower third among OECD countries; and field of study mismatches were the fourth lowest. However, given the much tighter labour market in Slovenia in early 2020, it is unclear whether comparatively low rates of under-qualification and -skilling and of field of study mismatch persist. In 2016, health, science and engineering professions were already shortage occupations (CEDEFOP, 2016[68]). Even more unclear is what the effects of the COVID-19 crisis will be on labour demand and, indirectly, on skill mismatches.

Youth may be more or less affected by skill mismatches than the labour force as a whole. According to results from the Adult Survey of Skills, 16 to 24-year-old employees were a few percentage points more likely to be overqualified in Slovenia and across the OECD, but the differences were not statistically significant (OECD, 2016[69]). Evidence from the 2016 ad-hoc module of the EU Labour Force Survey shows that the share of employed 25-34 year-olds who judge that their formal education helps them little or not at all with the demands of their current job is lower in Slovenia than the EU-28 and European OECD countries averages (Figure 3.7). The phrasing of the question does not make it possible to say whether the respondents who report a poor fit think that they are over- or under-educated (vertical mismatch) or whether they believe they have the right level of education but the ‘wrong’ degree (field-of-study or horizontal mismatch). People with medium levels of education report the mismatch more frequently. A study that compared the profile of 2007-09 Slovenian university graduates’ degrees to their jobs found even higher mismatch rates: according to their assessment, only 30% were well matched on their specialisation and education level. However, the authors note that the mismatch had substantially increased by 2009 compared to 2007 due to the worsening economic situation (Domadenik, Farčnik and Pastore, 2013[70]). If Slovenia slips into a recession as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, in particular over-education may become more prevalent.

A mismatch in skills that young people entering the labour market bring and that employers search for can make it difficult to find a well-matched job within a reasonable timeline, and can have negative effects on earnings and employment quality. While across the OECD, over-qualified, over-skilled and horizontally mismatched workers make less money than those that are well-matched, in Slovenia, only over-qualification is associated with a wage penalty (OECD, 2016[69]). Over-qualified workers tend to be less satisfied with their jobs (Quintini, 2011[73]) and may have worse wage prospects in the long term (Korpi and Tåhlin, 2009[74]). The effects of field-of-study mismatches likely vary according to the overlap in skills requirements between the fields someone studied and trained for and the one he or she ends up working in. Individuals who voluntarily choose a mismatched position because they are interested in a change or because the position has other attractive attributes are less likely to experience a negative income effect than individuals who are forced to accept a position because there are no jobs in their original field (Domadenik, Farčnik and Pastore, 2013[70]).

Given the potentially large negative consequences of students embarking on a course of study that is a poor fit or for which there is little labour market demand, providing young people with guidance about their options is a worthwhile investment. The latest round of the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) demonstrated that the need for this guidance is large: the career aspirations of 15-year olds have narrowed since 2000, with 46% expecting to work in one of ten most commonly cited jobs. About four in ten, and even slightly more in Slovenia, expect to work in jobs that are at a high risk of automation. High-performing students from disadvantaged backgrounds are only about a half as likely to expect to be professionals or managers by the time they are 30 across the OECD, though the difference is smaller in Slovenia. Finally, one in five across the participating countries and one in four in Slovenia underestimate the level of education they would need to attain to work in their expected career (Mann et al., 2020[75]).

Career education and guidance can help young people understand career options and requirements. It might even motivate them to invest more effort in their schooling, though more motivated students may generally be more likely to seek career guidance: in PISA 2018, students who had participated in career development activities were more likely to agree that ‘trying hard at school will help me get a good job’ (Mann et al., 2020[75]). A literature review notes that the research evidence on the effects of career guidance is relatively weak. Nevertheless, among the studies that do exist, 60% and 67% found modest positive effects of career education on educational achievements and labour market outcomes, and almost all the remainder mixed or no effects. Moreover, there is stronger related literature on the relationship between career expectations, which career education can presumably influence, and outcomes. For example, youth whose career expectations exceed the educational level they plan to achieve are more likely to become NEETs (Hughes et al., 2016[76]).

In Slovenia, lower and upper secondary students can receive career counselling from a variety of sources. These include their school’s counsellor, career centres, career centres for youth, youth centres the Employment Service of Slovenia (ESS) and career centres at higher education institutions. Moreover, students can access the ESS’s “Where and How” [Kam in Kako] website that allows them to explore what professions may be suitable for them (ESS, n.d.[77]). However, every school counsellor is responsible for 20 classes of 20 to 30 students each. School counsellors also have a wide rangef of tasks that include career and student welfare counselling, student welfare issues, so their time for career counselling is limited. Certain initiatives target students with added difficulties: for example, the career service at the University of Ljubljana informally co-operates with psychiatric hospitals to guide students with mental health problems. In 2018, the share of 15-year-olds who had seen a career advisor was very slightly below the OECD average (Figure 3.8).

The career education training for counsellors and teachers is relatively limited in Slovenia. The National Education Institute has guidelines for school counselling services, and some Career Centres for Youth also provide them with services (Euroguidance, n.d.[78]). The ESS has been offering a 160-hour non-certificate programme on career counselling for the third year running, but more want to participate than can. As of now, there is no tertiary programme on school counselling, and career education is not part of initial teacher training.

Career education and counselling targeted towards older students about to take concrete decisions about their further education and training should offer a realistic view on the demand for skills and occupations. This requires that a country has a solid skill need forecast systems and that career counsellors remain up to date with its results. In the current situation where many countries brace for a strong – though hopefully temporary – economic contraction, providing an outlook for what occupations will be in demand in the future has become even more complicated. But even before the current crisis, the 2017 OECD Skills Strategy Diagnostic report noted some weaknesses in the skills needs analysis and in the transmission of its results to career guidance services (OECD, 2017[79]):

  • At the time of writing of the diagnostic report, Slovenia predominantly based its skill needs assessments on employer surveys. Other OECD countries combined information from these surveys with worker and graduate surveys, quantitative forecasting models, sector studies, labour market information systems and qualitative methods. The ESS was however already in the process of developing new forecasting methods on labour demand and supply; and following the Records and Analytical Information system upgrade, employment outcomes of graduates can be tracked.

  • The report notes that results of skill need assessments are typically disseminated through short online documents or complex datasets. This can make it difficult for career counsellors and educators to easily access the information and transmit it in an appropriate way to students.

