Over recent 20 years in Latvia, we have got used to hearing complaints that one of the key reasons why our country is not developing as fast and sustainably as we would like to is the lack of industry. However, it is hard to agree that there is no advanced manufacturing in Latvia – the contribution of such enterprises to GDP has been steadily rising. However, there is a significant development potential as well, if we are willing to make targeted use of it and proceed.
If we consider which European countries are known for their industrial activity in various branches of industry, we must recognize that along with a rather big domestic economy, efficient strategy for raising investments and understandable and organized business environment they boast another important feature: a close and systematic long-term strategy for educating new specialists in various industries. In other words, the collaboration on the national level between the employers and educational institutions where the due attention is devoted both to the promotion of the positive image of vocational education among the youth and their parents as well as to the cooperation routine thus providing for applicable and work-based education. The most visible example for this in Europe is Germany whose intensive industrial activity goes unquestioned.
Employers’ Confederation of Latvia (LDDK) started negotiating the creation of the work-based vocational education system (also called dual vocational education) with the Ministry of Education and Science several years ago. An initiative supported by the President of Latvia entitled “Experience for Future” was started. It comprised an information campaign for informing young people about work opportunities in various industries, sharing experience with the representatives from Germany and offering suggestions for developing apprenticeships. To put it simply, what we would like to achieve is that the teaching of practical skills to the young, qualified specialists that meet the needs of the labour market would take place in the actual work-based environment – not just during the apprenticeship at the end of their studies, but rather in a systematic way over the whole study year. The students of vocational schools should spend a part of their study process in enterprises at the machines and with the technologies actually used there and participate in the routine processes of the work environment.
Recently, when participating in the event organized by the Ministry and reflecting on the first study year when, within a pilot project, young people from six vocational schools of Latvia over the whole year were acquiring practical skills in 29 companies, I was pleased with the successfully started work and confident that work-based education had future in Latvia. An obvious confirmation of that was the announcement of one of the employers - “Bucher Schoerling Baltic” – they had hired six students who had studied at their company as permanent employees after the end of the study year.
Namely this message serves as the evidence of another benefit of such an educational system – it is not a secret that both in Latvia and in many parts of Europe youth unemployment constitutes a significant problem – in 2013 in Latvia it accounted for 25%, The EU average was 23%. One of the reasons for that was the failure of the young people educated in the traditional theory-based educational system to integrate in the labour market and start working at a full capacity. Employers have to spend their time and resources on teaching them the practical skills. Consequently, after a rational assessment of investments and benefits, it is often more convenient to find a different solution for recruiting employees rather than hiring a recent graduate without practical skills.
Work-based education solves the problem by providing the young people with an opportunity to acquire practical skills in their profession as well as employers with an opportunity to observe the potential employees in the working process on daily basis rather than just select them following the impression gained during job interviews.
More than 170 Latvian employers have already appreciated this opportunity after the first-year pilot project and have expressed willingness to offer work-based education at their companies to the students of various vocational education institutions already in academic year 2014/2015.
However, for the well-started initiative on work-based education to turn into a generally accepted approach, the responsible institutions must integrate the approach the Vocational Education Law as one of the kinds of vocational education and the involvement of industrial experts in vocational education must be reinforced. Besides, the provisions in law are needed for more efficient implementation of the collaboration, such as tax reliefs to employers, settled social security issues for the trainees and other motivational incentives.