Legal migration and its skills dimension

Thursday 3rd June, 2010
Bolstered by the EU Global Approach to Migration for attracting skilled migrants, this policy briefing discusses whether and in which way migration and skills could be beneficial for both receiving and sending countries, as well as the migrants themselves. It draws on the outcomes of an ETF project designed to highlight the dynamic interaction between the migration process and skills development through five case studies. Two countries with traditional emigration patterns (Egypt and Tunisia) and three Eastern European transition countries with relatively new migration flows (Albania, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine) were analysed. The findings summarised below provide valuable policy lessons for both decision makers and practitioners in the fields of education, employment and labour migration. The key message is that labour migration can be turned into a ‘virtuous circle’ with considerably greater benefits for all parties, but it needs to be better managed and more attention must be given to the skills dimension.


Migration and how best to manage it is a topic that has been moving up the policy agenda of the EU for some time. Faced with an ageing population, possible labour and skill shortages and the need to compete for high-skilled migrants with countries such as the US, Canada and Australia, the EU has become more receptive to the idea of legally recruiting labour migrants in line with the Lisbon objectives and the EU 2020 strategy. As one of the most favoured destinations for immigrants in the world, the EU’s more proactive approach to legal migration for employment purposes is balanced by the increasing importance given to the potential contribution that migration can make to development and the mutual benefits for both sending and receiving countries, particularly through returning migrants, diasporas, remittances and temporary migration as a remedy for brain drain.

The EC Communication on circular migration and mobility partnerships between the EU and third countries opens the way for new forms of temporary legal migration schemes to facilitate labour mobility. This also applies to new directive proposals, in particular the one concerning the ‘Blue Card’ immigration system for highly skilled migrants, indicating the gradual policy change towards circular migration (temporary and selective immigration based on the needs of the European labour market). The first mobility partnership launched between the EU and the Republic of Moldova is a recent case in point. Keeping the balance between three areas (promoting mobility and legal migration, optimising the link between migration and development, and preventing and combating illegal immigration), the mobility partnership is the main strategic, comprehensive and long-term cooperation framework for migration management with third countries. Within this context, the process of ‘skills-matching’ between migrant workers and jobs abroad is key for efficient labour mobility, and tools that make migrants’ skills more transparent and facilitate the recognition of their qualifications are becoming important issues for both the EU and the partner countries. As a result, the interaction of migration with skills development and labour markets is an important topic for the ETF.

This policy briefing is about legal migration for economic purposes. The term ‘skill’ is defined as the ability and capacity acquired through deliberate, systematic and sustained effort to perform complex activities or job functions involving ideas (cognitive skills), things (technical skills) and/or people (interpersonal skills). In the ETF survey, formal education indicators defined by the ISCED 97 classification are used to measure the skills levels of migrants. ‘Qualification’ on the other hand, refers to a formal assessment and validation process when a competent body determines that an individual has achieved learning outcomes to given standards and/or possesses the necessary competence to do a job in a specific area of work. It is an official recognition of the value of learning outcomes (mostly obtained in the form of a certificate, diploma or degree) in the labour market and in education and training.


The ETF Migration and Skills project was implemented between 2006 and 2008 to analyse the education and skills levels of migrants from five countries: Albania, Egypt, the Republic of Moldova, Tunisia and Ukraine. It included desk research, fact-finding missions, field surveys and data analysis, with a minimum of 2,000 respondents per country (1,000 potential migrants and 1,000 returning migrants).

Data was collected through face-to-face interviews at respondents’ houses with structured questionnaires targeting potential and returning migrants covering three education levels (low: ISCED 1-2, medium: ISCED 3-4 and high: ISCED 5-6). For the purposes of the survey, a ‘potential migrant’ was anyone aged 18-40, living in his/her country at the time of the interview and claiming that he/she was ‘seriously thinking of leaving abroad to live and work’. A ‘returning migrant’ was defined as anybody who had left the country aged 18 or over, lived and worked abroad continuously for at least six months, and returned more than three months and less than ten years before the interview.


Data revealed a limited use of migrants' potential in receiving countries ranging from Europe to Russia and the Gulf, mainly due to an under-use of migrants’ skills and qualifications, low employment rates (low-skilled, females) and an overall weak management of labour migration. Indeed, the improvement of migrants' living standards was generally dependent on individual initiatives, with little involvement of relevant authorities.

Although the education levels of migrants are spread across all levels of education, recent outflows show an increasing trend towards medium and high-skilled migration (around 35% of emigrants from Egypt, Tunisia and Ukraine are high skilled). Despite this however, qualification levels often do not reflect the type of jobs held abroad, with most migrants being overqualified for the unskilled jobs they take. This can be interpreted as brain loss, or brain waste, not only for migrants but also for sending and receiving countries. This is particularly the case for migrants from new sending countries (Albania, the Republic of Moldova and partially Ukraine), while a relatively better matching is noted among Egyptians and Tunisians. The latter was ensured mainly through legal channels of labour migration between the countries, but the established migrant networks in host countries also seem to be an important facilitating factor.


The fact that migrants’ skills were often not put to good use was especially true for Albanians and Moldovans working in the EU. Over 55% of all migrants to the EU found only unskilled work and only 7.2% worked as managers or professionals. Moreover, educated women did worse than educated men: e.g. 80% of Moldovan women with university degrees found only unskilled jobs, compared to 60% of Moldovan men with degrees. The reasons for under-utilising migrants’ skills may include the nature of the demand for labour in receiving countries (mainly in agriculture, construction and domestic work); the lack of or inefficient implementation of bilateral agreements to manage migration flows; problems related to the transparency and quality of education systems in sending countries and the lack of recognition of qualifications in receiving countries. The findings also show that Canada, the US and Australia are still the most attractive destinations for high-skilled migrants, and this could have consequences for the competitiveness of the EU in the long-term.

In terms of preparation for migration, more than a third of potential migrants expressed an interest in training before they left (50% in the case of Albanians), with language and vocational training as the most popular options. However in practice, this training is rarely available and people do not make use of it even when it is; only 5% of returned migrants had undertaken any form of pre-departure training. Although not many migrants expressed the intention to follow training abroad, 28% of Tunisians, 16.5% of Albanians and 12.4% of Ukrainians still expected it.

When it comes to return, the survey shows that most migrants use informal channels to organise their return. Only a small proportion of the returning migrants interviewed had heard of government programmes offering incentives to return and even fewer – just 1% – had benefited from such schemes. The exception was Tunisia where the government has made special efforts to maintain links with its diaspora and encourage people to return.