Basic and upper secondary students in Slovenia can turn to different counsellors within and outside school for information on education and training options. Building on this strong basis, adjustments that include targeted counselling offers, more comprehensive training for counselling staff and educators and deepened links to employers can further strengthen the career education and guidance offered to teenagers. Additional investments in skills needs forecasting could furthermore benefit current and future workers of all age groups.

The fact that Slovenian students can turn to a variety of professionals within and outside of school for career guidance is a strength of the Slovenian system, but some may fall through the cracks. Slovenian in-school counsellors are responsible for many different tasks and students. In this situation, career guidance and especially individual career counselling often takes a backseat because counsellors focus on the immediate problems of at-risk students. To avoid this outcome, some countries including Poland and Norway, have created separate in-school career counsellor positions (Watts and Sultana, 2004[80]). It is clear that if Slovenia were to copy this approach, the financial costs would be substantial.

A mixed approach of creating some new in-school career counsellor positions and making the most of existing within- and out-of-school school guidance counsellors could minimise additional financial costs while maximising the availability of appropriately targeted guidance. In-school career guidance counsellors would be most beneficial in regions that do not have Career Centres for Youth or other counsellors specialised in youth-centred career guidance. In contrast, in areas where such outside options exist, this step might not be necessary.

In schools without a dedicated career counsellor, students can be directed towards the most appropriate form of guidance. ‘At-risk’ students may require more intensive integrated counselling that is not restricted to career guidance but also addresses the hurdles that harm their well-being and educational success (Watts and Sultana, 2004[80]). For these students, the in-school counsellor may be the most appropriate provider. Ideally, these counselling sessions would occur on a regular basis and would encourage the young person to think about their life, goals and obstacles in very broad way rather than to narrowly discussing the education and training pathways he or she could pursue (Reid, 2008[81]). If the counsellor thinks it is necessary and the student agrees, the counsellor may also involve other professionals that can help the student address any problems. If a student is reluctant to engage with the in-school counsellor, the counsellor or the student’s teachers should point him or her towards available outside services. Students without additional support needs, in contrast, could be encouraged to seek career guidance and counselling in Career Centres for Youth or other public institutions.

Cross-age peer counselling can complement professional counselling. Under one model, older teenagers are matched with younger ones and meet on a regular basis. The programme should provide some basic training to the mentor and can propose shared activities. While most programmes in this vein do not have a specific academic focus, they may promote the development and learning of both mentor and mentee (Garringer and MacRae, 2012[82]). Under another model that might be especially relevant to Slovenia, students from upper secondary schools visit lower secondary schools to present their school and talk about future education and employment plans. A Danish programme of this type aimed to raise students’ interest in vocational upper secondary tracks (Erhvervsskolernes ElevOrganisation, 2017[83]). In Slovenia, student-mentors from different types of schools could visit the lower secondary schools to present different options.

Since the number of in-school and community counsellors as well as the time available for dedicated group or individual counselling are limited, career education activities should be integrated into subject-matter teaching from an early age. First, career education has been shown to be more meaningful if it starts from primary school onwards (Hughes et al., 2016[76]). One of the reasons is that children may otherwise prematurely eliminate certain educational and occupation pathways as being ‘not for them’. At this age, career education should be about exploration and developing knowledge about the world of work (Kashefpakdel, Rehill and Hughes, 2018[84]). This type of learning can be integrated well into subject-matter teaching rather than into separate career guidance classes. Second, it can provide students with additional perspectives on career options in different fields. By bringing in a real-world context, it might even increase students’ interest in the subjects themselves.

Teachers who integrate career education into their classes need training, but the prevalence of such training varies widely. In 2015, the share of teachers in nine OECD countries (not including Slovenia) who indicated that career guidance and counselling were taught in their initial training varied from about one in ten in the Czech Republic to seven in ten in Korea (Musset and Mytna Kurekova, 2018[85]). With the exception of Australia and Portugal, this type of training is even less prevalent in teachers’ ongoing professional development. Given this lack of training along with a fear that career education takes away valuable time from the core curriculum (Yates and Bruce, 2017[86]), it would not be surprising if teachers are reluctant to integrate career education into their classes.

Relatively short instruction units on career education in the initial and continuous teacher training can materially improve the way they integrate this training into their classes. For example, a pilot programme in North Carolina provided lower secondary teachers with a half-day group training class along with sample lesson plans. Following the intervention, the teachers presented more career-relevant materials to their students. In mathematics, this even had a positive effect on the grades of the students (Rose et al., 2012[87]; Woolley et al., 2013[88]). If spots in continuous training courses on career education are limited, bigger schools could also designate individual teachers across different subjects as ‘career ambassadors’ who help their colleagues integrate career-related components into their classes (The Gatsby Charitable Foundation, 2014[89]).

Career guidance professionals require in-depth initial and continuous training. As mentioned previously, in Slovenia, there is no tertiary programme in career counselling, and the ESS’s training programme on career guidance for school counsellors is over-subscribed. Lacking specific training, counsellors may not have sufficient information to help students explore how their interests and strengths would fit different occupational profiles and what important trends in the labour market are (OECD, 2011[90]). In-school counsellors may generally be more inclined to focus on education as an end in itself, rather than considering the vocational implications (Watts and Sultana, 2004[80]). At the same time, counsellors in Career Centres could likely benefit from training in working with teenagers, as their needs differ from those of adults.

In some OECD countries, school career counsellors have to undergo mandatory training. A common thread in many countries is that school-based career counsellors have teaching degrees. In some, such as in Korea, counsellors need to complete several hundred hours of additional training but do not have a specific counselling degree (Yoon and Pyun, 2017[91]). In others, such as in the Australian state of New South Wales, they need to obtain a post-graduate certificate in career education after their undergraduate degree in education (NSW Department of Education, 2017[92]). The situation is the same in Finland, where in addition to certificates there are also Master degree programmes (Euroguidance, 2020[93]). To further the professionalisation of the role of career counsellor, Slovenia should consider introducing in-depth tertiary-level career education courses or certificates and gradually expanding the share of certified counsellors.

Schools can moreover benefit from tools that allow them to rate the quality of their career education and counselling. Self-rating benchmarking tools have for example been developed by the Career Industry Council in Australia (2014[94]), Careers New Zealand (2016[95]) and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation (2014[89]) in England. Schools that receive additional support can make more effective use of these tools: In New Zealand, schools that were advised by Careers New Zealand reviewed more of dimensions of their career services and did so more confidently (Education Review Office, 2015[96]).

