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Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe



EPALE Discussion: Vocational education and training for adults – what is needed and how to get it

by Andrew McCoshan

As part of our November focus on vocational education and training (VET) for adults, EPALE is organising an online written discussion on what vocational skills adults need today and what challenges they face in acquiring them.

The discussion will take place on this page and will start on 30 November 2017 at 10:00am CET. It will be moderated by EPALE’s Thematic Coordinator for Quality, Andrew McCoshan.

Don’t miss this opportunity to share with the EPALE community your experience and views on any of the following topics:

Challenges (10-12:30 CET)

  • What factors are driving change in VET for adults in Europe?

  • How is work changing, how is this affecting the skills needed?

  • Which groups of adults are most in need of VET and are they able to get it?

  • What obstacles do they face? Which groups of adults face most obstacles?

Responses (13:30-16:00 CET)

  • How does VET for adults need to change (curriculum, pedagogy, learning settings, qualifications, systemic frameworks like governance)?
  • Who needs to be involved to make VET for adults effective and why (civil society, VET providers, employers, public employment services, other stakeholders)?
  • What sort of connections do we need to make between continuing VET for adults and initial VET for young people?
  • What obstacles stand in the way of making these connections?
  • What role should be played by the validation of non-formal and informal learning?

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  • Cristina PEREIRA's picture

    Hello everyone,

    Although delayed (especially since we had a longer weekend due to a national holiday), here is our contribution


    1 - What factors are driving change in VET for adults in Europe?

    According many studies, nowadays, the national qualification systems are forced to adjust to world’s profound and rapid transformations. With regard to adult education and training the main triggers of these changes are the demographic and environmental modifications, the technological development, the new work organization and socioeconomic factors (such as economic crises, unemployment and migrants phenomena).


    2 – How is work changing, how is this affecting the skills needed?

    These factors generate skills obsolescence responsible for long-term unemployment and disengagement from the labour market, gaps between individual jobs skills and changing skills demands of the labour market, social exclusion, poverty and inequality.

    Besides that, adults also need new skills, for instance digital literacy, communication, leadership and entrepreneurship, critical thinking, in order to maintain their employability.


    3 – Which groups of adults are most in need of VET and are they able to get it?

    Those more affected are adults without basic skills (reading, writing and calculation), adults with lower or none digital competencies, migrants, and young adults that drop out school without secondary level of education.

    As Industry 4.0 becomes a reality, other adults with more qualifications are also affected, especially those who did not study or work in technological areas.


    4 – What obstacles do they face? Which groups of adults face most obstacles?

    Recently, the study Building an effective skills strategy for Portugal, OECD concluded that Portuguese adults have low qualifications and do not participate much in learning because: they have low motivation to participate (roughly 5 out 6 adults do not want to participate in education and training), they have limited access to information on learning possibilities and they face unequal access to those information (the access decrease as they get older and as they have less qualification). Other barriers are personal reasons (not specified), the training places distance, the training costs, the family responsibilities, the lack of awareness about education and training importance, the conflicts with work schedule, the lack of employer’s support or public services support and the lack of prerequisites (eg. they have no elementary  skills to access the first level of National Qualifications Framework).

    Indeed who face most obstacles are the adults with fewer and lower qualifications. 



    5 – How does VET for adults need to change (curriculum, pedagogy, learning settings, qualifications, systemic frameworks like governance)?

    Portuguese educational and training system for adults has been restructured since 2000. In that year Portugal announced a national system to recognize and accredit prior learning. In 2015, under a flagship program – New Opportunities Initiative – this system was boosted and implemented as a strategic plan to speed up the pace of secondary level achievement in the Portuguese population and fulfill de goal of rapidly catch up with European averages. However, the economic crises and the high youth unemployment, that happened around 2012, had reversed investment in adult education and training. In 2017, the new Government tried to recover public qualification policies for adults through the creation of Qualifica Program. Therefore, in Portugal, in the last decade there was an inconsistency in public policy adult education responsible for demotivation of the adults without qualifications and the discredit of the civil society.

    Moreover, according OECD study “Building an effective skills strategy for Portugal”, nowadays there are three areas that the Government of Portugal should consider as a priority: 1) increase awareness about the importance of skills for success in work and life, especially among the low skilled population and employers, and increase the motivation do undertake or deliver adult learning; 2) improve the access, quality and relevance of adult learning, including pathways across programs, and monitoring and evaluation of results; 3) and ensure the effective governance and financing of the adult learning system.