Returnees reported that skills acquired abroad and work experience had a positive impact on their employability on their return. Nearly 90% of those employed as professionals abroad worked in good quality jobs after returning home compared to less then 60% of people who worked in unskilled occupations. Around 35% of returnees had similar jobs when they went back as they had held while abroad. Compared to new sending countries, the traditional skilled migration flows from Egypt and Tunisia to the Gulf seem to be better at creating virtuous circles: many migrants had worked in commerce and petty trade (preferred by returning migrants who set up their own businesses). Entrepreneur (employer and self-employed) potential among returnees is higher in Egypt (36%), Tunisia (30%) and Albania (38%). The findings show that entrepreneurial activities were linked to migrants’ general experience while abroad rather than the specific skills acquired there. In fact, 61% of migrants reported their most useful experience as coming into contact with new places and ways of doing things, while 35% of migrants valued the skills acquired on the job as the second most helpful experience.


Returning migrants can contribute to local development by rejoining the workforce or becoming entrepreneurs if certain conditions are met. The findings show that migrants need to have spent enough time abroad to have accumulated sufficient skills and financial capital, but are still of an age where they are willing to undertake new projects on their return. On average, Tunisians and Egyptians spent more than ten years abroad, while Albanians, Moldovans and Ukrainians spend two or three years. The return is likely to be more beneficial for the home country when people choose to return rather than being forced to do so. Home countries can benefit more from the return of skilled migrants than unskilled ones so long as local conditions allow them to make good use of their skills on their return. The findings mostly confirm the opposite where these conditions were not met. For instance, most reasons given for return were either negative – one fifth of Tunisians and Albanians reported they had been 'sent away by the authorities' – or neutral such as family reasons. In fact, 50% of the returning migrants in Albania and Moldova plan to migrate again. Only a very small minority of migrants reported that they had returned for positive reasons such as to start a business or having saved enough money for a new life.


The UNDP 2009 Human Development Report claims that migration can expand human choices in terms of income, access to services and participation, but opportunities vary according to people's skill levels. This indicates that a ‘win-win-win’ situation is possible if a ‘virtuous circle’ is created for the benefit of all (sending and receiving countries as well as migrants themselves) through better management of labour migration and its skills dimension. In broad terms, such virtuous circles would involve:
(i) Sending countries addressing the skills shortages of the receiving country's labour market. This would require labour market needs and education system outcomes to be transparent on both sides, and a quality assured certification system in sending countries including a skills assessment and clear mechanisms for the recognition of migrants' qualifications in receiving countries. The process starts with quality education and training (e.g. curricula, teachers, schools) that matches the needs of labour markets and ensures the transparency of the skills acquired. Through better management of labour migration, receiving countries can meet their immediate labour and skill shortages and get the exact profiles they need. The outcome would be beneficial migration leading to higher employment and productivity in receiving countries.
(ii) The use of the know-how and experience of returnees for labour market integration and contribution to local business development. This would require mechanisms to validate informal/non-formal learning to recognise skills learnt abroad, and a conducive business environment including incentives and entrepreneurial training to encourage returnees to start their own businesses. For the validation of non- and informal learning, certification should be based on widely used occupational standards. Existing schemes for the recognition and accreditation of experience could be used in the absence of more structured processes. Additional incentives for education reforms and quality improvements could be created by receiving countries setting quality requirements for migrants’ skills. The outcome would be beneficial to migration through the better use of savings and skills learnt abroad by returnees and improved education systems in sending countries.
(iii) The availability and accessibility of information on labour migration, including support services for potential and returning migrants. Freely and widely available information on the migration process, including labour market and skill needs, living conditions, standards and incentives and reintegration arrangements at home, is crucial. This would require programmes to support potential migrants and returnees throughout the different phases and the opening of channels for circular migration. The potential role of the public employment services in sending countries and the European Job Mobility Portal (EURES) could be explored in this process. The outcome would be beneficial for migrants by increasing their chances of success and decreasing abusive incidents.


Employment and skills must be put at the heart of migration policy to ensure efficient labour mobility and all round success. The ETF does not promote migration per se, but supports the development of partner countries by helping to create virtuous circles in migration. Negative public opinion on migration both in sending (e.g. brain drain) and receiving countries (e.g. job loss, crime, violence) needs to be overcome by emphasising the positive aspects. Migrants’ skills and their assessment, certification, transparency and recognition have proved to be important for improved labour matching. Both sending and receiving countries must do more to ensure the transparency of migrants’ skills and the recognition of their qualifications. Measures may include pilot actions to enable bilateral recognition of qualifications in priority sectors such as construction, agriculture or nursing. However, care must be taken that these actions do not remain isolated examples, but act as forerunners for a more systemic approach to making the most of migration. By turning the migration process into a virtuous circle, benefits can be considerably greater for all parties.

The Stockholm Programme (2010-14) proposes flexible immigration policies for long-term EU economic development and increased coherence between migration policies and other areas such as development, trade, employment, health and education. Efforts to promote mobility and migration are increasingly linked to the promotion of opportunities for decent and productive work and improved livelihoods in third countries in order to minimise brain drain. For better labour matching, coherent policies and better assessment of the skills needs in European labour markets are needed. For example, the EU 2020 strategy and a recent report on ‘New Skills for New Jobs’ refer to the use of migration potential by taking into account future global competition for talent and possible labour shortages in some occupations. The reports propose the effective management of migrant human capital by recognising and improving skills and managing labour inflows in line with skills needs and encouraging entrepreneurship.

Although developments like the Bologna and Copenhagen Processes, the European Qualifications Framework (EQF), New Skills for New Jobs and the EU 2020 strategy are designed for EU countries, they could have an external dimension in line with increasing temporary and/or circular migration flows between the EU and its neighbourhood. The EQF, for example, could serve as a reference point for making qualifications portable by linking to national qualification systems.


Such EU developments should be explored in terms of the skills-matching dimension of migration management. As legal labour migration can have mutual benefits for the EU and partner countries, these developments may provide inspiration for the education and employment systems of sending countries. They could be used for better migration management. Migration is increasingly circular with different phases, and the education and skills dimension must be considered for the whole population of sending countries. Transparent and quality education that responds to labour market needs leads to success in both domestic and international labour markets. Thus sending countries need to better equip potential migrants with the right skills, pro-actively encourage expatriates to return and become entrepreneurs, and create conducive environments for the more productive use of their skills, knowledge and savings at home. Returnees who currently find the skills and knowledge they have acquired have no formal currency at home should have the possibility to benefit more from their experience.


Employment and skills must be put at the heart of migration policy to ensure efficient labour mobility and all round success. The ETF does not promote migration per se, but supports the development of partner countries by helping to create virtuous circles in migration. Negative public opinion on migration both in sending (e.g. brain drain) and receiving countries (e.g. job loss, crime, violence) needs to be overcome by emphasising the positive aspects. Migrants’ skills and their assessment, certification, transparency and recognition have proved to be important for improved labour matching. Both sending and receiving countries must do more to ensure the transparency of migrants’ skills and the recognition of their qualifications. Measures may include pilot actions to enable bilateral recognition of qualifications in priority sectors such as construction, agriculture or nursing. However, care must be taken that these actions do not remain isolated examples, but act as forerunners for a more systemic approach to making the most of migration. By turning the migration process into a virtuous circle, benefits can be considerably greater for all parties.

