Martha Schultz, Vice President of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber: Dual education ensures the quality of employees

Only if the profiles are up to date, companies are willing to invest their time and money into training young people.

How important dual education is and how is Austria helping Serbia in order to implement elements of dual education and training, Mrs. Martha Schultz, Vice President of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber explained for the Diplomacy & Commerce magazine.

When we talk about dual education in Serbia, we are usually referring to occupations related to the machine industry. What are all the profiles encompassed by dual education in Austria?

In Austria, with a long standing tradition in dual education, you find about 200 professions mainly in the craft sector, tourism and trade, engaging more than 105,000 apprentices in around 30,000 training companies, among them many small and medium sized companies. It is very important to point out that innovation and changes happen quickly throughout all sectors nowadays. Yes, the machine industry plays an important role, also in Austria. However, with the industry 4.0 and the digitalization, company based training and modernized profiles are equally important for the tourism and retail sector, to just name a few. 

Your visit is connected with the introduction of the tourism profile. In this case, what does the work experience practice look like for a student studying this subject?

We are in an early stage of discussion regarding tourism professions in Serbia, but we hear clearly articulated demands from the Austrian and Serbian company side. As one director of a known hotel in Belgrade put it: before you can become a supervisor of a team, you must know how a team functions, what the individual tasks are and how to do it in a proper way to guarantee the success of the team as well as the satisfaction of the hotel guest.  In Austria we follow the same approach. A student, or apprentice as it is called in Austria, undergoes a rigorous training from welcoming guests, to preparing tables, serving food and drinks, organizing events, but also is taught to deal with the finances, plan marketing activities and calculate and administrate the staff assignment.

Austrian companies are involved in the pilot project for the introduction of dual education in Serbia. Is that your practice in all countries where Austrian companies operate?

The project in Serbia is the biggest so far, with similar activities happening in Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania and China. But to answer your question: Yes, we do it where we see our companies’ demand for our support. The demand of Austrian companies and a sense of co-ownership are crucial for us. I believe it also helps to jump-start the process. Austrian companies and their subsidiaries, as was also shown in the surveys we did in Serbia, live the principles of company based training every day, and were looking for support in putting their experiences and challenges into a form of formal education. Our job is simple: helping the companies in bureaucratic details and in talks with ministries, stakeholders and know-how transfer, so they can focus on their core business. 

What is our intention? We want to establish training alliances with Austrian and local companies and vocational schools, in order to implement elements of dual education and training. The findings of the pilot project activities are very important for our Serbian partners and us to have discussions on a systematic level.

What mechanisms in Austria enable the adapting of professions to cope with the very rapid technological changes in the economy?

A major criterion for success is that the social partners have a strong formative influence on the content and the scope of the profession development or adaptation: job profiles are negotiated between the social partners by taking into consideration the needs of economy and representatives from the education side. Only if the profiles are up to date, companies are willing to invest their time and money into training young people, because the need for skilled workers is growing. As shown by the number above, the system is working, and companies and apprentices alike are content with the offered profiles.

On the other hand, how can you ensure that children at companies receive broader knowledge of a specific area and don’t merely learn a single industrial process specific to the company where they work?

A recent survey in Austria dealt with the question you are referring to. How can we ensure that apprentices are equipped with skills instead of simple techniques for a very specific part of a job? The answer to it is three-fold. First, companies and schools have to follow curricula, which are developed by the ministries and the institute for vocational education and training, in cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce, and foresee a wide range of skills and competences to be trained. One of the success factors is not to be trained just for “job”– the apprentices have acquired the professional capacity required for exercising a qualified professional activity. And, they can use the acquired competences on the labour market. Dual education and training does not only give the trainees the ability to exercise the respective occupation in a comparably short time. It allows and encourages professional identity and professional self-confidence.  To achieve this, a close-knit cooperation between school and companies is essential. Secondly, training companies are certified being able to mentor the adolescents in a proper way. In Austria this is done by the Chamber of Commerce acting on the authority of the Federal Ministry of Economy. Lastly, before finishing their dual education, teenagers have to pass a theoretical and practical test –the apprenticeship exam. All three components allow a student to succeed in developing skills. By the way, many apprentices in Austria stay with their first employer. More than 40% enjoyed the company DNA and pursue their careers within the respected company; more than 90% find a job within their pursued field of training and education. 

In Serbia there are polarized opinions about dual education. For example, some consider that it enables companies to take advantage of even cheaper labour and reduce labour costs on the market. How has this problem been resolved in Austria?

I think many critics of the system have an inaccurate view on what it takes to train a student in a company. Creating a learning environment and mentoring culture takes time and uses resources. Students are not ready to work right away when they come to the company. Simple and complex tasks alike must be supervised by an experienced staff and mentor, who guide the students in their professional development. To put it short: the company invests a lot of time and money before a student is productive and allows the company a return in investment. The most important motivation of a company is to train their future skilled workers.

In which way does Austria enable the further education of students who acquired skills through dual education?

There are multiple options, which are in line with lifelong learning approaches. It is very important for the attractiveness of a profile and the motivation of young students to have further options available, once the apprenticeship is over. For example, apprentices have the ability to get a sort of “high school diploma” during and after their apprenticeship and study in a relevant field, to deepen their practical knowledge with higher studies. Many companies offer half-time contracts, as they promote the advancement of their employees. What do we, as a Chamber, offer to employees of companies?  The Austrian Federal Economic Chamber runs an adult-training provider with more than 350.000 course graduates per year. Together with two private universities, four universities of applied sciences and several full time vocational schools and colleges, the Chamber is a strong promoter of further education in Austria.

Which institutions in Austria take care of maintaining the high quality of dual education?

When we speak about the company-based training, the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (WKÖ) is responsible for the administration, ensuring the high quality. On an operational level, so called “apprenticeship offices” of the regional chambers make sure that companies are suitable training companies. They do this in close cooperation with the Chamber of Labour. Other activities involve legal matters, such as checking and recording the apprenticeship contracts, or advising apprentices and training companies. On a strategic level, the research institute IBW supports companies and the Chamber with supporting materials and offers for training companies. 

What are your experiences in the training of apprentices?

Dual education and the education of young people in general in our company is the largest priority. My company has 800 employees, a lot of young people among them and they are trained directly under my jurisdiction because, for us, it is very important to educate young people in different occupations. My company works in the field of tourism and since my employees have direct contact with customers it is very important that these young people are well educated. We achieve that by dual education. I am a vice president of the Austrian Chamber of Commerce and in that capacity I am responsible for dual education which is important if we want to ensure the quality of employees.

GLOSA: My company has 800 employees and since they have direct contact with customers it is very important that these young people are well educated. We achieve that by dual education

Glosa 2 The most important motivation of a company is to train their future skilled workers.

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