Dancing with the stars of work-based learning
European Alliance for Apprenticeships (EAfA): Seminar for EAfA partner countries, 11-12 October 2023
If Michelin awarded stars for work-based learning, the Piazza dei Mestieri would earn its second. The restaurant at the secondary trade school in Turin, Italy, already displays its own.
Founded two decades ago on the site of an old tannery to address the needs of high school early school leavers, the campus also includes a brewpub, a pastry shop, and a graphic-design-and-print shop. The businesses are run by professionals, but 900 students between the ages of 14-18 rotate through week-long stints to toil alongside and garner tips from the pros. Some students are unpaid interns; a few of the more advanced hold modestly paid apprenticeships. “They learn by doing,” said Mauro Battuello, director, Piazza dei Mestieri.
A bus load of participants from the European Alliance for Apprenticeships Seminar for EAfA Partner Countries, hosted by the European Training Foundation (ETF) and organised by the Directorate for Employment of the European Commission, spent yesterday afternoon touring the Piazza dei Mestieri facilities.
EAfA “unites governments and key stakeholders with the aim of strengthening the quality, supply and overall image of apprenticeships across Europe,” according to the European Commission website. EAfA members include representatives of the public sector, business, and civil society from over 34 European Union members and neighbouring countries. They gathered in Turin for the two-day conference.
The Piazza dei Mestieri visit embodied the spirit of the event. “It’s really why we do all of this,” said Stefan Thomas, ETF. “To go out and talk to these people.
When Piazza dei Mestieri students are not busy in one of the commercial establishments, they combine normal classroom work with labs on hairstyling, the culinary arts or pastry making. Some exchange these activities for paid apprenticeships with outside firms as they approach graduation. “All students do practical work,” said Battuello. “Apprenticeships can work, but the students need to be ready.”
When they complete the programme, they receive a conventional secondary school diploma. Counsellors help graduates find jobs or paid apprenticeships. Those so inclined can move to university level.
Across the street, its Superior Technological Institute (ITS), a vocational institute of higher education provides extended instruction for people in the 18-25 age range. “We came up with the ITS because it fills a gap left by both universities and high schools,” said Battuello.
Thanks to a side-project on the main campus, immigrant children who have lost their parents take Italian while also following a normal curriculum.
The impetus for the creation of Piazza dei Mestieri rose from the ashes of a flaws in the system. “Before vocational training had weaknesses,” said Battuello. “Even the best students couldn`t get jobs or would promptly quit. Many of them came from vulnerable families who had no sense of what it is to work.”
Support comes from a myriad of sources: the public sector (from Turin City Hall to the European Union), corporate sponsorships, and the profits from on-campus businesses. To manage all this in red-tape bound Italy, Battuello must juggle the balance sheets of four separate legal entities. “My dream is to do it all with a single entity,” he said. “But the school cannot have a restaurant or make chocolate. We cannot use EU money for the restaurant.”
Piazza dei Mestieri wasn’t alone in receiving EAfA seminar participants yesterday afternoon. Some people went to ENGIM Piemonte, next door to a GERLA pastry shop, a local favourite for nearly a century; there students get hands-on experience parallel to their academic work. Others headed to the Turin Polytechnic University to learn about a masters degree program in Digitalization and Autonomous Commercial Vehicles for a Carbon-Free Logistics in partnership with the Iveco Group, an Italian corporation.
The afternoon site visits followed a full morning programme, highlighted by the ceremonial induction of new EAfA members including ETF partner country, Armenia.
In introductory remarks, Chiara Riondino, Head of Unit, DG EMPL, European Commission, and Pilvi Torsti, Director, European Training Foundation (ETF), both urged everyone to peddle even harder to maintain the momentum already built during the current European Year of Skills. Riondino referenced mentions of skills and labour shortages during the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen’s State of the Union address – especially in light of the EU’s green and digital drives. Both called attention to EAfA’s 10th anniversary and heralded its progress. But they stressed the need to keep on keeping on. “It takes 10 years for any reform to take hold in this field,” said Torsti. “We need to be stubborn, persistent and work together.”
Magda Bolotashvili, Deputy Director General, Georgian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, outlined her country’s efforts to establish a Skills Agency, a public private partnership spearheaded by her outfit and the Ministry of Education and Science. Only decades removed from Communism, Georgia is still building social infrastructure commonplace in other free market economies. This includes sectoral business associations, essentially absent until recently. The country now boasts over 70 business associations and 10 fledgling sectoral groups.
A few of the latter, notably for the tourism and construction industries, have helped update qualification criteria and exams for prospective employees. They have also supported work-based learning and collaborated with educational institutions.
Bolotashvili’s talk was particularly relevant for two reasons. First, she symbolized the spirit of the EAfA when she asked a room full of participants for advice about how to devise new regulations for a dual education scheme for adults. Early company adherents to this concept, now about 100, set out in an unregulated environment. By next year they will need to meet certain standards, as will their in-house instructors. The Georgian government cannot offer fiscal incentives. How can the country impose regulations while trying to attract new partners and avoid scaring off old ones?
Bolotashvili also pointed out a problem that crops up elsewhere. “In Georgia, vocational schools do not like the companies," she said. "And companies do not like the vocational schools.” Sound familiar? Food for thought as participants continue their debates on Day 2.