INFORM - Issue 05 - May 2010

Comments [3569]

VET Teacher professional development in a policy learning perspective

Thursday 3rd June, 2010

The professionalization of teachers and trainers is a key objective of European cooperation in the area of education and training. In recent years the ETF has worked with some aspects of the challenges for teachers faced by countries in transition. The ETF has concentrated on development work related to teachers as stakeholders in vocational education and training reform, challenges for teacher professionalization strategies in schools and horizontal learning in communities of practice among teachers and teacher educators as a new approach to the continuing professional development of pedagogical staff.

This policy brief looks at how the ETF has approached the need for vocational teacher competence enhancement. Most of its work covers teacher development in general perhaps reflecting the fact that there are not probably not big differences between general and vocational teacher development.

The important role of teachers in vocational education and training

Vocational teachers and trainers are essential to supporting skills development in the workforce. In industrialised countries, about two thirds of the workforce are intermediate-level workers and employees, who have learned a substantial part of their occupational skills and knowledge through the support of teachers, trainers and instructors from the domains of non-academic vocational education and training (Cedefop, 1998). In spite of this, in many countries vocational teachers have a low professional status which is accompanied by a fragmentation of the profession through the variety of existing profiles and multiple ways of teacher training and recruitment.

Teacher and student roles are changing as a result of new approaches to learning. With the growing attention to active learning, responsibilities are shifting from the teacher to the learner, with the teacher becoming a facilitator of learning processes rather than a transmitter of expert knowledge. Capacities for change and adaptation as well as learning-to-learn have become important competencies per se that learners should develop. Self-directed learning is apparently a necessity for an increasing part of the population in changing societies. Another challenge is the necessity to co-operate with employers and local stakeholders.

The ETF approach to teacher development in partner countries

It is not meaningful to simply jump from the international discourse on active learning to the challenges of transition countries without reflecting on and mediating the barriers which exist. The ETF approach therefore concentrates on the area where these two discussions come together. They meet in fact in the concept of policy learning. Policy learning can be defined as ‘the ability of governments, or systems of governance, to inform policy development by drawing lessons from available evidence and experience’ (Raffe and Spours, 2007). This concept supported by recent work (e.g. ETF, 2007; 2008) argues that systemic reforms of vocational education in transition countries (and indeed any kind of major reform in any country) will only be successful and sustainable if policy development, formulation and implementation are firmly based on broad ownership and embeddedness in existing institutions.

In recent years the ETF has concentrated on a functional view of teachers’ work. A sharpened focus has been put on the important role of teachers in facilitating policy learning in countries in transition and on continuing professional development in schools and thus on teachers already employed. This is based on the realisation that ongoing reforms require an instant effort to develop teacher competences. Continuous lessons learned from reform experiences show that large scale macro-reforms tend to fail if the involvement of teachers (and school leaders) in curriculum and broader school development is not a key plank of the change strategy.

However, this is also informed by new research on vocational teachers. Grollmann (2008) has analysed the competences of vocational teachers and points out that the quality of teachers’ work is probably more influenced by the institutional environment in which they work than an outcome of formal teacher education. Increasing degrees of institutional autonomy trickle down to the level of individual teachers. Not least in vocational training systems, professional quality and high professional performance rest on the concrete working conditions of teachers in vocational institutions and the specific demands on teachers’ work. Strategic school development is therefore a promising strategy where the development of schools, curricula, organisation of learning and teachers may go hand in hand. However, teachers and teaching would also benefit from looking beyond their particular school or colleagues for professional guidance in situations where their immediate surroundings do not provide this. In short, professionalization is a remedy to ad-hoc standards, in favour of a network of well-established practices.

The role of teachers in vocational education and training reform – professionals and stakeholders

In modern vocational training systems, teachers are both professional educators and key change agents. Continuing innovation and development has become a core task of the modern professional teacher. The professional expertise of teachers committed to change and modernisation is also an important source of knowledge for policymakers leading the development and implementation of national policies. A key question therefore is how to involve teachers actively in vocational training reform so that ownership is better translated into quality learning in the classroom and professional expertise from teaching and learning processes can guide system reform.

Successful reform can only happen with the engagement and commitment of teachers, as they will be the ones to make it happen in their daily work with students. However, this is no longer simply a matter of establishing broad ownership and acceptance.

What makes the situation different today is that the new professional profile of teachers includes innovation and development as a key competence. Teachers are no longer the executors of education programmes decided in detail by others. They have to adapt learning processes and outcomes to the specific – changing - needs of their students and local labour market situations. Teachers are stakeholders in their capacity of educational professionals. The current reforms in education and training are not one-off events designed by external experts but ongoing change processes set within a broadly agreed reform agenda. Such processes can be quite radical and require further detail based on local innovation processes. This is the reason why teachers, who are actively engaged in local innovation and experimentation, are an important source of expertise for national policymakers. Reform strategies should capitalise on engaging teachers working inside their schools. Such an understanding of reform puts policy learning, capacity building and policy advice at both national and school-levels in a new perspective and with considerable more urgency than before. Reform processes require a continuous interaction and dialogue between national and local partners. Strong pressures exist to include teachers among the principal stakeholders in reform.

Vocational schools as learning organisations - vehicles for policy learning?

How can a strategy based on the engagement of teachers and trainers as stakeholders and professionals be developed in schools enabling an environment where teachers and trainers can play these roles? The concept of the school as a learning organisation coupled with the creation of teacher teams inside schools may help create the conditions for schools to become and remain innovative and for teachers to engage in continuing expertise development. This would give practical meaning to policy learning at school level.

The most substantial requirement for countries in transition is to strengthen the capacity to formulate national reform agendas, and to shape reform initiatives which fit into contexts and therefore establish better conditions for ownership and sustainability. This requires the organisation of policy learning platforms and environments in the countries so that a critical mass of key actors and stakeholders gradually develop vocational policy understanding and competence. How can teachers as stakeholders and professionals become concretely involved in policy learning and support the development of national reform agendas, and how can schools be developed into policy learning platforms?

Teacher ”teams” have become a key concept in recent pedagogical debates in Western Europe. Vocational schools have witnessed the development of a new pedagogical scenario: from teaching and instruction with the teacher in the central and performing role to a setting where the focus is placed on the students' learning processes and on forms of organisation which support this learning. The characteristics of teamwork are that the focus is placed on the work with the students’ subject-related and personal learning processes and the teachers’ own co-operation culture and mutual relations. Teachers must therefore work with the same demands and challenges as the students, with regard to co-operation, responsibility, self-reflection and evaluation. In practice, this means that teachers work with their own meeting culture, mutual communication and mutual relations. It is this duality, where both students and teachers find themselves in a learning process, which makes team-work a dynamic way of organising teaching.

