EXTERNAL OBSTACLES & RECOMMENDATIONS ON HOW TO OVERCOME THEM
External obstacles are obstacles that are outside of your direct control and involves both VET providers and employers and sometimes also other stakeholders such as the government etc. The VET@work team has selected the following 5 external obstacles as the most common obstacles that prevents VET providers and employers from starting a collaboration that focuses on improving skills that students need to be successful in working life:
- Obstacle 1:Curriculum
- Obstacle 2: Language
- Obstacle 3: Technology
- Obstacle 4: Finding enough companies to host students
- Obstacle 5: Bureaucracy
The five external obstacles that prevents VET@work collaboration and suggestions on how to overcome them
When speaking with VET providers, teachers, employers and employees involved in educating VET students we’ve noticed that the 5 main obstacles that prevents VET providers and employers from setting up pedagogical collaborations were the curriculum, language barriers, technology, finding enough companies to host students and the bureaucracy. Even though these are external obstacles outside the employers and Vet providers direct control we do believe that there are ways to overcome them together!
One of the biggest obstacles for setting up a collaboration is a lack of a common language. The language used is made by the education sector for the education providers and it has not taken into consideration the fact that the employers aren’t used this type of language. This causes misunderstandings and feelings of frustration. To set up a collaboration it is important that you make sure you have a common understanding of the words being used.
Another obstacle is that the tasks students are expected to do are not considered as relevant to the employers. Employers often point out that the students have not focused on the skills development that employers value in the staff they will hire. One reason for this is that most of the tasks students do are done mainly in schools and not in companies where students could use the latest equipment/methodologies. This obstacle can be solved by customizing the curriculum to fit the needs of the labour market in the local region and by setting up collaborations with local companies allowing students to learn how to use the latest equipment there. This would benefit all as the students would learn to use equipment they are most likely to use when they enter working life, the teachers keep up with the progress of the latest technologies/methodologies and the employers will be able to hire workforce that are familiar to the tools/methodologies being used. Moving part of the teaching to the companies will also enable teachers and employers/employees to set up a relationship built on trust and both parties will get a deeper understanding of each other’s realities.
Workplaces have a quicker professional development than what the VET providers are able to follow. One reason for this is that it does take a long time to develop a new curriculum and many times when the new curricula is ready to be implemented it is already considered as dated by many of the employers. We are also concerned about the fact that it is sometime difficult for the VET providers to get the labour market involved in the development of the curricula. One reason for this is that the VET providers don’t know how to sell the idea of collaboration to the employers and employers feel that their voice isn’t heard if they take part in the development of the curriculum. Many of the SMEs feel that there is no point in getting involved as the curriculum is built to fit the needs of the big companies and not their needs. To encourage companies, big and small, we suggest that VET providers invest time and resources into visiting companies and explaining the benefits of getting involved in developing the curricula. To keep employers interest in joining the development/implementation of curriculums, VET providers and teachers need to be seen in the local companies and also encourage employers to come up with ideas on how to put a local spin on the curriculum on a regular basis. The language in the curriculum should be made user-friendly and understandable for all.
Another obstacle is the fact that the curricula doesn’t pay attention to when employers are best equipped to offer students opportunities for placements. The curriculum is very rigid and doesn’t take into consideration that some sectors have high and low seasons. We recommend that when setting up a curriculum and schedules for when student’s do their work place, learningshould be done together with the companies that are most likely to host companies. Currently, VET providers decide when students should do their work based learning based on their needs and not those qualitative experiences of the employer. This could be easily solved if there were regular meetings to address the timing of work based learning and what companies can offer at what time of the year.
One of the biggest obstacles is to first realise that VET providers and the world of work doesn’t share a common language. We need to be aware that there are different languages used in different professions and sometimes even within one professional field. The language used in small and big companies is different and how to communicate depends on the profession and the size of the company. This is confusing for not only the teachers and the employers/work mentors but also for the students and lack of a common language often results in misunderstanding and feelings of frustration.
Frustration is also found among employers in the language used in work based assignments and the templates they fill in being very academic and bureaucratic. The employers/work mentors have difficulty understanding the tasks and templates as they are not sure how to interpret/read the words being used. To avoid this, teachers involved should be given time to sit down with the work mentors and the students in order to discuss the tasks/templates and thus make sure that all parties have understood the content and feel confident in what they are expected to do. Another way to solve this obstacle is to invite employers to get involved in making assignments and if possible in the writing of templates to be used.
We want to point out that language is so much more than just words. In our definition of language we have included dress code. The dress code and the signals you send with the way you are dressed varies from company to company and country to country. It is always important to not only focus on finding a common language but also gain an understanding of existing dress codes and educate students what is the correct dress code in different types of companies/fields of work. Being wrongly dressed can be avoided by agreeing on both standards of behaviour and dress code.