Activities involving employers are among the most effective forms of career education, yet these are less frequent in Slovenia than on average across the OECD. In 2018, 25.3% of 15-year-olds in Slovenia had done an internship, compared to the OECD average of 34.7%; and 38.0% have done a worksite visit, compared to the OECD average of 40.9% (Figure 3.9). Students who interact with employers and workers in different occupations can gain realistic insights into the world of work and generally find these interactions more engaging than other types of career education. In some cases, youth who participate in activities may experience a boost in their later earnings (Mann and Percy, 2014[97]). Formal engagement programmes with the world of work may be particularly important for recently arrived immigrants, youth who live in Roma settlements and other disadvantaged students who are less likely to be able to find interesting opportunities and connections through their parents.

Employer involvement in career education can take different forms. They include career fairs at or outside of school, workplace visits and job shadowing, and mentorship and internship programmes. Career fairs and workplace visits are generally the least costly for school and employers. Job-shadowing, which often involves several days of workplace visits, may be particularly interesting for students in the later years of basic education to can gain a first impression of work life. In some OECD countries, including France and Norway, job shadowing is mandatory in lower secondary school. Internships typically last longer and therefore give a more in-depth view of workplaces. In particular for younger students, it is difficult to establish whether internships are more impactful than work shadowing programmes. When it comes to mentorship programmes, it may be difficult to find mentors for all students. Some countries therefore target them to at-risk youth (Musset and Mytna Kurekova, 2018[85]). Mentorship programmes can also be run by non-governmental entities. For example, in the Czech Republic, an NGO-run programme called Gendalos links up Roma secondary students with mentors in different companies (IQ Roma Servis, n.d.[98]; IBM, 2017[99]).

While in particular in technical and vocational schools, employers may approach schools for career education co-operation initiatives to raise students’ interest for their sector, in most cases, schools will have to take the initiative. In some countries, such as in the United Kingdom, the government requires schools to create employer engagement programs (Mann and Percy, 2014[97]). Local ESS offices and career centres could help schools set up such programs. For example, the Centre for Social Work in Krško has a summer employment programme in which employers receive a EUR 5 per hour subsidy to offer a 14-day work experience programme to upper secondary and tertiary students. A similar subsidised summer internship programme in New York city has been shown to have positive social and labour market impacts (OECD, 2016[100]).

The advice of career counsellors should first and foremost be related closely to the interests and capabilities of the young person they interact with, but should nonetheless also be informed by a clear idea about current and future skills needs. Through their knowledge of the local and national labour market and any interactions with employers, they will already have some insights into what these skill needs are; but their knowledge and intuition alone is not going to suffice to advise all students with different interests and career goals. They therefore need formal skill-need assessments and forecasts as inputs to their work. Slovenia currently bases these skills needs assessment on employer surveys and is developing new skills needs and supply forecasting methods. Career counsellors have noted that the material they receive on these assessments are not always suited for their purposes. Good practices from other countries can therefore be helpful to strengthen both the skill needs forecasting system and to make the insights more available to career counsellors.

Employer surveys and quantitative skill needs forecasts can provide valuable insights into current and future developments of the national labour market, but may not be fine-grained enough to reveal trends in specific sectors or region; but more disaggregated forecasts can be expensive. The Finnish National Agency for Education therefore selects three or four sectors each year for which it carries out an in-depth skills anticipation exercise (OECD, 2019[101]). The advantage of sector- or region-specific assessments is that they can more convincingly combine quantitative and qualitative evidence and for example integrate expert judgement (such as through focus groups and Delphi exercises) in a more systematic way.

While it can be difficult to forecast what skills will be in demand several decades down the line, the labour market experience of recent graduates can provide relevant insights for which occupations and skills are in demand right now. Italy, for instance, has a graduate survey that investigates the employability of recent graduates (OECD, 2016[102]). Evidence from a survey could be combined with the upgraded Records and Analytical Information System of the ESS in order to understand how graduates from different programmes and in different parts of the country fare immediately after leaving school or university and several years down the line.

Well-designed information systems can make it easier for counsellors, youth and their parents to assess information from skill needs assessment. In Finland, the ForeAmmatti website allows students, workers and counsellors see the historical and forecasted number of vacancies for a given occupation and region and to investigate whether there are any regions where the occupation is in higher demand (OECD, 2016[102]).

While a general education curriculum offers the best basis for many teenagers, others benefit more from work-based learning. Slovenia, like other countries in Central Europe, has a long tradition of having a strong vocational and technical education system. The resulting variety in educational options contributes to the high upper secondary graduation rates. But even good systems can be strengthened further; and the recent re-introduction of apprenticeships is one example of an initiative that tries to do exactly that.

For certain students and employers, apprenticeships and other forms of work-based learning are the best ways to train for an occupation and to ensure that their skills needs are met. This section first discusses the benefits of work-based learning and the status of apprenticeships within Slovenia’s vocational education system. It then provides suggestions on how to boost interest in apprenticeships and how to improve the outcomes of work-based learning further.

Trainees can benefit from high-quality apprenticeship in many ways. One advantage is that young apprentices might learn in more depth when they engage in practical training combined with theoretical education than if they attended classes alone. Many youth find it motivating to be part of a real workplace. Another advantage is that the school-to-work transition of apprentices is often smoother than that of other graduates, though the initial advantage declines over time. However, these benefits only occur if the theoretical and practical training parts are well integrated, and if employers invest in the skills of their apprentices rather than using them as cheap employees for basic tasks. If the training is too specialised, apprenticeship graduates may struggle to change employers in the short run, and to move into a different occupation in the medium run if the economy’s skill needs shift (Wolter and Ryan, 2011[103]).

The wage premium for young apprenticeship graduates varies across countries but tends to be positive. In an analysis of data from Survey of Adult Skills, among individuals aged 16-35 not in education, apprenticeship graduates earned 5-45% more than graduates from upper-secondary academic programmes even when their age, gender, the size of the firm they work at and their numeracy performance were controlled for (Kuczera, 2017[104]).

Employers can also be better off when they train apprentices. During the workplace training component of the apprenticeship, apprentices typically do a mix of tasks, some of which create productive immediate outputs for the employer and others that build the apprentices’ skills. Of these, any productive work is a short-term benefit. If apprentices stay on after their apprenticeship, the employer profits from having an employee with tailored training. The counter-point of these benefits are the costs that are associated with offering apprenticeships. In addition to direct costs, such as the apprenticeship wages, there are the indirect costs of the time that the employer and other employees invest in the training and related administrative tasks.