The "learning organisation" has been on the agenda in EU school development projects in recent years. The concept seems to cover perspectives in demand in the future, i.e. an organisation which is subject to a continuous transformation and development process and which is able to systematise and evaluate its experience making learning an ongoing process in the widest sense of the word. In the team-based organisation there is a direct connection between "the learning team" and the "learning organisation". The team represents a platform which is able to compile, elaborate on and assess pedagogical experience in a more subtle and complex way than what is possible for the individual teacher.

In this sense, the team can be said to be a connecting link between the learning of students and the learning of organisations. By virtue of its organisation, the team is ready to become a dissemination forum between the learning processes at student level and the learning of the organisation as a whole.

The capacity to interconnect student learning, team learning and the learning of the organisation means that the organisation is aware of the value of teams. A future-oriented vocational school will capitalise on developing teachers who function as team workers and process owners. In partner countries, there is a great willingness to develop the teacher role and to create new pedagogical practices. Testing ideas of schools as learning organisations has been started e.g. in Croatia. At the ETF VET TT NET conference in Tirana 20-22 January 2006, Maja Jukic, teacher at the vocational school in Slavonski Brod, Croatia, organised an excellent workshop on how to proceed when building up schools as learning organisations. The ETF will give priority to strategic school development in the coming years.

Professional development of teachers through communities of practice

Communities of practice have started to emerge as a method for the continuing professional development of vocational teachers. Such communities may be both cost-effective and interesting for practitioners as a platform for reflective practice, a foundation for professionalism, and for sharing with others in the professional field. This merits more attention both at policy, provider and practitioner levels.

While in most partner countries the professional development of teachers is only seen as continuing “training” of teachers provided by external delivery systems, the concept of ‘Continuous Professional Development’ of teachers is a more promising strategy and may re-establish the social recognition of teachers as professionals and stakeholders of reform. In order to test an innovative teacher professionalisation strategy in South Eastern Europe, the ETF carried out the regional ‘LEARN’ project from 2007 to 2009. The project built on strengthening the national vocational training centres (or their equivalents) to enhance their capacity:

  • to help schools continuously innovate and adapt to changing conditions and local needs.
  • to cope with the challenges of new policies through school-based development work, innovation of teaching and learning, and increased preparedness for international network learning and project co-operation,
  • to nurture their own and local school expertise by actively taking part in knowledge sharing based on horizontal learning processes.

The project used the principle of ‘Community of Practice’ as an instrument for network learning where participants share a given practice, are able and willing to learn together, actually work together on improving practice, inventing new procedures, models, tools, etc. – and share the results of their mutual work. Shared learning activities are based on the exchange of experience, and the improvement of school practice and teacher competence go hand in hand.

For the ETF there is a more fundamental lesson for policy facilitating. Thinking in terms of participating in Communities of Practice may help us shed light on aspects of vocational training, including specific ways of organizing education and training in order to achieve certain learning outcomes and the role of teachers and trainers as professionals in such learning processes. Furthermore, it may help us to reflect on the role of teachers and trainers as stakeholders in education reforms and also inform us more generally about how stakeholders learn policies.


Focusing on teachers and teaching and learning processes situated in schools opens up a discussion on how to organise policy learning processes within vocational schools. As key stakeholders, teachers and school leaders should contribute the formulation of policies and establishment of platforms for the discussion of initiatives, thus enabling the ownership and sustainability of reforms. The focus on teachers in a policy learning perspective is central to the discussion on stimulating change in partner countries.

However, a critical factor in all is the ability of school leaders to develop and manage the professional development of teachers. They will need additional resources and more autonomy to manage such processes. This requires new approaches to school empowerment within decentralised training systems, national school grant schemes for local pedagogical development and targeted training for school leaders to enable them to stimulate the internal updating and enhancement of teacher competences. It also requires institutional capacity building of pedagogical support institutions in-between the levels of policy and practice. The LEARN project is only the beginning of empowering these support institutions.

Concretely, creating a learning culture will be an important are to be addressed. Given the structure of vocational training institutions with roles and responsibilities, a learning culture will bring an individual perspective to policy learning. This could also contribute to a better school environment that is conducive to creating and maintaining teams of teachers involved in policy learning activities.

List of references
Cedefop (1998) Training for a Changing Society: a report on current vocational education and training research in Europe. Thessaloniki: Cedefop.
European Training Foundation (2007) Yearbook 2007. Quality in Vocational Education and Training. Turin: European Training Foundation.
European Training Foundation (2005) Yearbook 2005, The role of teachers in VET reforms: professionals and stakeholders. Turin: European Training Foundation.
Grollmann, P. (2008) The Quality of Vocational Teachers: teacher education, institutional roles and professional reality. European Educational Research Journal, Volume 7 Number 4 2008.
Nielsen, S. (1999) Reshaping the Focus and Structure of VET Teaching Personnel Training in the Partner Countries. A Cross Country Review on Needs, Achievements and Obstacles. Turin: European Training Foundation.
Nielsen, S. (2009) “VET Teacher Training”, in The International Encyclopedia of Education, 3rd Edition, edited by Barry McGaw, Penelope Peterson and Eva Baker, Elsevier (in press)
Raffe,D., Spours, K. (Eds) (2007) Policy-making and Policy Learning in 14-19 Education. Bedford Way Papers. University of London, Institute of Education.

Suggested further reading:
Cort. P. et al (2006) , Professionalisation of VET teachers for the future, CEDEFOP Panorama series; 104.
European Commission (2005),Common European Principles for Teacher Qualifications
Grollmann, P., Rauner, F. (Eds.) (2007), International Perspectives on Teachers and Lecturers in Technical and Vocational Education. Vol. 7 in UNESCO-UNEVOC Book Series on TVET. Dordrecht: Springer.
Institute Technik+Bildung, University of Bremen (2008) A Study on the situation and qualification of trainers in Europe. European Commission, DG Education and Culture.
OECD (2006), Teachers Matter: Attracting, developing and retaining effective teachers. OECD::Paris.
Parsons, D. et al (2008), The training and development of VET teachers and trainers in Europe. In: CEDEFOP (ed.) Modernising vocational education and training. Fourth report on vocational education and training research in Europe: background report. Luxembourg: Publication Office (in press).
Villegas-Reimers, E. (2003) Teacher Professional Development. An international Review of the literature. Paris: UNESCO, IIEP.

Prepared by Sören Nielsen, ETF

Comments [3703]

Developing observatory functions - Information systems for education and labour market reforms

Tuesday 1st June, 2010

For decision makers, information is crucial to ensuring that citizens are given opportunities to develop skills and competences that are suitable for their specific economic and social environments. Moreover, the variables that define the effectiveness of the education and training systems that develop skills and competences are many, and their definition, collection and preparation for use in analysis and strategy development relies on a range of different actors.

