Industry associations lead the way in creating a new occupational profile and the associated curriculum
Switzerland has a strong vocational and professional education system (VET). It offers mostly dual-track VET programmes at the upper secondary level and broad tertiary-level professional education programmes. Prof. Dr. Ursula Renold talks about specifically this Swiss system and Serbian education. Switzerland has supported VET reforms in many countries for more than 60 years.
Why do you think that dual education is an important topic for Serbia?
– Dual education is a necessity for every country in the face of rapid digital change. This rapid change in the world of work poses a challenge for schools and universities alike, as they are generally unable to respond so quickly to change, adapt their curricula accordingly and train prospective professionals in the best technologies. Those who can combine learning at school and at work at the same time have a comparative advantage. One is automatically trained on the best technologies in the workplace and can learn from several role models regarding soft skills.
Why is dual education important for the Serbian economy?
– Companies often complain that they cannot find the highly qualified workforce and therefore cannot drive productivity and growth in line with the other framework conditions. From research on vocational training in Germany and Switzerland we know why companies train and that self-trained apprentices are likely to be able to continue working in the company or to find a job with another company in the same sector. If a country succeeds in training a large part of the talent pipeline itself, they have the best prerequisites to increase productivity and thus growth. Dual education also drives innovation, which can help companies reach and push the innovation frontier.
To what extent is the Swiss model of dual education applicable in Serbia?
– It is an illusion to believe that one system can be transferred from one country to another. The economic, social and especially cultural conditions are too different. Research, on the other hand, can help to understand the functions that make up an efficient dual system and to apply them in diverse socio-economic and socio-cultural contexts. Evidence already shows that different contexts—in terms of labor market regulations, union density, and other factors—can successfully have dual education systems as long as they are adapted to fit the context. Take the function of professional associations. These are mostly organisations of companies that have joined forces to secure young talent in an industry. They support the creation of occupational profiles, partly also curricula and organise, for example, the training of instructors. Such associations make it possible for small and medium-sized enterprises to provide training because they are supported by the association in terms of content and methodology. Switzerland has around 400 such professional associations. Serbia also has industry associations and a very strong Chamber of Commerce and Industry. But not all industry associations today have a function comparable to that of Switzerland. The new dual education law already assigns CCIS a very important role. In addition, Serbia has Sector Skills Councils, which can in the future play a role comparable to that of the Swiss professional associations. However, the development of such institutions needs time and intensive dialogue so that everyone can understand the benefits of this joint partnership.
What is the difference in understanding dual education in Serbia and Switzerland?
– I focus on three main differences, i.e. 1. the creation of framework curricula for an occupation, 2. the characteristics of what dual education is and 3. how companies find apprentices and conversely how apprentices find their respective companies. In Switzerland, industry associations lead the way in creating a new occupational profile and the associated curriculum. Schools and teachers are part of a reform committee. But according to the law, business has the right to submit an application to the ministry. In Serbia, firstly, the school curriculum is separated from the company curriculum and secondly, the Ministry of Education has a much more important steering competence. In Serbia, two models of dual education currently co-exist, which makes it difficult to help break through the new requirements of the law. If companies provide training in Switzerland, there are clear rules which must be observed. In particular, no company may provide training if it does not pay the apprentice an apprentice’s wage that in Switzerland averages 20% of the monthly wage of a fully trained skilled worker. There is development potential here in Serbia. In Switzerland, 14-year-olds are exposed to a market for the first time in order to find an apprenticeship. This is called the apprenticeship market, which exists as an Internet platform where supply and demand for apprenticeships meet. In Serbia this is carried out in a relatively complicated process by school coordinators and the MoESTD. The evaluation of the implementation of the new dual education law will show whether this approach will prove successful.
In your opinion, to what extent does the introduction of dual education help address the looming shortage of high-quality workers and make Serbia more competitive in creating new jobs?
– Dual education is an important prerequisite for providing skilled workers and improving economic prosperity. The highly qualified, practice-oriented skilled workers it creates can contribute to increasing the productivity of companies. Companies can use the creativity of their skilled workers to generate innovative products and processes. Our research on the Swiss companies’ pool of skilled workers shows that a good mix of skilled workers with dual VET and academic education improves companies’ innovation performance.
What has Serbia achieved so far in the field of dual education and what has not?
– The Serbian parliament has already passed a dual education law, which is in the implementation phase. The first year with student enrolment under the new law started this September. It is gratifying that there is a great deal of interest on the part of the companies and that work is being carried out with great time pressure to implement all the regulations of this law in conformity with it. I am also very positive about the close cooperation between CCIS and the Ministry of Education and its related institutions. This is not a matter of course, but this cooperation is a necessary prerequisite for strengthening dual education. As in every other country that implements such a complex project, there is still a need for clarification among various stakeholder groups. Our first research results on accompanying the implementation show that the key stakeholder groups are generally aware of the law and very willing to do their part. As we move into the more complex phases of implementation where actors have to make real changes and fully understand the law, there will be challenges and that is normal. The ongoing leadership from CCIS and the MoESTD, combined with companies and schools continuing their efforts on the practical end, is a good recipe for success. Good communication and sharing of information will be critical. One observation we make from a research perspective is that Serbia still allows various competing approaches to dual education. This can be explained by the historical development. However, it does not simplify communication with all those involved. There is a need for action here. Furthermore, it will also be important to show companies the economic benefits of dual education. We will conduct a cost-benefit study next year to find out whether the Serbian dual model behaves like those in countries with successful dual education systems, namely that companies’ cost-benefit ratio is balanced, or even positive as it is in Switzerland. When the system has strong curricula and good quality assurance mechanisms like final exams, companies’ earning benefits is a sign of a win-win for companies and students. The students in these companies have the chance to do more important work, so they learn more and have better skills. This would be a valuable insight for attracting more companies to dual education. If Serbia succeeds in winning the companies for this dual education and also in paying the VET student an appropriate salary, then the essential prerequisites will have been created for establishing the system in the longer term.