The employers’ net benefits from offering apprenticeships vary considerably across countries and occupations. During the training period, Swiss employers for example derive net benefits and German employers net costs. However, a much higher share of German apprenticeship graduates stay with their training company, allowing the firm to recoup the investment (Mühlemann, 2016[105]). Apprenticeships in technically complex occupations tend to be more costly. For example in Switzerland in 2004, firms that trained electricians derived an estimated CHF 40 000 per student and training year, while those that trained IT specialists bore net costs of CHF 30 000. The reason that employers nonetheless invest in these costly training programmes is that they can often retain the former apprentices as employees with substantial firm-specific knowledge and skills (Swiss Coordination Centre for Research in Education, 2010[106]).

A third party that can benefit from expanding apprenticeship programs is the government. When employers do part of the training, schools can invest less in equipment and teaching staff than would be needed if the vocational training took place entirely at school. In Switzerland, almost three-quarters of the differences in public spending on vocational education and training (VET) across cantons can be attributed to the share of VET students who are in dual programmes (Swiss Coordination Centre for Research in Education, 2018[107]). Even when the government subsidises employers for offering apprenticeships, costs are nonetheless still lower (Kuczera, 2017[104]).

In 2017, the government re-introduced apprenticeships in the Slovenian education system with the aim to equip students with the skills that employers need and to strengthen the ties between the education system and businesses (The Slovenia Times, 2017[108]). The pilot programme aimed for 200 participants; amounting to around 4% of first-year vocational students (Republic of Slovenia Statistical Office, n.d.[4]; Institute of the Republic of Slovenia for VET, 2018[109]). Compared to the regular vocational programmes, apprentices spend at least twice as much time (50% versus 25%) in workplace training. Apprenticeships were initially offered in four occupations (stonemasons, gastronomic and hotel services, joiner, toolmakers), but this number has since grown to 12, with plans for additional ones. Schools, chambers of commerce and employers all collaborate in the planning and implementation process to ensure that the failure of the 1996-2006 attempt to introduce a dual training system (see Box 3.1) will not be repeated (Institute of the Republic of Slovenia for VET, 2018[109]). While apprentices have a contract with the employer that defines their rights, obligations and learning goals, they do not have the status of employees but rather of students. The employer nonetheless pays the students’ social security contributions, compensation for meals and travel and a minimum remuneration of EUR 250 in the first year, EUR 300 in the second year and EUR 400 in the third year (Cedefop, 2018[110]).

An ambitious monitoring programme accompanied the first three years of the apprenticeship programme. The monitoring covered diverse research questions, such as what motivates different stakeholders to participate; whether lower secondary school career guidance discussed apprenticeships as an education option; and how school-employer relations and the training are organised. It also tries to evaluate the learning progress of apprentices (Institute of the Republic of Slovenia for VET, 2018[109]).

In a problem that is far from unique to Slovenia, secondary students do not always have a good opinion of vocational education in general and of work-based learning in particular. The image problem of vocational education extends to parents, who sometimes push away their children who might have been interested from pursuing the track (Cedefop, 2017[111]). Hence, the recently introduced apprenticeship suffers from a lack of demand by prospective apprentices, despite actual apprentices being satisfied with the programme.

Similar to apprentices, employers are generally satisfied with the apprenticeship programme, though they also perceive a few problems. Their motivation for offering apprenticeships is to train workers with the skills they need and to increase interest in their occupations. But they are not always involved in setting training objectives; and in some cases, schools appear to have ‘offloaded’ parts of the training to employers that are more suitable for theory-based instruction at school (Institute of the Republic of Slovenia for VET, 2018[109]). Four in ten company representatives engaged in the ‘regular’ form of workplace training indicated that they lacked guidance on training and feedback on students’ performance at schools. Many would also like to have access to more training for workplace mentors. The co-operation between chambers of commerce under public authority, responsible for supervising work-based learning, and schools is also often weak (Cedefop, 2017[111]).

Two peculiarities of the Slovenian vocational education system are the vocational programmes’ broad focus and that employers are not able to select their apprentices. The broad focus means that there is for example only a general programme in gastronomy and hotel services rather than separate programmes for occupations such as cooks or hotel clerks. It applies to regular and apprenticeship-based programmes equally. The inability of employers to select their apprentices is directly related to the fact that they are not employees.

The COVID-19 crisis is a challenge to dual systems all around the world. For the only recently re-introduced Slovenian system, the threat may be even higher. First, the closures of many schools and workplaces made it difficult for current apprentices and other VET students to continue their classes and practical training. While these closures were a disruption for students and reduced learning progress for many, the impact is likely more severe in fields where practical training is paramount. Second, the pandemic and associated confinement measures created economic difficulties for businesses. Some companies went out of business and others downsized. These circumstances might lead to fewer businesses offering apprenticeship spots and some apprentices who trained with firms that closed to be left in limbo (OECD, 2020[112]). Empirical evidence suggests that there are indeed fewer apprenticeships offered during recessions in the short term (Lüthi and Wolter, 2020[113]; Brunello, 2009[114]). The gastronomy and hotel educational track may be particularly at risk. Hotels and restaurants had to close completely for two months; and leisure and work travel during the remainder of 2020 is likely to be significantly reduced.

The recent re-launch of apprenticeship programmes in Slovenia provides an excellent opportunity to build a strong and continuously evolving system. Possible areas for further improvement relate to the matching of employers and apprentices; helping companies become high-quality training providers; boosting student interest in apprenticeships; and systematically evaluating the outcomes of apprentices and apprenticeship-providing companies. Moreover, apprentices and employers may need additional support during the COVID-19 crisis.

During the programme’s pilot phase, some employers criticised that they could not select their apprentices. In particular in a situation where employers see the provision of workplace training as a longer-term investment that they hope to recoup through retaining a former apprentice, this can certainly be a disadvantage. Employers who did not offer earlier forms of workplace-based training likely have start-up costs that dissipate over time. For these employers, the likelihood of having an apprentice who is a good match for the company and who will stay on afterwards may heavily influence whether they are willing to become an apprenticeship provider.

