Quality Assurance is Key to Work-Based Learning

Providing evidence of value is crucial to bringing small companies on board for dual learning - delegates at ETF Lviv Eastern Partnership forum hear

Spreading work-based learning (WBL) to small and medium-sized enterprises is among the current hot topics in vocational education and training (VET) reform across the European neighbourhood. Implementing quality assurance as a key to embedding dual learning was the focus of Day Two of the European Training Foundation's Eastern Partnership Forum on WBL in VET.

Fit for Purpose

Quality is simple to define, but can be challenging to apply when bringing WBL to smaller companies in countries that include Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine - the EU's Eastern Partnership neighbours.

Small companies do not always have human resources departments or experience in training apprentices and often lack resources for sophisticated monitoring.

But by applying simple tools for understanding and applying quality control and assurance, impressive results can be achieved, Erwin Seyfried, a Berlin School of Economics and Law professor and international expert on quality assurance in vocational training, told delegates at the Lviv, Ukraine-based conference.

"A very simple definition of quality is - getting fit for purpose," Prof. Seyfried said. "Meeting given standards that correspond with the needs of stakeholders and make optimum use of resources."

Quality assurance boils down to paying attention to details - perhaps as simple as starting and finishing training sessions on time and sticking to the agreed curriculum. Assessing whether training meets company and vocational school needs and complies with accreditation targets build from such foundations.

Building blocks for quality

Standard tools for applying quality control - these days more a case of continuous self-assessment than cycles of external validation, Prof. Seyfield noted - can help keep reforms on track.

The Deming Cycle - also known as the PDCA cycle (for Plan, Do, Check and Act) - is a method for ensuring process matches quality, results are assessed and improvements and corrections made by reference to agreed quality standards.

"Cooking a meal for your family? Plan borscht? Cook. Check taste. Need salt? Act. Deliver," Prof. Seyfield said to knowing smiles from delegates from countries, all with variations of the famous Ukrainian soup.

Lively discussion

The relative importance of quality assurance as an internal process and accreditation as an external check sparked lively discussion among delegates, with stakeholders arguing that self-assessment offered speed and flexibility that could meet the needs of fast changing labour markets. Policy makers and ministerial representatives tended towards putting a higher value on accreditation, arguing that student output was a self-evident mark of quality assurance.

Often industry wanted to have faster, more adaptable courses to deliver qualified students and therefore supported quality assurance over accreditation, which takes a long time to bring forward, Olena Kolesnikova of the Ukrainian Federation of Metallurgists, argued.

Margareta Nikolovska, the ETF's country manager for Ukraine, agreed, noting: "Accreditation is only supported in reforms where internal quality assurance is a feature of that reform."

Prof. Seyfield also stressed the key role quality assurance plays in delivering WBL: "Don’t start with accreditation - allow people to start to ensure that they are applying standards and improvement. Perhaps after five years [partners] should ask for accreditation".

"Putting accreditation at the beginning is the wrong starting point."

The Forum concludes on Thursday, 24 October, following site visits on Wednesday to Ukrainian vocational schools to see work-based learning in action.

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