One way of gaining a common language is to spend time together, work together and this way getting familiar with the language used at school and in companies. Talk to each other about what kind of language you want to be used in assignments and listen to each other’s arguments and points of views. Respect different view points and learn from them!
Technology is an external obstacle that needs to be addressed by the VET providers and the employers when setting up VET and work collaborations. It is very likely that the school and the companies used different equipment and that the equipment used by the companies is often more modern and up to date. Teachers might need to upskill their knowledge when it comes to the latest trends in technology and could involve the employers and their employees in the process of upskilling teacher’s skills/awareness. Our recommendation is to invite employers or employees to the school and have them discuss and agree on how to best to upskill. It might even be beneficial to organize joint events where technology providers are invited to school or a company and the teachers and employers learn together about the latest trends/equipment in their field.
One of the biggest obstacles when it comes to technology is money, VET providers don’t have the resources to continuously update their equipment and stay up with the latest trends. The curriculum is also lacking behind when it comes to implementing the latest trends/equipment into education. The pace of change is too fast, it is expensive and there is lack of space to accomodate the latest equipment.
Our recommendation on how to solve this problem is to have regular meetings with employers of local companies and agree on what equipment should be known and used. During these meeting agreements should also be made on where and when this learning should be done. Should it be the responsibility of the companies hosting students during work based learning to teach students they host how to use the equipment or should they allow teachers to come with students to practice on the equipment before students start their internships? These are questions that should be agreed when setting up curriculums. Another solution is to try and set up partnerships/agreements with companies providing the latest equipment to donate equipment to the school so that students/teachers would be able to use the equipment and keep up with the latest trends.
We have noticed that there are problems in finding companies to host students during work based learning or companies that are willing to share their skills and knowledge with teachers and students. Reasons are multiple and we will not go into these in detail. However, one might be fear of competition or that the employer has no need to hire more staff in the near future. To encourage companies reluctant to provide students with learning opportunities, VET providers and its teachers should sells the benefits of allowing students into their companies for internships. It is also important to point out that some of the students coming for a placement are not the strongest and some might not even in the right field but that they still deserve the right to try.
Another factor that makes employers unwilling to take on students is the timeframe when they are supposed to take on students. It is important to take the wishes of employers into consideration when planning placement timings. Listening to the needs of employers and being flexible might open the door to some employers that have been reluctant before.
The VET@work team want to stress that it is equally as important to find the right work mentor to the student as it is to find the right student for the company. If an employer forces one of its employees to mentor a student, the placement won’t be a positive experience for anybody. The work mentors need to get support from their management and from the VET provider. The mentors need to feel that they have somebody to turn to when they need help and/or advice. The VET@work team also want to stress the importance to select the right teachers to be mentoring teachers. If a teacher feels uncomfortable in his/her task as mentoring teacher or if the task if forced on him/her it will affect the way (s)he collaborates/communicates with the employer/work mentor and in the worse case scenario this can result in employers refusing to host students in the future. This is why we recommend that extra attention should be put into the selection process of work mentors and mentoring teaches. Finding the right persons to become mentors will be the beginning of a trusting, collaborative relationship that will allow for future collaborations!
Last but not least, bureaucracy has proven to be a major obstacle when it comes to collaboration. The employers are afraid of all the extra paperwork collaboration with VET providers might cause. There are uncertainties with insurances and who is responsible for what. Some companies might hesitate to collaborate with VET providers because of concerns about the students age and maturity. Taking on an underaged student might result in extra paperwork that the employer is unwilling to take on. Smaller companies feel they don’t have the resources to do all the bureaucratic tasks that a VET@work collaboration involves and they are often afraid of all the reports, templates and contracts that they have to fill in. They also find all the restrictions, rules and regulations off pulling and opt not to open up their companies for collaborations with VET providers.
To solve this obstacle is not easy as bureaucracy is something that can’t be avoided. However, as an VET provider you can try and make the paperwork as simple as possible and also when possible make it as user-friendly and time-efficient as possible. Implementing digital/online templates, assignments and processes and allowing digital signatures could be one way in the right direction.
It is also important to reserve time for the bureaucratic tasks for the teachers. The teachers should be given the resources needed to go through the processes, paperwork etc. together in order to make sure that the work mentor/employer feels confident in his/her tasks. It would also be ideal if the VET providers, teachers, employers and work mentors would together analyse the processes, templates and together remove the parts they both consider unnecessary. Don’t be afraid of implementing new and more user-friendly methods for reporting and evaluation. Try to come up with solutions that makes the bureaucracy less time consuming.