Explore the possibility of a matching service between prospective apprentices and companies through the chambers of commerce. If too few apprenticeship providers can be recruited because they are afraid that their assigned apprentice will be a poor fit, different solutions exist. A first possibility is to allow employers to become involved in the recruitment. Employers hire apprentices directly in Australia, England, Germany, the Canadian province of Ontario and many other countries and territories. However, this possibility would entail that apprentices are a special category of employees rather than students. Given that the contract status of apprentices was only recently set, it makes sense to maintain it as is at least in the near future. Yet, alternative options could improve the matching. For example, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop, 2017[111]) suggests that chambers of commerce could provide a matching service between prospective apprentices and companies. A matching broker can help companies assess their skills needs and capacity for offering an apprenticeship. A broker indeed took such a role during the pilot project on Services for Apprenticeships that occurred in eight EU countries including Slovenia (SERFA, 2016[115]). Following the assessment of the company, the broker could then place suitable students with employers. As an example of such a system, the Australian Apprentice Support Network providers identify some employers and (prospective) apprentices for additional support. This support can include screening, testing and job-matching to ensure that there is a good match between apprentices and employers (ILO, 2019[116]). For this system to work well, brokers should be knowledgeable about the sector and skilled in the support tasks they would provide, which also means that there should not be excessive turnover among the brokers. Staff at the chambers of commerce would already be well-equipped in terms of their industry knowledge, but may need further training when it comes to the matching of apprentices and employers. Given the relatively low interest in apprenticeships from both the employer and student side, a matching service could first be piloted in one industry in which employers are most interested and the chamber of commerce is very engaged.

Identify apprenticeship ambassadors to promote the programme. Engaged employers and apprentices can promote apprenticeships. For example, England has an Apprenticeship Ambassador Network consisting of a group of high-profile employers who spread the word among other employers about the apprenticeship programme. The ambassadors also closely collaborate with the Young Apprentice Ambassadors Network, consisting of current and former apprentices, to raise interest among students in apprenticeships (National Apprenticeship Service, n.d.[117]). Experience from North Carolina also showed that the parents became more open towards their teenager pursuing a career in manufacturing after a workplace visit at a Siemens plant (Mourshed, Farrell and Barton, 2013[118]), suggesting that a respected employer champion can shift perceptions about apprenticeships.

Help employers become high-quality apprenticeship providers. In particular (but not only) new apprenticeship providers may need additional assistance so that they can properly train their apprentices. In Slovenia, the presence of an experienced worker who can act as the trainer is already a pre-requisite for becoming an apprenticeship provider. But individuals who have honed their craft may not necessarily have pedagogical skills. In Germany, potential apprenticeship trainers who are not already certified master craftspersons need to pass a trainer aptitude exam. To prepare for this exam, they typically take a 115-hour “training for trainers” course at a chamber of commerce. In Switzerland, 40 or one hundred hour training programmes are mandatory (Kis, 2016[119]). In Malta, participation in a training course is mandatory for companies that apply for financial assistance for training (European Commission, 2015[120]). If these requirements seem excessive, Norwegian apprenticeship providers can participate in optional two-day programmes. In addition to initial training programmes, continuous education options should also be available. One option are in-person continuing education courses, such as on evaluating apprentices. Low-barrier online offers, such as Norwegian Directorate for Education’s short videos on good practices in training, can complement and in some cases even replace in-person courses (Kuczera, 2017[104]). Exchange programmes between company mentors and vocational school teachers can complement formal training courses (Cedefop, 2017[111]). Companies may also need reassurance that the apprenticeship programme is going to continue in the future in order to be willing to invest in training their trainers.

Make apprenticeship more accessible and attractive for students. Creating more interest in apprenticeships among students is another challenge. In Slovenia, where many students already pursue a vocational degree and where the qualifications earned in apprenticeships and school-based programmes are equivalent, this should be easier than elsewhere. Nevertheless, broadening the base of students that are targeted to include both academically more gifted and more vulnerable students can be beneficial; though the tools of achieving this are necessarily different (Valiente and Scandurra, 2017[121]). For weaker students, some countries propose a pre-apprenticeship programme to help them fill gaps in general, vocational, language or soft skills. These can range from a few weeks, such as in England and Scotland, to one-year programmes, such as in Australia, Germany and Switzerland (Kis, 2016[119]). For more academically gifted students, apprenticeships are likely to be of more interest if they are offered in better-paid occupations and if there is a clear pathway towards higher qualifications later on. In Germany in 2018, there were 327 different apprenticeship occupations (BIBB, 2018[122]). For the best-paid among them, such as bank clerks and chemical technicians, median salaries of first-year graduates were on a similar level as of first-year bachelor degree holders (Staufenbiel Institut, n.d.[123]; Wirtschaftswoche, 2019[124]). Even apprenticeship graduates who do not hold a general upper secondary degree can moreover study for a related degree at college.

Evaluate the success of apprentices and apprenticeship providers over the long term. An evaluation programme that follows up on the three-year pilot monitoring programme could provide insights into the long-term trajectories of apprentices, with possible insights that could lead to further refinements of the programme. The combination of different administrative databases makes it feasible to track individuals over a long period and to therefore compare the outcomes of apprentices with those of graduates from other vocational education programmes. Such an evaluation is for example carried out in the United Kingdom. A continued analysis of administrative enterprise data could also reveal how companies that offer apprenticeships fare over the medium and long term compared to similar companies who do not. Regular surveys can furthermore suggest whether employers and apprentices are satisfied with apprenticeship programs. In Australia, for example, surveys among employers are carried out biannually (ILO, 2017[125]).

Support apprentices and their training companies during the COVID-19 crisis. A number of measures can support apprentices and firms that offer work-based training during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. First, in several countries including Spain, South Korea and the United Kingdom, apprentices whose practical raining had to be suspended during the confinement period could take a break and their deadlines were extended (OECD, 2020[112]). In the Netherlands, upper-secondary students who were just a module or two or a few weeks of their work placement away from fulfilling their graduation requirements could already be accepted to post-secondary vocational education on a preliminary basis, having been granted an extension to fulfil the requirements. Second, Australia, Austria, England, Ireland, Switzerland and others provide wage subsidies for apprentices. This subsidy is paid either through their regular short-term or job retention schemes or through a subsidy targeted specifically at apprentices and trainees. Finally, several governments including the French, German and Scottish ones offer additional incentives for employers taking over apprentices made redundant by other employers or offering more apprenticeship spots than usual. For Slovenia, certain apprentice programmes, especially in hospitality, are likely to be hit much more severely than others are because employers had to close down altogether for a certain period. For these hard-hit industries, a combination of extended deadlines to complete practical training requirements and financial subsidies to induce companies to keep training and hiring apprentices could be useful. If apprentices trained with a company that had to shut down, they should quickly be placed with a new company.