    So, more than curriculum or pedagogic changes, Portugal needs coherent and consistent policies and a new model for financing it. Nowadays, Portugal depends on European founds to have educational and training courses for adults or a national system of recognition, validation and accreditation of competences.


    6 - Who needs to be involved to make VET for adults effective and why (civil society, VET providers, employers, public employment services, other stakeholders)?

    It is essential to involve employers (because nowadays a huge quantity of training is assured by enterprises), training providers, specialists, public employment services, trade unions, opinions makers, local institutions and services, in a permanent dialogue, in order to: solve the mismatch between qualification system and labour market needs; to reduce costs; to find new ways to get financial resources, and to learn how to develop the potential of workers and citizens.

    Civil society should also participate, especially to understand the relevance and impact of non-formal and informal learning.


    7 – What sort of connections do we need to make between continuing VET for adults and initial VET for young people?

    We need to develop preventive strategies to avoid young people to leave school earlier, without a qualification to get in the labour market. We also should invest in a new high school access model that can be more appropriate and favorable to students completing secondary level qualification courses. Today, these students have not the same conditions in access universities courses than the other ones. These two factors prevent many young people from pursuing their studies or from accessing available jobs. Consequently, they reach adulthood with many deficits to solve in all dimensions of their lives.

    The investment on digital and soft skills should happen in the early years of education for young people, so they can have the relevant and effective skills when they became adults. That type of competencies allows them to adjust to the new challenges they will face in the future.

    8 – What obstacles stand in the way of making these connections?

    Portugal is reducing the rates of early school and training leavers (the rate decreased from 18,9% in 2013 to 14% in 2016). The PISA study shows an improvement in achievement in reading, maths and science literacies. The rates of adult participation in learning are also recovering as the promotion of adult education plays a central role in the current education policy.

    According the “Education and training Monitor 2017”, “despite these positive trends, concerns remain over equity”. This report shows that “the proportion of low achievers among students from the bottom socioeconomic quartile is 25 pps. higher than from the upper socioeconomic quartile” (“4,5 % among students from the top socioeconomic quartile compared to 29,9% for students from the bottom socioeconomic quartile”). In addition, with more than 31 % of students having repeated a grade, Portugal has the third highest rate of grade repetition in the EU. The social gap in this respect is significant, with rates over 52 % among disadvantaged students and less than 9% among advantaged ones. The gaps between non-migrants and both first- and second-generation immigrants - as measured by early school leaving rates, PISA performance and grade retention - are comparatively small”.

    To prevent early school leavers and consequently adults without qualifications in future, Portugal also needs to increase the attractiveness of education in general. The curricula must be more flexible, integrating and significant for students. Maybe it is a step solved when all curricula will be redesigned (based on learning outcomes).

    Other obstacle is related to pedagogic methods, because they have to be adapted to new skills that will be needed in the future, mainly in soft skills training (for instance, cooperative learning).

     9 – What role should be played by validation of non-formal and informal learning?

    Validation of non-formal and informal learning is essential for an effective lifelong learning. All of us are able to learn in all contexts of our lifetime, so everyone has knowledge that can be harnessed to continuously learn more. Nobody should have to learn again what they already knows. The validation of non-formal and informal learning can be used to set someone on a certain level of qualification.  Having this setting, adults can pursuit higher levels of qualification.

    The recognition of prior (non-formal and informal) learning is relevant because it enables the correspondence between those learning and the formal national system of qualification. It also supports the mobility across Europe.

    This recognition is also positive because it can value the experience and the knowledge of the adults and, at the same time, is a motivator for lifelong learning.

    Studies carried out in Portugal about New Opportunities Initiative showed that evidence as the adults expressed willingness to keep learning after finishing a recognition, validation and certification process.

    Nowadays the work of the Qualifica Centres highlights the value of this validation. Adults without qualification in Portugal have the opportunity to work with a team that helps them in vocational counseling. Then, these adults can identify their skills and choose a new path to reach a higher level of qualification (school or professional).