This policy briefing represents an introduction to the observatory function for policymakers embarking on the collection of data and the development of mechanisms for informed decision making in education and training reform. The European Training Foundation (ETF) has accrued several years of experience in assisting EU partner countries – most recently in the Mediterranean region – in the reinforcement of institutional and methodological capacities to harmonise, collect and analyse data to feed education and training planning. This accumulated experience can be tapped by countries that today stand on the brink of undertaking this complicated task.

The observatory function process depends on loose but close interaction between education and labour market institutions from the public and private sectors. It acts as a network that provides government policy planners, social partners and the private sector with critical information in the form of reports and analyses that can be used for informed decision making. In its own approach, the ETF has built upon the example of education and labour market observatories in Europe in place since the 1960s. Observatories have since then moved on from pure information provision to networking for comprehensive analysis and policy advice.


The ETF’s experience in the Mediterranean region has demonstrated that, whereas some of the basic principles of an observatory function can be generally applied to any setting, others depend entirely on the existing culture and constellation of institutions.

Needless to say, a minimum criterion for the successful development of any observatory function is commitment by the national authorities – in terms not only of the provision of financial and human resources, but also of a willingness to share information with representatives from relevant ministries, the private sector and social partners. The observatory function needs to be an integral part of overall economic reform in the countries concerned and should support it through the provision of high-quality analyses of education, training and the labour market as well as viable recommendations for their development.

An observatory function requires regular networking among public and private institutions, users and providers in order to ensure the development of integrated information and analytical capacities. This implies sharing with and learning from other participants so as to produce quality products and services for decision makers – typically local, regional and national authorities.

Networking needs to be formalised. It also needs to be coordinated and overseen from a central hub positioned close to the end users of its products (i.e. policymakers) while maintaining links to different policy environments. The toughest challenge facing the hub institution is achieving full and even cooperation among all parties involved in the collection and provision of information. The hub therefore needs to retain some form of independence, and, for example, should preferably not be located in a particular ministry. Experience in the region has shown that observatories are either under the umbrella of a government institution (e.g. in Egypt under the Cabinet of the Prime Minister) or are part of a centre of expertise (e.g. in Jordan in the National Centre for Human Resources Development).

In today’s globalised economy, another basic principle for any observatory function is compatibility with international practices. For countries neighbouring the EU, the benchmarks used are typically the standards and practices applied in the EU and neighbouring countries or regions. Internationally, observatories seek exchange and cooperation with counterparts, whether in their own broader region or beyond. Points of contact include regular dialogue, meetings on specific topics and study visits to other countries to benefit from the experience of others and to enable comparative analysis in a global context.


Different countries have different power structures, and differing levels of decentralisation, variations in how responsibilities for education and training are assigned and the influence of the private sector all affect choices in organising the observatory network and its activities. An agreement on roles, responsibilities and work plan is ultimately crucial to ensuring satisfactory outcomes.

A typical observatory function includes a steering committee and one or more technical committees.

The steering committee involves high-level stakeholders from relevant ministries, private institutions and social partners. This committee is the highest decision-making body in terms of responsibilities for monitoring education and training in the overall country reform process. It has two core responsibilities: (i) to identify the information necessary for decision making and for ensuring regular dialogue among policymakers; and (ii) to promote the use of network products and services by participating institutions. The steering committee endeavours to secure the full support of all the institutions it represents, thereby providing a solid base for the operations and development of the observatory function.

Technical committees are made up of representatives from the different public and private institutions that provide the hub institution with the raw materials for its work: data and statistics. Technical committee members are an essential link between the hub and the institutions that are part of the network. Technical committees also align data with internationally recognised standards.

Specific technical committee responsibilities vary from country to country. Nonetheless, technical committees essentially take charge of collecting information and validating and peer reviewing products that typically include reports that analyse education, training and the labour market as a whole or by sector. Technical committees answer to the steering committee in accordance with a clear work plan that clarifies the expected outputs. Although the data collected can be analysed by the technical committees, this task should preferably be outsourced – for example, to the academic community, as this can imbue the final results with credibility and objectivity.


In accordance with the above principles and accumulated experience, over the past decades a pattern has emerged that is gradually defining best practices in the development of an observatory function in transition countries. Four steps can be identified.
1. Developing the observatory function in cooperation with key partners and defining a work plan.
This step, which includes a review and harmonisation of available information, should lead to the development of a strategy and implementation plan for the development of a coordinated information system that will collect data on education, training and the labour market.
2. Preparing tools and products to improve the quality of existing information and analysis, and training hub institution staff to apply them.
Some countries have successfully limited these first steps to one or two pilot (priority) themes so as to be able to develop and test the proposed methodologies on a small scale.
3. Institutionalising a mechanism to coordinate the observatory function by means of budgets and legislative instruments.
This also requires a validation of the tools and methodologies developed and the regular delivery of analytical documents.
4. Developing a policy advice network.
This builds on regular, formalised dialogue and the provision of policy notes to country authorities as required. Products and services are eventually disseminated to a wider target group for the ultimate benefit of education and training planning in transition economies.

The first two steps can be implemented consecutively or in parallel, depending on the institutional environment. Successful completion of the third step is a necessary precondition for the final step, which fully integrates the observatory function in the overall reform process. It goes without saying that the process needs leadership and careful and regular monitoring so as to address risk, problems and challenges on an ongoing basis. The process also needs to be flexible to adjust to complex political environments.


Key lessons learnt through ETF support to observatory function development in a number of Mediterranean countries are highlighted below. In the interest of brevity, only five of the major lessons are described. Most are specific to political environments in transition countries that are not completely ready for the kind of open sharing required for an observatory function to work effectively and produce high-quality services and products.
1. The country should first assess its readiness for an observatory function with particular reference to governance structures and decision-making processes. A review or a feasibility study should be carried out by the relevant national authorities (with external assistance if desired) to assess the state of play. This should be the basis for discussions with policymakers and should encourage the commitment of decision makers from the outset. Jordan is a case in point, as related activities in the country were analysed through the Al Manar project (supported by the Canadian International Development Agency) prior to establishing the observatory. The observatory function was then set up within the National Centre for Human Resources Development as a complementary initiative.
2. The institutional framework should be addressed. Facilitating the process of networking and ensuring clear roles and responsibilities is crucial. The choice of the hub institution, the composition of the steering and technical committees, relationships among policymakers and the sense of ownership by policymakers are all factors that determine success or failure. An example is provided by Egypt, where, following careful reflection and analysis, the observatory function was established within the Cabinet of the Prime Minister, which allocated the resources necessary to reinforce the country’s commitment.
3. The steering committee needs to develop very strong links to top-level policymakers, given that one of its key roles is to regularly feed policymakers with information on activities and results. It should discuss both short- and long-term strategies and also foster faith in its results and recommendations. In Jordan, the steering committee reports to the Employment and Technical Vocational Education and Training Council, responsible for reforms fed by thoroughly analysed data. In Egypt, the steering committee reports to the Prime Minister. The steering committee should comprise all major institutions active in the area and at the same time allow for concerted actions.
4. The composition of the technical committee(s) is also of crucial importance because the quantity and quality of the input determines the quality and usefulness of the resulting products and services. The shift from information collection to analysis is a challenge, as is that from analysis to policy advice. Major issues to be addressed are the quality of their products and services and regular dialogue with policymakers. In Egypt, an academic advisory body composed of high-profile education and labour market experts has recently been set up to improve the quality of steering committee products and services and to provide a link to country authorities.
5. Capacity building measures and financial incentives are crucial for the quality of the network’s products and services. Targeting those active in the observatory function network, they can include training workshops, seminars, personal advice in the workplace and study visits or detachments to other institutions. Jordan and Syria, for example, launched a twinning initiative that transfers Jordan’s experience with the observatory function to Syria to apply in its own country context.


