I am glad that Switzerland’s expertise in the field is deemed useful by the Serbian partners and that concrete cooperation projects on the ground have been developed together and based on the needs of Serbian stakeholders
After experimenting with dual education in several schools throughout the country with the generous transfer of knowhow from the leaders in vocational education, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Serbia is getting ready to draft the legislation, which will give institutional framework to this new approach in training working force. Serbia considers VET education as an important tool to help in reducing two challenges the country is facing: one, the high level of unemployment among the youth and second the shortage of well trained workforce which is one of the pillars of the efficient economy. We spoke with Mr. Mauro Dell’Ambrogio, Swiss State Secretary for Education, Research and Innovation in the wake of his visit to Serbia where he will talk with the Serbian authorities about the fundamentals of the successful implementation of vocational education and lessons learned.
Switzerland, which is considered as one of the top leaders in vocational education has significant experience in the matter both at the academic and practical level. By itself, VET education is much more than a system of teaching in which pupils are getting both theoretical and practical knowledge in the real life environment. It has to resonate with the demands of the businesses, to be up to date with technological changes, to be attractive for students and to offer solid chances for immediate employment. Therefore, the completely self-regulated system has to be put in place and able to respond on short-term shifts in demand of specific economic sectors and long-term structural and technological developments. Furthermore, it cannot be a dead end, but instead a system which will allow students to easily move along the educational path and acquire higher education.
How much did good dual education help Switzerland to better respond to the global financial crisis and growing unemployment?
› The dual vocational education and training system is only one of several key elements and policies which together contribute to Switzerland’s resilience to economic crises and downturns. Apart from the efficient education system – of which dual VET is one main pillar, one must bear in mind the flexible Swiss labour market, the competitiveness and innovation capacity of Swiss companies, supportive fiscal and monetary policies and many more elements. In this complex interplay of mutually supportive policies, it is of course extremely difficult to isolate and precisely quantify the specific effect of dual VET. This being said, the high employment rates of VET graduates and other indicators point out the nature of the contribution of dual VET to economic robustness: It provides skills and qualifications to people which correspond to the real needs of the economy. Thanks to the self-regulating character of dual VET provision, the system can quickly adapt to short-term shifts in demand of specific economic sectors and long-term structural and technological developments. Additionally, thanks to the permeability of the education system and the emphasis put on the capacity for lifelong learning, individuals can always upgrade their qualifications and/or reorient themselves. All in all, the balanced combination of a strong dual VET system and an excellent academic system is definitely a major factor for Switzerland’s economic success.
Many parents in Serbia have been reluctant to send their children to vocational schools because they rank very low in the society, and the jobs they train for pay very little. How can we convince them otherwise?
› I think this might be the one of the crucial challenges. A promising approach is probably to work with positive examples and to also let the economic actors voice and show their support of VET. For instance, in Switzerland many CEO of large companies have a initial background in VET. On a more systemic level, several outcomes must be aimed for to improve the social recognition and prestige of vocational education and training. Firstly, VET must result in real and immediate clear responsibilities and divisions of tasks. Such a partnership has to be the backbone of a high quality system of dual VET. Through this, it can be ensured that the private sector sees itself as a co-owner of the system and stays involved and motivated. Only then can it be guaranteed that the link to the effective requirements of the labour market and the needs of the economy remains strong. This means that the VET qualifications must be accepted and sought after by the companies seeking a qualified workforce. VET must offer a perspective beyond immediate employment through further education and career opportunities. VET must therefore not be a dead-end and isolated track within the education system. Instead, there must be opportunities for transition to attractive tertiary education options. For the education and career choice of young people such long-term perspectives are essential. The difficulty is to simultaneously work on changing a system and on changing the attitudes of stakeholders, since both depend on each other.
Are you satisfied with the way in which Serbia has been utilizing the know-how transferred from Switzerland?
› Although it still is quite early to assess large-scale results, what I have experienced so far looks promising indeed. I am glad that Switzerland’s expertise in the field is deemed useful by the Serbian partners and that concrete cooperation projects on the ground have been developed together and based on the needs of Serbian stakeholders. Education systems cannot be just copied from one country to another. But the philosophy, the underlying key ideas of a VET system based on private-public-partnership and work based-learning can be adapted to a local context. This of course requires a careful analysis of what is required and of what might work in a given country as well as the willingness of all stakeholders to support such a reform. In Serbia, I have felt and seen this motivation to move forward. I am therefore positive that Serbia will develop its own brand of dual VET. Switzerland is ready and willing to continue supporting and contributing to this process.
In your experience, what is the most important thing to provide to maintain the high quality of dual education?
› Establishing and maintaining a working private-public-partnership based on mutual trust, cooperation and clear responsibilities and divisions of tasks. Such a partnership has to be the backbone of a high quality system of dual VET. Through this, it can be ensured that the private sector sees itself as a co-owner of the system and stays involved and motivated. Only then can it be guaranteed that the link to the effective requirements of the labour market and the needs of the economy remains strong.
How important is well-trained workforce for Swiss investors when deciding to invest in Serbia?
— I cannot speak for the companies themselves in detail, since the determining factors for investments of Swiss companies vary greatly. However, given the strong focus of Swiss companies on quality products and services, it is safe to say that a well-trained workforce is important. As I mentioned before, for Swiss companies this often means a good mix of skills and qualifications from different branches of an education system – vocational as well as academic.