    That’s why Upskilling Pathways initiative considers this validation.  This initiative aims to help adults acquire a minimum level of literacy, numeracy and digital skills and/or acquire a broader set of skills by progressing towards an upper secondary qualification or equivalent (level 3 or 4 in the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) depending on national circumstances).
  • Annija Puķīte's picture
    The topic about adult education in Latvia has been more and more actual and question about lifelong learning has been mentioned in study process. But for example, writing a master's thesis about the formation of inclusive education and a pedagogue role in it, a lot of teachers mentioned, that they were not enough motivated for development of knowledge in this question. Or if they want to study something new, they don't have so much free time to do that. In my opinion, the state priorities are important in order to improve the educational system, to improve the motivation of teachers learning, the willingness to do and learn more, to be able to sucessfully realize themselves in the professional field and to cultivate knowledge for their personal growth.
  • Vincent Caruana's picture
    One critique in VET provision in certain contexts is linked to the experiences and credentials of trainers when it comes to VET. This critique can be either directed to: a) VET trainers with a very good grounding in the vocational subject under consideration but not so strong in the educational and pedagogical skills; or alternatively: b) VET trainers well qualified in educational studies but who lack the exposure and training in vocational subjects - and who at time fail to grasp the differences in teaching an "academic" subject and teaching a VET subject. Professional development needs to address both categories. We need specific courses to target VET trainers to help strengthen their pedagogic (and where necessary research) skills, and specific courses for teachers who already possess a warrant and who want to branch into vocational education.  
  • Ilze Ivanova's picture
    Andrew McCoshan,
    Your final thoughts sound as great challenges  for future to be solved in vocational education, paying special attention to the management ,teachers and learners.
  • Christine Bertram's picture
    This has been a discussion I've been having since the weekend with a group of FE teachers and researchers. Hearing teacher as well as learner voices is extremely important.
  • Ingrida Birzniece's picture
    As a student of Educational Sciences programme at the University of Latvia, I believe that often times adults do not have time for good vocational training, so the location can be very important. People who are interested in learning more cannot always travel very far due to time constraints. If there were ways to include adult VET in work environments, I believe that many more people would be able to learn these new vocations. Maybe in a setting were they can immediately implement the skills they just learned would be more ideal.
  • Irini Georgiou's picture
    i am glad we had this discussion and thanks so much for your comments ,sorry I could not make it earlier .
    it is very nice that  all of us could concentrate to  targets which I presume could be different in each country but  we can all benefit from the exchange of  ideas  and different points of view  that  will help all of us to improve  vet
    Have a nice day and I am always at your disposal if anybody is interested to materialize any ideas which will help all of us to have a link and work together too words progress
  • Rumen HALACHEV's picture
    Thank you all for participating in today's discussion and for sharing your thoughts. We hope the discussion has been interesting maybe even inspiring. :)

    And thank you, Andrew, for moderating yet another lively the discussion on EPALE.

    We will leave the comments open so everyone is still welcome to post their thoughts.

    All the best,
  • Andrew McCoshan's picture
    0 0 1 316 1806 Andrew McCoshan 15 4 2118 14.0 Normal 0 false false false EN-GB JA X-NONE

    I can't do justice to the many comments made this afternoon, but here are some of the things I will take away myself:


    We should be starting with the teachers and also the managers of vocational institutions, and those responsible for training in companies. At the moment, those of us involved in policy tend to say “let's do X" and then train the teachers. Instead, we should be saying “let's discuss with teachers what X should be".


    We tend to focus on national policy and practice, but especially in larger countries, we should also be emphasising regional and local action. We need to get the spatial scale correct!


    We need “vocational +" in which transversal skills are given just as much prominence as technical ones. The key question is how best to teach and capture these within programs?


    When it comes to learning settings, we have a great opportunity opening up for a mixed approach–it's not a question of either/or when we're talking about virtual learning and physical settings, but about mixtures of both and offering learners choices that suit them.


    But it's a great challenge we face in, essentially, convincing the entire labour force not just of the value of learning, but giving people the skills to be autonomous learners. As part of this we need to develop the idea of “learning careers" to sit alongside “work careers".


    No one seems to disagree with the idea that we need to lose the distinction between initial and continuing vocational training. But does the content stay the same? And even if it does, we will surely need different pedagogies for young people and adults.


    Finally, if there is a slogan to emerge from this discussion it must surely be that we need to be “not one step behind, but one step ahead"! It's not enough simply to deal with the “emergencies" facing particular target groups: we need “preventative" mindsets to inform practices for all learners if we are to face the challenges ahead.


    We hope you enjoyed the discussion and will find further food for thought in the content posted during November around the vocational training topic, if you haven't already done so!    
  • inez camilleri's picture
    Totally agree Irini