Work on the observatory function started in 2003 with networking between public and private institutions to support the economic reform process. Today the hub institution is part of the National Centre for Human Resources Development (NCHRD). By now it has a fully functioning human resource information system in place and it is providing support to the government’s Employment–Technical Vocational Education and Training reform plan. The observatory has published a handbook on vocational education and training indicators and a profile for the tourism sector that can be transferred to other sectors. Recent discussions have looked into the development of new indicators relevant to the reform process, key stakeholders have been given the opportunity to network and the first analytical reports for decision making have been produced. Discussions are also underway on how to reflect the analysis in mainstream reforms.

Inform_03_4_3.jpgThe observatory is attached to the Information and Decision Support Centre (IDSC) of the Cabinet of the Prime Minister. Work got into full swing in 2006, with the observatory rapidly developing into a network involving a wide range of institutions from the public and private sectors. The main outputs so far have been a manual on vocational education and training indicators and a labour market information database covering the Delta Region. Work is currently ongoing on methodologies for labour market forecasting aimed at providing advice to the government in regard to the fight against unemployment. In 2008, an academic advisory body was established, composed of high-profile education and labour market experts. The observatory function has earned the full recognition of the authorities, most notably the Ministry of Labour, which has started to accommodate analytical results in its development plans.

INFORM - Issue 03 - October 2009

Prepared by the ETF Observatory Team, with external advice from Ard Jongsma

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Teaching and learning in modern vocational education and training systems - The importance of key competences

Friday 28th May, 2010

Inform_02_cover.jpg Based on the lessons learned from an ETF project on key competences in vocational education and training, this policy briefing discusses both the roles of vocational training in meeting present and future challenges and action and problem-solving competences for formulating learning goals, curriculum organisation principles, pedagogies and learning sites. It raises issues that are relevant to national discussions on vocational education and training reform from a pedagogical perspective.

In 2006 and 2007, the ETF implemented a project to explore the concepts of competence and key competences and the degree to which these were nurtured in the vocational training systems of five South Eastern European countries . Relevant international literature and projects were reviewed, a series of workshops were held and major assessments were made, based on questionnaires, structured and semi-structured focus group interviews and desk research.

The ETF partner countries that participated in the project have undergone major economic transitions in recent years. Labour markets are less predictable and job profiles and contents have changed. Many people facing unemployment need to change direction and re-train. Meanwhile, surveys conducted in the different countries reveal that employers prefer to recruit people with a broad range of professional skills and key competences – in areas such as the information technologies, communications and foreign languages – as well as enterprising people with positive attitudes to work and learning.

In more advanced economies the pace of technological development and changes in how work is organised have led to a heightened focus on innovation and lifelong learning. With the world of global information at our fingertips, the significance of acquiring and storing huge quantities of quickly outdated, pre-selected knowledge has diminished tremendously. Self-directed and innovative approaches to work and learning have become key lifelong learning competences.

All these changes are transforming the way we perceive knowledge, skills and learning. Vocational education and training nowadays needs to prepare learners for a more volatile and complex society that calls for comprehensive and broad-based professional competence and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and deal with unknown and unanticipated situations.

In the past, vocational education and training provided general education and prepared learners for a clearly defined trade or profession. Nowadays, however, the emphasis is on developing holistic action competence, in other words, on developing capacities for dealing with certain work or life situations in which the ability to apply knowledge and solve practical problems is central. Action competence, nonetheless, continues to build on solid traditional technical and technological skills.

Vocational education and training also aims to prepare and teach individuals to actively shape their personal and professional lives and take part in society in a self-guided manner. People need to learn how to reflect on their experiences and on the world around them with a view to seizing new opportunities, living up to challenges and ultimately becoming responsible citizens in a sustainable development context.

A kind of education and training is thus required that fosters motivation, self-evaluation, self-guidance, reflection, critical and cross-disciplinary thinking, team working and problem-solving skills. Competences of this kind are not linked to any specific subject matter, but are, rather, cross-curricular key competences. They are key to building action competences that go beyond the traditional perception of technically trained people exercising a certain trade or profession.

Key competences as described above cannot be viewed, taught or assessed in isolation nor can they simply be tagged on to training in trade-related knowledge and skills – as has been done in vocational training approaches based on functionalist, skills and competence-based learning. These latter models, however, continue to be advocated in some vocational training reform projects underway in several transition and developing countries.

In contemporary vocational training, formulating the ‘right’ goals and choosing the ‘right’ learning content is more art than science. It would logically seem to be more meaningful to describe, with the help of employers, major areas of work and situations likely to be encountered by learners in their future working and social lives. This is the basis on which holistic interdisciplinary competence can be built.

Learning areas should be tailored to developing skills and attitudes which are both relevant to learners and to the foreseeable future. Once key learning areas have been defined with employers, curriculum developers need to identify the cognitive prerequisites for participating in related problem-solving processes. Furthermore, the placing of learning in a broader context means that socially relevant issues – for example, environmental considerations such as saving energy or recycling materials – need to be identified and incorporated into learning.

Apart from tackling the question of learning content, the ETF project also deals with curriculum organisation principles with a view to achieving the above-mentioned objectives. Subject-oriented curricula have been criticised for their inability to develop the skills necessary to solve complex problems crossing the boundaries of individual disciplines. Responding to this criticism, Switzerland, as one example, organises its vocational training curricula by themes, with the same theme on the agenda simultaneously in all subjects. In Germany, the latest experiments with core curricula depart entirely from the subject-based approach to follow the interdisciplinary learning area-based approach.

