Labour Market Outcomes of National Qualifications Frameworks in Six Countries
This paper presents the major findings of an international study that
attempted to investigate the labour market outcomes of qualifications
frameworks in six countries – Belize, France, Ireland, Jamaica, Sri Lanka, and
Tunisia, as well as the regional framework in the Caribbean.
Policy makers and donors continue to support national qualifications frameworks and competence-based training systems, with the hope that they will improve the ways in which education and training programmes prepare people for work, help them to obtain jobs, and enable them to perform well at work.
In terms of substantive achievements of qualifications frameworks, there are not significantly different findings to earlier research, although some interesting specifics of each national case were uncovered, some of which are discussed. The focus of the paper, however, is not the policy questions – does this policy work, in what forms could it work, what would it take to make it work? Rather, it attempts to understand the underpinning issues, and reflect on why policy makers and international organisations continue to push this policy that continues not to work. A twofold commentary is offered, derived from an analysis of the differences among the countries and the frameworks in the study. First, qualifications frameworks can be seen as a symptom of the very real and more-or-less unresolvable problems that faces policy makers with regard to technical and vocational education and training (TVET) qualifications, which by their nature tend to proliferate and fragment, particularly in English-speaking countries or countries which have adopted British. In all countries qualification inflation is likely to be weakening links with labour markets, leading to inevitable difficulties for those aspects of education systems aimed at preparing people for mid-level work. Second, advocates and policy makers conflate different types of systems or interventions under the single term ‘qualifications framework’. This point is explained by exploring the differences of frameworks in the current study. The (limited) effectiveness of one type of system, whether currently or in the past, is used to justify the implementation of another substantially different system, because both go by the name ‘qualifications framework’. These two factors together may contribute to the continued enthusiasm of policymakers.
The aim of the study was to understand the extent to which and ways in which employers use qualification frameworks in hiring and promotion decisions, as well as the employment outcomes of graduates of national vocational qualifications. The research also attempted to gain insight into the extent to
which qualifications frameworks have contributed to improving policies on training and employment and if they have had an impact on social dialogue in training systems. The study was commissioned by the ILO as a follow up to an earlier and larger ILO study conducted in 2009, which found little evidence that qualifications frameworks were achieving their goals (Allais 2010). One possible reason for the lack of positive evidence in research into qualifications frameworks is that it was conducted prematurely. The new research, therefore, aimed to revisit two of the countries in the earlier study – Sri Lanka and Tunisia – to assess achievements five years later. It also aimed to
build insight into the labour market outcomes of qualifications frameworks in countries that were not included in the previous study, but which have well established frameworks or systems of organising qualifications – France, Ireland. As the Caribbean region has a regional framework which is seen as
well-established, Belize and Jamaica were included in the study, to explore their national frameworks and their relationships to the regional framework.
Case studies were developed based primarily on in-depth interviews with key stakeholders, including government representatives from ministries responsible for education and for labour; authorities with responsibility for qualifications frameworks and for vocational education; providers; employer representatives; trade union representatives; and experts such as academic researchers or policy advisors. Ten interviews were conducted in Jamaica, 4 in Belize, 11 in France, 10 in Ireland, 22 in Sri Lanka, and 9 in Tunisia. 3 interviews were also conducted in Guyana, with a view to understanding the regional Caribbean framework. Interview data was supplemented by analysis of publically available policy documents, evaluations, and research. A few tracer studies were found in Jamaica, from which some analysis could be extrapolated. There were a few instances of surveys conducted, for example of graduate or employer satisfaction, also in Jamaica. The data obtained, both from official documentation and interviews, enabled us to build some degree of a picture of the systems in the different countries, from which we could make inferences about potential labour market outcomes.
There was limited evidence of success, but fairly strong support for the frameworks. The continued popularity of qualifications frameworks as a reform mechanism seems to be symptomatic of the ways in which transitions from education to work are in flux in many countries, coupled with the fragmented and complex systems of vocational provision in some of the countries. Even
where such systems are not overly complex they have weak and possibly
weakening relationships with work. Insufficient differentiation of different
types of frameworks by policy makers obscures these factors, leading to
misleading ideas about what frameworks can do in general. Extending
existing typologies for the analysis of qualifications frameworks the paper
argues that the French framework, where labour markets were the most
regulated and collective bargaining had the widest reach, had the clearest
relationships between qualifications and work. However, the qualifications
framework did not seem to be the cause, but rather the effect of such
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