Learning to Succeed: Bringing Work-Based Learning to Small and Medium Sized Companies

Lviv conference brings together stakeholders from Eastern Partnership Countries

From the factories of Belarus and Ukraine, farms and fields of Georgia and Armenia, the orchards of Moldova and oil wells of Azerbaijan, the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries share some remarkable consistencies. Some 95% of companies are small and employ between a quarter and nearly half the workforce. Bringing work-based learning to this sector offers tangible economic and social benefits.

Simple aim, complex means

Opening the European Training Foundation's (ETF) second regional EaP forum on work-based learning (WBL) in vocational education and training, in Lviv, Ukraine, Tuesday (Oct 21), Carmo Gomes, Head of the ETF's Country Intelligence Unit, noted that WBL was often the go-to term for politicians and policymakers keen to offer a panacea for all that is wrong with VET. But getting on-the-job training within a quality-assured framework of VET was not so simple.

"Is it easy to bring employers to the table to discuss with public providers the organisation and funding of students in their workplaces? No," she told delegates that included participants from Kazakhstan in addition to the EaP countries. "And there is no European-wide model to export, but we do know that WBL graduates are more successful in getting a job."

Increased prestige, improved output

Bringing the benefits of WBL to small and medium enterprises was a goal worth achieving, Kirsi Lindroos, Team Leader for the support group to Ukraine at the European Commission's Directorate-General for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR), stressed.

"If well implemented, WBL can significantly increase the attractiveness of VET among young people. It can help students improve academically, increase motivation and the relationship of schools with the community."

She added: "Employers are able to hire better employees and reduce their overall training costs."

Petro Korzhevskyi, Ukraine's Deputy Minister of Education and Science said that WBL supported creativity among young trainees. Ukraine, which is one of the regional leaders in WBL, saw it as a way to increase the relevance and uptake of VET. The country planned to increase its current level of VET graduates from 18% of the cohort to 45%, he added.

Models of success

Didier Gelibert, the ETF's specialist on private sector engagement in VET, sketched out the figures demonstrating the importance of SME's to EaP economies, where they account for 95% of companies (with the exception of Azerbaijan with just over 83%), and employ up to nearly half the workforce.

In countries where most SMEs are in the service sector and account for around a third of GDP, formalising quality in-house training can have major economic benefits. Implementing that in companies employing only a few people can be a challenge.

Nikoloz Meskhishvili, of the Georgian Farmers Association, which is piloting WBL in agricultural in a country where 15% of the population still farm, said that splitting VET programmes to 2 days at school/3 days at work, had not been easy - teachers resented losing part of their income and small farmers sometimes relied upon paying students in kind, for example with beehives for those working in beekeeping.

Sophia Grunert, of the German Confederation of Skilled Crafts and Small Businesses, noted that even in an advanced economy like Germany's there are a million craft companies that employ an average of five or fewer people and 81 percent of apprentices are trained in SMEs.

Like Alexandra Costa Artur, of Portuguese training consultancy Imanovation, who spoke about promoting skilled training in the industrial painting trade, Grunert emphasised the importance of pooling resources to support WBL in small companies.

The Lviv conference continues Wednesday with visits to vocational schools before concluding Thursday.

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