Participating countries in the ETF project have, in the past, formulated learning outcomes and goals – and these undoubtedly continue to be relevant, although their nature has changed. Modern approaches therefore call for the formulation of learning goals as follows.

  1. They are problem-oriented and based on complex and challenging real-life situations.
  2. They refer not only to possible learning outcomes but to the identification of learning processes suitable for developing holistic competence.
  3. They promote overarching, networked learning (vernetztes Lernen) rather than the simple addition of new sets of learning content, independent of whether the organising principle of the curriculum is theme-based (aimed at keeping subjects) or area-based (aimed at replacing subjects).

However, defining the ‘right’ learning goals is not enough in itself. Decisive in developing holistic action competence is the organisation of individual and team experiences – which brings us to the micro-level.

As the assessment implemented in the ETF project has shown, teaching practices in participating countries are, by and large, still geared towards soliciting pre-defined answers to questions posed by teachers. Learners frequently follow instructions in a passive manner, assimilating abstract pieces of information or acquiring skills through repetitive actions. Rather than solve real-life problems, they rote-learn solutions that are often meaningless. Knowledge acquired this way is called ‘idle’ knowledge, as its transfer potential is limited.

Minimising this kind of idle knowledge acquisition poses a particular challenge for a training approach aimed at developing action competence, including the ability to deal with new, complex situations. ETF project participants have discussed new ways of teaching and learning that fit well with constructivist learning theories. Radical constructivists view knowledge as a social construct rather than as a kind of copy of reality. More moderate constructivists suggest that learners should be aware that there is not only one but different, complex truths about the world. This calls for more ‘open questions’ (also in tests) that allow for different answers and a flexible application of what has been learned.

ETF project participants agreed that teaching and learning in this context takes account of the following notions:

  • Learners must be active and motivated and have an interest in the subject to acquire new knowledge.
  • Knowledge acquisition and processes require self-regulation.
  • Decontextualised knowledge is of limited value, while situated learning ensures the acquisition of transferable applied knowledge. ‘Situated’ implies that attention is paid not only to places and material conditions, but also to the social environment in which the learning takes place. For vocational training, most ‘situated’ learning place is the workplace, hence the rationale for greater employer involvement in its provision.
  • Knowledge comes from social interactions with other people. Teaching and learning processes in this context aim at providing platforms for the construction of meaningful knowledge.

ETF project participants perceived learning as a process in which learners undergo a transformation by gaining new experiences, thereby adding new knowledge to their existing knowledge base. Key to this transformation is the learner’s own initiative, as well as appropriate guidance and support from teachers. This is not to say that teacher control and the acquisition of theoretical knowledge become meaningless; what matters, is skilful switching between well-organised teacher-led instruction and learner-guided experience.

Participants in the project concluded that modern vocational training required greater emphasis on the following:

  • learning processes, but without losing sight of learning goals and learning outcomes;
  • forms of cooperative learning, with a focus on individual responsibility and shared competences;
  • as a basis for lifelong learning, more self-regulated learning alternating with teacher-guided learning.

    In this scenario, teachers switch between instructor and facilitator roles and use traditional techniques alongside more open methods, such as case studies, simulations, project work and role plays. Teachers need to be properly trained and supported in their new roles, and this calls for a paradigm shift in teacher training. Acquiring and testing techniques at school to support individual and team learning experience as well as gaining an insight into real-life problem-solving in companies are also important.

    Methodological hints can usefully be included in the curriculum. Restricting course descriptions to the content to be ‘taught’ may lead teachers to make use of more traditional, easy-to-handle ways of transmitting knowledge, ultimately resulting in primarily ‘idle’ knowledge.

    Inform_02_4_1.jpg Evidence from the ETF project was insufficient to show whether autonomous schools would be more successful in applying the above-mentioned practices. However, what was learned from the project is that schools operating in highly centralised systems restrict teachers’ freedom to teach as they see fit. The same applies to overly descriptive, fully binding curricula. Compulsory curricular elements are essential to ensuring that graduates progress and pass on to higher levels of education as well as monitoring the quality of instruction. However, competent schools and teachers need leeway to shape teaching and learning processes in more open ways, while taking into account class and individual interests and progress, regional specificities and innovative ideas. Hence, the ideal combination would seem to be compulsory frameworks or core curricula and complementary school curricula that take into account the above-mentioned principles.

    INFORM – Issue 02 – September 2009

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Innovative training for poverty reduction in rural Central Asia

Tuesday 30th June, 2009

This policy briefing examines the experience gained through an ETF-funded project focussing on vocational education and training (VET)–supported income generation activities. The approach to poverty alleviation builds on existing vocational training structures in rural areas of Central Asia. Community development approaches are used to enhance skills, while costly and donor-dominated interventions are avoided.

In many transition and developing countries the economic situation of the poor including their nutrition will remain unstable unless rural areas are able to produce sufficient products at affordable prices. This requires higher productivity and better food processing technologies – areas that are both linked to skills development, among other factors. Rural populations are, for reasons of survival, often involved in a multitude of different economic activities and this frequently requires a multi-skilling approach. This puts vocational education and training in a very functional light - fostering the productive potential of individuals and enterprises in accordance with local demands.

The reasons for poverty and low productivity are many. Given the complex nature of the problems, standardised or single sector solutions in rural areas are often not suitable. In certain circumstances, the acquisition of new skills can play an important role for income generation and poverty alleviation. The rural regions of Central Asia are an example. The Kolkhoz of the former Soviet Union used to divide work according to narrow skill profiles, which are no longer appropriate in the present context of small farming and self-subsistent rural households. The rural population in transition countries does by and large not yet possess the technical and business skills necessary to generate more income through self-employment and extended economic activities.


Rural areas in Central Asia tended to be neglected in the past by both national policymakers and international donors. These areas were frequently left out of development plans, and no attention was paid to improving education and training services in remote regions, where the absence of investment is not conducive to enhancing employment opportunities. At the same time, education and training is key for addressing issues such as:

  • Inadequate technical and business competences to diversify agricultural produce and engage in off-farm activities;
  • The lack of, or inadequate, marketing concepts and business plans;
  • Insufficient access to financial assistance (micro-credit schemes) and a poor credits management.

These difficulties concern a large proportion of the population. Donor interventions must deal with the complexity of these problems that are exacerbated by rural institutions which are in turn constrained by shortages of money, facilities and capacities, and perform poorly. Project interventions in such contexts are therefore often hampered by uncertainty as regards local capacity, while making firm assumptions about expected outcomes and impacts on socio-economic progress is almost impossible.

The lack of resources and capacity of rural institution s and organisations in Central Asia is not the only challenge. Donors must be aware of the specific socio-cultural patterns, the underlying traditions and attitudes of the people concerned. Donor interventions do not always take into account these realities, while at the same time, in many cases institutions are not open to innovation and change. People almost exclusively use well-known and accepted routines as opposed to trying out new techniques and methods from outside the cultural context.