Most Slovenian teenagers graduate from upper secondary school and many go to university, but once they do, they often take a long time to graduate or do not complete their studies at all. Long durations of study, incomplete degrees and prolonged job search periods after graduation all entail economic costs for the affected individuals and the government budgets. Helping students graduate (more quickly) and find high-quality employment within a reasonable time frame can reduce NEET rates and reduce displacement of regular job positions by student work.

Upper secondary completion and tertiary enrolment rates in Slovenia are among the highest in OECD countries. With 95% of students graduating from upper secondary school, Slovenia ranks notably above the OECD and EU averages of 86%. Only Italy (96%) and Japan (98%) have higher upper secondary graduation rates. And in 2017, 57.7% of 20-year-olds were enrolled in a tertiary education programme, far above the OECD average of 39.1%. This is the highest share among European OECD countries, and second only to Korea’s rate of 68.9% (OECD, 2019[126]). Among these, 16% are enrolled in short-cycle tertiary programmes and 84% are bachelor or master students. Accordingly, the focus in the remainder of the chapter is on university students.

The flip-side of high enrolment rates is that a substantial share never complete their studies. In Slovenia, only 24% of full-time bachelor’s students complete the degree within the theoretical duration and only 53% do so within an additional three years. At that point in time, 8% are still enrolled at university. But even if they eventually graduate, this means that 40% do not – although it is possible that they return to university at a later point in time. The completion rate of 53% is the lowest among OECD countries for which the necessary cohort data are available, and well below the unweighted average of 68% for these countries and territories (Figure 3.10). Among the eventual graduates, the share that complete the programme within its theoretical duration (typically three years for a bachelor’s degree) is also comparatively low: its lower and upper bounds are 39 and 45% (see the note of Figure 3.10 for the explanation of how upper and lower bounds are estimated). Only Chile and the Netherlands have a lower share of on-time graduates.2 An earlier estimate put the dropout rate at 35% (Zgaga, Wollscheid and Hovdhaugen, 2015[127]).

A comparatively generous student financing system and the possibility of engaging in tax-advantaged student work contribute to comparatively long study durations in Slovenia:

  • Tuition is free for under-26-year-old full-time students in bachelor’s and master’s programmes at public universities or in publically financed programmes at private universities. Students who exceed the length of study for a degree programme by more than one year have to pay the tuition fee that is set by the university (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2018[128]). Yearly tuition fees can vary from EUR 2 000 to 11 000 for bachelors and EUR 2 000 to 15 000 for masters degree programmes.3

  • Students can receive needs- and merit-based grants. In 2018/19, these ranged from EUR 840 to EUR 4 320 per year, with possible supplements for living away from home and special educational needs. In 2015/16, 20% of students received needs-based and 4% received merit-based grants (OECD, 2017[79]).

  • Students can have a special form of work contract that requires an agency as intermediary but is associated with fewer administrative requirements and somewhat lower labour costs for employers. The legal minimum gross hourly pay for student work in 2020 is EUR 5.40. This pay is lower than the EUR 6.18 that a regular minimum-wage employee who works 40 hours per week and benefits from 35 days of leave and public holidays earns.

The recent reform in university financing as well as strengthened career education may decrease the share of non-completing students. Until 2016, the principal source of funding for universities were lump-sum payments for enrolled students. This incentivised universities to enrol students regardless of whether they could complete their degree and later find a job. Following the reform, three-quarters of funding is a fixed amount per institution and one-quarter depends on enrolment but also indicators such as graduate employability, scientific output and industry co-operation (O’Farrell, 2017[129]). It is worthwhile to track whether these incentives are strong enough to alter the behaviour of universities in a way that affects graduation rates and the speed and quality of the university-to-work transition. At the same time, high-quality career education, as discussed in one of the prior sections, can help youth gain a realistic understanding of whether a particular degree programme fits their strengths and interests. This might make it less likely that they pick a degree programme that is a poor fit and that they end up dropping out from.

Taking a long time to complete higher education is problematic if it makes it difficult for youth to find a job after graduation. Indeed, using administrative data on the cohort of 2007 Slovenian university graduates, Domadenik and Farcnik (2020[130]) showed that long study durations were associated with a lower probability of having found a job after three, six and nine months for graduates who were not employed at the time of graduation. However, the effects are not the same in all fields of study. For example, business, computing and engineering graduates who studied longer than average were more likely to have a job later on that matched their field of study. The opposite was true for law graduates. In many other fields, there was no association whatsoever between the duration and the probability of employment. A possible explanation is that computing graduates were more likely to have studied for a long time because they were doing relevant student work on the side; while for law students, long study durations signalled weaker ability (Domadenik, Farcnik and Pastore, 2013[131]).

One of the factors that may contribute to longer study periods is student work, even though the share of students who work during the lecture period is not exceptionally high in Slovenia. In 2016, 58% of students worked at least occasionally during the lecture period, a share that is equal to the one in the Slovak Republic and only 4 percentage points higher than the unweighted average for the EU countries for which the statistic is available (Figure 3.11, Panel A). Slovenia situates itself in the middle of the range that goes from 31% in Portugal to 76% in the Netherlands. In addition, about one in two of the working students in Slovenia state that they would not be able to afford their studies otherwise (Figure 3.11, Panel B). This share is once again similar to the unweighted EU, and close to the mid-point between the lowest (Italy, 32%) and highest shares (Norway, 73%). With a few exceptions (Germany, Ireland and Norway), the proportion of students who state that they are working to gain experience is larger than the proportion who would otherwise not be able to study. Administrative data suggests that among the cohort who were 18-21 year-old in 2011, youth who were NEET in 2018 reported income over an average of 2.2 years of their studies, compared to 2.7 years for non-NEETs.

Some people in Slovenia worry that student work may prolong studies or even make it harder for young people to find a job after graduation. The counter-factual is unknown; but it nonetheless appears that the availability of student work as a separate category of temporary contracts does not increase the share of students who work during the lecture period beyond the shares in many other countries. However, this does not mean that individual employers might not replace a regular worker with a student worker; or that individual students do not prolong their studies so that they can maintain their student status because their employer indicated that they would not be able to keep their job otherwise. One piece of evidence is that around 32% of students who work occasionally or regularly during the lecture period consider themselves primarily as workers who study on the side. This share is not exceptionally high compared to the average across countries that participate in the EUROSTUDENT survey (35%), but way above values observed in countries such as Denmark (9%) and the Netherlands (15%). Administrative data suggests that relatively few students earn amounts that suggest full-time employment: in 2018, the average yearly income of students was below EUR 2 490; and even the 95th percentile only earned EUR 6 800. Another issue is that only about one in three of students in Slovenia employed during the lecture period are working in a job related to their field of study; second lowest among countries for which the information is available (Masevičiūtė, Šaukeckienė and Ozolinčiūtė, 2018[132]).

