An Alternative Route To Vocational Qualifications In An Apprenticeship Based VET System
This paper discusses what can be learnt from a recent pilot project with alternatives to apprenticeship training offered to a group of Norwegian students in 2013/2014. We discuss the consequences on students learning motivation and learning outcomes, as well as the dilemmas of reducing drop-out rates, preserving learning quality and protecting the apprentice based VET system at the same time.
Apprenticeship based systems of VET, like in Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Norway (see e.g. Sclicht-Schmälzle & Busemeyer 2014), depend on a balance between supply and demand for apprenticeship. However, many countries face a shortage of apprenticeships. In Germany, the number of new apprenticeships has fallen since the millennium. There are no alternative school based routes to these vocational qualifications, and the result has been that students have had to wait before completing upper secondary school (Walden & Troltsch 2011:305-306).In other countries, however, there have been attempts to address supply-demand mismatch by introducing alternative school based routes to vocational qualifications for those unable to obtain apprenticeships. Denmark and Norway differ from Germany in that the countries offer such alternatives. In Denmark, a school based alternative has been offered to students who lack apprenticeship. Commencing as a temporary measure, it quickly became a permanent alternative (Juul & Jørgensen 2011). The solution has its benefits: there is more room for reflection and mistakes, and the training can be planned from the individual’s learning needs (Juul & Jørgensen 2011: 296). The school-based alternative education is, however, not without challenges. Students do not develop the same social skills and work discipline as they would in a work environment, and they are not participating in a work community (Juul & Jørgensen 2011:296). Thus, they miss out on the benefits of workplace learning (see e.g. Illeris 2011). If the alternative becomes attractive, there is also a risk that it will compete with training placements in the dual system (Juul & Jørgensen 2011:297).
We discuss the consequences of current measures to improve the school based alternative to apprenticeship training in Norway. With the reform of vocational education in 1994, the current 2+2 model was introduced, where students spend two years at school followed by two years apprenticeship training employed in companies. Students facing the third year of vocational school without an apprenticeship are entitled to an alternative, school based training year provided by the school owners. This school based alternative has generally been of poor quality, and seen by employers as well as students, teachers and school authorities as much inferior to apprenticeship (Aspøy & Nyen 2015). From the autumn 2013, five Norwegian counties have received a government grant for experimenting with improved alternative training for students lacking apprenticeships. An important distinction between the Norwegian pilot project and the Danish model is that instead of primarily relying on training at school, Norway has attempted to make the school based alternative as similar to apprenticeship based learning as possible. Duration should be at least 18 months, and a substantial amount of the training should take place in the work environment of a company. The goal was to improve learning quality, lower drop-out, and improve employer’s acknowledgment of the alternative route. The distinction between school based training in this project and apprentice based training became blurred: students were to a large extent functioning as apprentices in a company, but without pay, and formally enrolled in a school and under the supervision of teachers. The aim of this paper is to explore the student’ motivation and learning outcomes, but also challenges faced by different stakeholders, when participating in this hybrid between school–based and apprenticeship based training.
The paper is based primarily on the authors’ evaluation of a Norwegian pilot project with alternative training for applicants who are not able to secure apprenticeships. We draw also on research about similar alternative training for students in Denmark and on preparatory training for apprenticeships in other countries such as Germany. Data used in the evaluation of the Norwegian project consist mainly of qualitative interview data supplemented by quantitative data about completion/dropout and characteristics of students. Training took place for 18 months and interview data were gathered in two rounds during the first and last six months of training. 51 students were interviewed in the first round, and 27 of the same students in the second. The students came from different schools, regions and VET programs. A number of teachers, projects administrators, training companies and training offices involved in the planning and implementation of the alternative training were also interviewed, as well as county administrators and leaders of regional tripartite bodies. Quantitative data about completion/dropout were reported from the project administrators, while quantitative registry data on student characteristics (grades, absence, minority background etc.) were extracted from the counties’ common upper secondary data base (“Vigo”).
In Norway, as in Denmark, most actors involved in the tripartite VET system share a view that the alternative route to vocational qualifications should be secondary to apprenticeship. It is considered an undesirable outcome if alternative training grows at the expense of apprenticeships. However, the Norwegian pilot project goes further than the Danish system of “praktikcentre” (Jørgensen & Juul 2009) in imitating apprenticeships. While alternative training in the Danish “praktikcentre” mostly takes place at school, most training in the Norwegian pilot projects takes place in company workplaces. Our paper shows that the pilot projects often had many of the same learning and motivational benefits as work place learning in general, and apprenticeships in particular. There are indications that such schemes can improve the students’ chances of completing VET despite not receiving apprenticeship, especially if the organiser has a broad network in the local business community, engages personally in the students’ development, teachers follow up students closely in the companies, and the students perceive practice as relevant for the trade. However, such training schemes generate important dilemmas. There were several examples of ambiguities in the division of responsibilities between schools and companies for training content and progression for students in such alternative training, where especially companies were uncertain about their role. In addition, the emphasis on work place training sometimes came at the expense of the actual relevance of the job. Moreover, there is a clear risk that a further development of a system of alternative work place based training could weaken the efforts made by companies and counties/schools to establish apprenticeships, potentially undermining the apprenticeship model on which Norwegian VET is based.
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