02 SES 11 B, Learning from International Comparisons
Over the last 15 years, different countries have developed low-level vocational education and training (VET) programmes for young people who struggle to enter or complete education at upper secondary level (Di Maio, Graf & Wilson, 2019; Kammermann, Stalder & Hättich, 2011; Schmid, 2020). Switzerland introduced nationally standardised two-year initial VET programmes in 2005, Norway in 2016. Both Norway and Switzerland aim at including low-achieving youth in VET and later on in the labour market. This contribution focuses on the embedding of two-year apprenticeships in upper secondary education in Norway and Switzerland as well as the recognition of the qualification in the labour market. This leads to the following research question:
Are two-year apprenticeships in Norway and Switzerland intended to lead to a direct labour market entry or are they designed as a first step of a staged qualification?
The study is based on theories of VET curriculum development (Billett, 2001, 2011; Gherardi et al., 1998; Lave, 1990). The characteristics which shape apprenticeship curricula (Billett, 2006) and the socialisation of apprentices into a working community (Lave & Wenger, 1991) are in line with VET systems and labour markets that adhere to a holistic concept of vocation, not to a narrow, functional understanding of qualification. Gonon (2014) understands this concept as decisive not only on a systemic level, but also for schools and firms as it influences the didactical and methodical structure of VET teaching and learning. Typically, a traditional holistic vocational training course consists of linear learning pathways which are part of a coherent, over-arching education and training programme (Pilz & Canning, 2017). Competent professionals design, plan, perform and assess their own work activities, a performance level requiring metacognitive competences to cope with complex, unpredictable work situations (e.g. Rauner, 2007). This type of adaptive expertise differs from exclusively routine-based expertise (Hatano and Inagaki, 1986). As stated by Fuller (2016, p. 17), going through an apprenticeship is a “recognised and formalised route to achieving the relevant occupational expertise […]” which implies that qualified professionals can execute all steps of a task (Becker et al., 2017). The holistic concept of vocation is also considered crucial for a modern, more dynamic labour market with competent professionals who are expected to find creative and flexible solutions to problems (Rauner, 2012).
It usually takes three to four years of apprenticeship to develop the competences corresponding to a holistic notion of vocation and the related processes of teaching, learning and socialisation cannot be modularised (INAP Commission, 2012). Thus, the question arises if short-track apprenticeships lead to a full vocational qualification or to a partial qualification requiring further education and training to be fully recognised in the labour market.
The study is based on qualitative data. We conducted semi-structured interviews with experts involved in developing two-year VET curricula in Norway and Switzerland. In Norway, the counties are responsible for implementing the two-year apprenticeships but so far no overview of the offered two-year programmes and their curricula exists. A short email survey was therefore conducted for all counties in October 2019 to ask the municipalities whether or not they currently have apprentices in two-year apprenticeships and whether they have developed curricula. This allowed to identify all the responsibles for the implementation in the counties. So far, five counties had apprentices since 2016. All five responsibles could be interviewed. Together with the involved companies they have developed two-year curricula and are overseeing their implementation. The interviews were conducted between October and November 2019 and had an average interview duration of 30 min. In Switzerland, two-year apprenticeships are nationally standardised and the curricula are developed in a process prescribed by the national VET agency (SBFI, 2017) in which the professional associations need to work with an accredited pedagogical consultant. Here, three experienced pedagogical consultants were interviewed who all have been involved in the development of two-year VET curricula since their introduction. All of them have consulted the developers of several two-year curricula. The interviews took place between October and December 2019 and had an average duration of 50 min. The interviews focused on three groups of questions. The first group comprised questions regarding the reason for implementing two-year apprenticeships and their development process (governance and organisational aspects; e.g. “How was the need for a specific two-year apprenticeship identified?”). The second group was focused on the development of the curricula and the underlying conceptual ideas and strategies (paths of learning to vocational expertise; e.g. “Which criteria define the curricula? Which criteria are used to define learning outcomes?”). The third group aimed at the overall intention and the embedding of two-year apprenticeships (stand-alone occupation vs. partial qualification; e.g. “What professional competence do the two-year apprenticeships lead to?”). These questions emerged from the chosen theoretical framework and were adapted to the country-specific situation. All of the interviews were audiotaped, transcribed verbatim and personal information was anonymised. The data analysis was content-driven (Kuckartz, 2014) and led to the identification of key excerpts related to the research question. These were assigned to the two concepts of qualification underlying the theoretical core of the study (see Gibbs, 2018).
According to the regulations of the Norwegian and Swiss authorities, two-year apprenticeships are intended to enable youth with difficulties to access or complete upper secondary education and to obtain a qualification (Swiss Confederation, 2002; Utdanningsdirektoratet, 2017). The awarded qualification should ensure its holders to either enter the labour market or to continue education and training. This means that the acquired competences should match with labour market needs and, at the same time, ensure permeability towards more demanding VET programmes. In Switzerland, both goals are decidedly pursued which leads to the conception of low-level stand-alone occupations with a specific title. Hence, two-year apprenticeships ensure employability but also permeability to the more demanding VET programmes. In Norway, the transition into the labour market after two years is not envisioned by the counties but the national goal of permeability into the regular VET programmes is crucial. The two-year programmes therefore represent a part of the fully qualifying four-year programmes. Consequently, they cannot be recognised as stand-alone occupations, and they do not have specific titles so far. This corresponds to a staged vision of qualification, and successful completion of a two-year apprenticeship does not lead to a certification at upper secondary level. In both countries, the competences attainable in two-year apprenticeships hardly correspond to a holistic concept of vocation (Becker et al., 2017; Fuller, 2016; INAP Commission, 2012), as the learning outcomes and curricula must be adapted to the target population, and do not ensure overall self-directed and reflexive professionals.
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