A priori, student work could have both positive or negative impacts on students’ performance and subsequent employment chances. Working besides their study can raise their subject-specific and broader skill levels, boosting their grades and attractiveness for future employers. At the same time, excessive work hours might reduce the time they can invest in their studies and thereby harm their performance and prolong their studies. If their work does not foster any skills required in their field, employers may discount their work experience or even regard it negatively. Whether the positive or negative effects dominate can therefore only be answered empirically. One study on economics students at the University of Ljubljana in 1997 to 2004 found that students who worked had a lower probability of passing the first year than students who were otherwise similar and did not work. The effect was stronger for those who worked over seven months than those who worked two to seven months. Effects on the average (passing) grade and on the probability of passing other year were negative throughout, but usually not statistically significant (Bartolj and Polanec, 2018[133]). Another study of students who engaged in any student work during the years 2005 to 2008 also found small negative impacts of more work hours (Kosi, Nastav and Sustersic, 2013[134]). Looking at the university-to-work transition, Slovenian students graduating in 2003 found a job more quickly if they had field-specific work experience while students who worked outside their field tended to take a longer time to find a job. Having study-related work experience increased graduates’ chances of finding a professional first job, while non-study related work experience did not have any impact (Róbert and Saar, 2012[135]). The study controls for other factors including the field of study and the parental background, but other relevant factors such as their exam results are not included. It is also possible that the relationship has changed for more recent graduate cohorts. In a study of 2002/2003 graduates from Hungary, Lithuania, Poland and Slovenia, students who had study-related work experience were less likely to have a post-graduation job that did not match their field of study, but there was no effect on the likelihood of being over-qualified. Having non-field of study related work experience, however, made it both more likely that the graduate’s job would be below their qualification level and outside their field of study (Peter, 2014[136]).

Student work could theoretically have displacement effects on the labour market. Employers may replace lower-skilled workers or tertiary graduates with regular contracts with student workers. Regarding the crowding out of lower-skilled workers, an analysis based on the distribution of students in EU countries across sectors and occupations suggests that student workers do not only work in low-skilled occupations and that employers in the service sector employ student and low-skilled workers alike. The authors of the study conclude that the two groups do not compete with each other, though the available evidence is not sufficient to rule it out. The same study also found that in Hungary and the Slovak Republic, vacancies advertised to students tended to have lower demands in terms of education, skills and experience. This could suggest that student workers are also not seen as substitutes for university graduates and that student work hence does not displace graduate employment (Beblavý et al., 2015[138]). It is unclear whether the same conclusion applies in Slovenia.

Helping students complete their programmes and finding well-matched employment more rapidly are interlinked issues. Providing quality career advice and student support, incentives for on-time graduation and opportunities for field-related work experience can ease students’ university-to-work transition.

Quality career counselling and support prior to and during university studies can increase graduation rates, reduce time to graduation and speed up the job search. Prior to enrolment, career education can help youth identify a course that is a good fit and that they are hence more likely to complete. During their studies, career counselling can assist students in carrying out steps that will make it easier for them to find a job once they graduate, such as interning with different companies, and in understanding the full breadth of employment opportunities graduates with their type of degree have. Other support services can help students address academic and other difficulties that affect their well-being and ability to study. In some cases, a one-time counselling session, for example on learning strategies, may be enough. In other cases where the needs go deeper, the support service may need to point students towards other resources outside the university.

In Slovenia, there are already many counselling offers at the secondary and tertiary level. The section above on Reducing Skills Mismatches through Career Counselling already discussed Slovenia’s approach to career counselling in basic and upper secondary education and suggested for further improvements. At the tertiary level, the University of Ljubljana already has a career centre that offers a variety of services including career counselling, workshops on different topics including the job search, career planning and interview preparation, and events with employers (University of Ljubjana, n.d.[139]), and the same is true for the centres at other higher education institutions. Turning to non-academic counselling, the University of Ljubljana’s Faculty of Education has a Psychosocial Counselling Centre. The Centre offers counselling and psychotherapeutic work. In order to provide expanded counselling during the COVID-19 crisis, graduate students in psychology also offered online appointments for students and university employees (University of Ljubljana, 2020[140]). Finally, the university has a tutoring system that offers introductory and subject-specific tutoring as well as tutoring for special-needs students (University of Ljubljana, n.d.[141]).

The relatively comprehensive general support services already available at many institutions should be available at all colleges and universities. Plans already exist to expand their activities through enhanced support programmes for certain groups of students at higher risk of non-completion. These students can access tutoring by teacher and student tutors, who in turn can receive training to help them become effective tutors. Several examples of tailored programmes for students at higher risk of non-completion come from the United States. While there are many differences in the higher education landscape of the two countries, in particular as regards tuition costs, one feature they share is that a high proportion of youth initially enrol but do not complete their degrees.

  • A comprehensive assistance programme for low-income students at New York City community colleges greatly improved the odds that participating students graduated. In addition to financial support, structured course enrolment and messages about remedial courses and on-time graduation, the programme included intensive support by dedicated advisors, who typically had a caseload of 60 to 80 students, and career and employment specialists. The three-year graduation rate (which corresponds to the theoretical duration plus one year) of participating students was 18 percentage higher than among comparable non-participating students, up from a baseline of 22%. Replications of the programme at other colleges in the United States also show promising results (Weiss et al., 2019[142]).

  • Accompanied learning groups have also been shown to improve course outcomes. For example, the Enhanced Academic Success Experience Initiative for first-year students in biological sciences placed those with lower standardised aptitude scores in 30-person learning groups that were enrolled in the same lectures and discussion sections. A higher-year student within the same major met with each group for one hour a week to provide advice. Students assigned to the learning groups had significantly better grades than students whose standardised scores were just high enough to disqualify them from participating (Xu et al., 2018[143]). Another learning communities programme that in addition offered enhanced support services and tutoring had positive impacts on graduation rates (Visher et al., 2012[144]).