The weak institutional capacity and organisational performance of prevailing institutions make the effects of any interventions hard to predict. Activities become ‘black boxes’ with little transparency, structural inertia and uncertain outcomes and impact.

Moreover, in rural regions of these countries the private sector is not yet represented because the purchasing power of small farmers is highly limited. The export-oriented cotton production is still state-owned. Hence, private firms cannot be used to exert a positive, demand-led influence on rural workers. On the contrary, almost all rural networks, including farmers’ groups, associations, business and marketing groups, etc. are fragile.

Other problems in rural areas include:

  • The lack of infrastructure (energy, transport, water) and of an enabling socio-economic environment;
  • Restricted access to farmland and overexploited farmland with consequences for turnover and profit;
  • A lack of both political support and networks for social assistance;
  • No transparency regarding national and international markets and scarce information on the development of rural products;
  • Exclusion from technological progress or extension (advisory) services;
  • Extreme dependence on the weather and a high proportion of post-harvest losses.
    The reasons for rural poverty are therefore multi-dimensional. The complexity of these problems and fragile structures does not provide a favourable framework for huge donor interventions. No single line ministry in Central Asia is exclusively responsible for these problems and good governance is absent in many rural areas.

    This is the background against which any kind of intervention has to operate, including that of the ETF in its projects for transforming the role of vocational education and training.


    Complex development strategies in rural regions must automatically involve various ministries and other organisations. Interventions are mostly carried out on a multi-stakeholder basis, relying heavily during implementation on synergy between all the institutions involved (ministries, extension services, micro-credit institutions, training centres, local government and other authorities, business organisations etc.). However, these interventions are at risk, bearing in mind the weak performance of many rural institutions. The diversity of institutions and the complexity of institutional arrangements can jeopardise progress as well as the sustainability of the project.

    The assumption however, that the higher the complexity, the more resources were necessary, did not prove correct. In fragile structures, modest low-cost interventions that promoted community-based ownership proved to be better at dealing with complexity and structural ine rtia. Examples include the identification of training needs by local experts, who also participated in the design of training programmes. As locals, they are able to maximise the use of local resources and know-how. Projects with ‘soft approaches’ systematically include learning opportunities based on solved and unsolved problems. Partners can constantly develop capacities for modest but sustainable change and innovation. Cross-cutting ex-post evaluations of vocational education and training projec ts indicate that successful interventions are mainly linked to the availability of a minimum of local resources, ownership and readiness for reform and capacity development through well-designed learning arrangements in local institutions. The ETF promoted such learning scenarios in its accompanying capacity building activities to reinforce the weak vocational training structures.

    Vocational training for adults in rural areas that builds on existing infrastructure (schools, teachers and school managers) relies heavily on learning scenarios for change. Project objectives are formulated to use existing resources more efficiently and for additional tasks including non-formal adult training. Capacity development activities for vocational training experts and training centres are the necessary input for increasing the productivity of beneficiaries. Skills development for adults from rural regions is a soft intervention aimed at cultivating, processing and selling additional rural products in an attempt to optimise local resources rather than replacing them with unsustainable external ones.

    The ETF’s approach to vocational training and skills development for poverty reduction sought solutions to the following issues:

    • Expertise: The key directions and inputs should come from the people in rural situations rather than from external experts. The relevance of external contributions must be discussed with local experts and rural development organisations or initiatives.
    • Role of vocational training: For vocational training to be a relevant tool for skills development for poverty alleviation, it must rely on soundly identified local training needs, as well as existing vocational training premises and local staff (who may need further training).
    • Local environment: Modest interventions must be designed and connected to local business and governance initiatives in a community development approach, because networking among partners is essential.
    • Framework: National authorities must be strategically involved at several stages and levels, but the overall responsibility must lie with the locals, despite the fragile structures.
    • Essential requirements: Learning scenarios and capacity building processes are essential elements of intervention, while evaluation should also be considered as learning.
    • Role of donors: The ETF followed a ‘strategy of absence’, while keeping accountability and “pressure” on the locals.


    The ETF’s project experience in Central Asia reveals that existing vocational training structures in rural regions can be successfully and systematically used for income generation and poverty alleviation.

    National experts supported vocational schools to extend their traditional remit by training adults. Vocational schools must accept a new role in a local network which promotes business and self-employment opportunities rather than concentrating exclusively on traditional initial vocational training tasks. This required capacity development for the schools. At the same time a policy dialogue was established to foster systemic innovations. Based on the evidence of project results and best practice in the vocational schools, policymakers have to decide whether and how poverty alleviation can be included as a viable objective in overall VET reform. All in all, the project created enormous learning opportunities for all actors involved. Positive outcomes include better performing schools working together at a local level and an increase in the incomes of the beneficiaries .

    Social systems and local actors in rural regions must initially determine their own new strategies and objectives for economic development. This requires an analysis of the context and work-related problems that might be related to skill gaps. Experience from action learning reveals that even vulnerable groups are able to overcome the strongest barriers and constraints. With minimal assistance, most of them are able to develop strategies for improving their socio-economic standards. Self-organisation and learning play an important role in these approaches. The solutions identified need to fit the socio-economic framework and such ‘contextualised’ solutions imply that implementation requires the support of local resources (teachers and classrooms). Additional know-how can be obtained from local experts and business institutions, where available. Sound discussions on all issues emerging during the implementation of the project are essential to underpin the ownership and self-guided nature of the project and keep donor assistance to a minimum.

    It is very important that the local stakeholders are able to formulate their interests and demands against the background of available resources, competences, social networks and ownership. Fragile structures can only be well supported if moderate donor interventions rely strictly on the mobilisation of self-organised local or regional resources that promote proactive partnerships. This strategy means a switch from donor dominated interventions to responsive action and the accountability of local players.

    Vocational training for rural development must therefore take into account the iterative nature of the policy and strategy behind development processes. Participatory monitoring and evaluation methods play an important role in these processes. The learning that occurs during such processes is used to understand emerging problems and priorities at all project stages and ensure the constant adjustment of activities. Ex-post evaluation approaches should be designed to suit the context of the specific type of intervention and should avoid standardised schemes. Evidence for successful projects can only be demonstrated if the evaluation policy sufficiently takes into account the specific characteristics of the actors and target groups involved.


    Tajikistan – animal breeding and conservation of fruits:

    • People use bee keeping as an effective source of additional income
    • Women make agricultural produce to sell in the winter at local markets
    Kyrgyzstan – seeding and animal breeding, and elaboration of business plans:
    • Farmers breed other animals (cows) and sell milk products
    • Farmers present business plans and use additional financial resources to increase the variety of products
    • Train the trainer workshops extend rural training to other communities
    Prepared by Manfred Wallenborn, ETF

    INFORM – Issue 01 – June 2009  

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