Automatic enrolment of at-risk students in support programmes may be one of the important features of the success of such programmes. The reason is that even if the same types of assistance is already open to students who request it, struggling students may be reluctant to approach the counselling service themselves. Current plans for career centres at universities indeed foresee that a system will be developed to identify students who need additional support. The selection of included students could for example be based on their prior academic record. In Slovenia, one criterion for inclusion into an enhanced support programme could for example be the type of secondary degree, as general high-school graduates have higher tertiary graduation rates.

The financial incentives for universities to promote faster graduation and good employment outcomes could be strengthened. As noted previously, the 2016 university financing reform introduced a 25% performance-related funding component. Provided that evaluations of the reform show the desired effects, the performance-related component could be increased. Finland for example reshaped the funding of its universities of applied science towards performance-related measures in 2013. In order to limit the immediate effects and to give universities time to re-adjust, the Ministry of Education limited the per-year funding changes to 3%. Correlational evidence suggests that the number of students who graduated on time and who took a full case load increased following the reform (Koivisto, 2018[145]). Following the positive example, the Finnish Government similarly increased the funding component for upper secondary vocational schools dependent on the number of completed modules and qualifications and the students’ subsequent employment and education outcomes in 2018. Core funding now makes up only 50% of their budgets (OECD, 2019[40]).

If the Slovenian Government were to consider such further changes to the funding formula, it would need to set realistic benchmarks that for example adjust for the composition of the student body and the subject mix. The UK Higher Education Statistics Agency for example publishes performance indicators on widening participation, non-continuation and post-university employment that present institution-specific expected performance indicators (HESA, n.d.[146]; Thomas and Hovdhaugen, 2014[147]). However, the UK methodology would need to be adjusted to fit the situation in a small country with much fewer universities.

Build stronger university-private sector links.

One of the mechanisms through which universities can improve the placement of their students is through strengthened links with industry. While there are good links between some universities and firms (Melink and Pavlin, 2014[148]) and while some firms even provide scholarships, most of the links are on an ad-hoc basis (O’Farrell, 2017[129]). One example of a closer co-operation between companies and universities is the European Social Fund co-funded programme on “On the creative path to practical knowledge” (Pokreativni poti do praktičnega znanja). In this programme, higher education institutions could apply for projects in different fields. If they are successful, groups of four to eight students work on three to five months projects under the guidance of an academic and a company mentor (SRIPS-RS, n.d.[149]). It is positive that activities aiming at enhancing such cooperation will continue until at least 2027. Evidence from other countries also suggests that more in-depth and multi-channel engagements with employers tend to be more lasting. One positive example is the Innovation Centre at Linköping University in Sweden. The university co-operation with Saab housed at this Centre for example entails company employees teaching at the university; university students and doctoral students working at Saab; and joint projects (Galán-Muros and Davey, 2017[150]). Another positive example is a co-operation between Korea Polytechnic University and 3 000 small and medium enterprises. Students do worksite placements with the companies, and in return, companies have access to university experimental equipment (OECD, 2019[151]).

Educational credentials are the best insurance against long-term inactivity and unemployment. Making sure that students do not fall through the cracks of the educational system is hence one of the most important preventative measures a country can take against youth becoming NEETs. This approach is all the more relevant in the light of the current pandemic. While many young people struggle to enter the labour market during an economic downturn, graduates with in-demand skills will find a quality job more easily than dropouts. Educational and other preventive policies can therefore play an important role in decreasing individuals’ risks of becoming NEETs.

Most young Slovenians graduate from upper secondary school, but those who do not are at a much higher risk of becoming and remaining NEETs. School dropout is more common among certain groups of adolescents, including Roma youth, first and second generational immigrants, and youth attending short vocational programmes. Slovenia already has a strong education system that leads most students to an upper-secondary degree and a relatively smooth transition into the labour market. However, a few additional measures to address the sources of academic difficulties and prevent early school leaving could help to keep the highest-risk students at school.

Slovenia should also reinforce its procedures to follow up with former students who dropped out. Currently, schools are not able to inform the employment services, centres of social work or municipal authorities when a student stops attending school or drops out altogether due to privacy regulations. Some young people may thus fall into a period of inactivity that lasts several years and during which no educational institution or other government authority reaches out to them.

Young people who train or study in fields that are not in demand or that they are not interested in or suited for may not be able to find or keep a job. By helping students explore their interests and capabilities and their education options, career education and advice can contribute to reducing those skill mismatches. In Slovenia, basic and upper secondary students can turn to different counsellors within and outside school for information on education and training options. Building on this strong basis, adjustments that include targeted counselling offers, more comprehensive training for counselling staff and educators, and deepened links to employers can further strengthen the career education and guidance offered to teenagers. Additional investments in skills needs forecasting could furthermore benefit current and future workers of all age groups.

While a general education curriculum offers the best basis for many teenagers, others benefit more from work-based learning. Slovenia, like other countries in Central Europe, has a long tradition of having a strong vocational and technical education system. The resulting variety in educational options contributes to the high upper secondary graduation rates. But even good systems can be strengthened further; and the recent re-introduction of apprenticeships is one example of an initiative that tries to do exactly that. Possible areas for further improvement to the apprenticeship programme relate to the matching of employers and apprentices; helping companies become high-quality training providers; boosting student interest in apprenticeships; and systematically evaluating the outcomes of apprentices and apprenticeship-providing companies. Moreover, apprentices and employers may need additional support during the COVID-19 crisis.

Many Slovenian teenagers go on to university, but once they do, they often take a long time to graduate or do not complete their studies at all. Long durations of study, incomplete degrees and prolonged job search periods after graduation all entail economic costs, both for the affected individuals and for the government budget. Helping students complete their programmes and finding well-matched employment more rapidly are interlinked issues. Indeed, providing quality career advice and student support, incentives for on-time graduation and opportunities for field-related work experience can ease students’ university-to-work transition.

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Notes

← 1. Service Public (2020), Instruction Obligatoire, https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F1898. Accessed on 10 September 2020.

← 2. The lower-bound estimate for Austria is also lower than the Slovenian one. The reason that this is true for the lower- but not the upper-bound estimate is that the share of students still enrolled at the theoretical duration plus three years is higher in Austria than in Slovenia.

← 3. Study in Slovenia (undated), ´Tuition and funding”, https://studyinslovenia.si/study/tuition-and-funding/. Accessed on 11 September 2020.

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