HABITUAL OBSTACLES & RECOMMENDATIONS ON HOW TO OVERCOME THEM
Habitual obstacles reflect how people get set in their own ways of behavior. These obstacles can only be removed if persons carrying habitual behaviors and who are stuck in certain ways of doing things are willing to critically and openly reflect on why they behave in a certain way in order to be able to begin the process of changing behavior that prevents them from starting a VET and work collaboration. The VET@work team has selected the following 5 habitual obstacles as the ones that prevents VET and work collaborations from being set up:
- Obstacle 1: Motivation
- Obstacle 2: Mindset
- Obstacle 3: Communication skills
- Obstacle 4: Commitment
Obstacle 5: Expectations
When speaking with VET providers, teachers, employers and employees involved in educating VET students we’ve noticed that the 5 main habitual obstacles that prevented VET providers and employers from setting up pedagogical collaborations were motivation, mindset, communication skills, commitment and expectations. Habitual obstacles reflect how people are set in their own ways of behavior and personal mindsets. It is important that the person who wants to change his/her mindset is genuinely willing to critically and openly reflect on their actions and behavior. This is something that cannot be forced by outside stakeholders and is outside the control of the VET providers and stakeholders. We are aware that it is very easy to get set in your ways as this gives you the feeling of security. However, if you want change to happen you must be open to self-reflection and be willing to open your mind to change and enter unknown territories.
In order to start a VET and work collaboration you have to have an interest and a will to start a collaboration. A collaboration can never be forced! When forced it is bound to fail. The VET@work team has witnessed many good collaborations fail due to the management forcing their staff members to get involved in collaboration projects that they have no interest in. In fact it has killed the motivation to collaborate! Our recommendation is that VET providers and employers select and give resources to those who are willing and passionate about taking on such a project. Even if these staff members might not have room for this in their schedule, give them the needed resourced be removing tasks and assignments from them and give them to others with room in their schedules.
One thing that kills motivation is teachers and work mentors don’t have enough time to spend with each other and build and/or maintain a relationship of trust. For teachers to remain motivated to collaborate with employers/work mentors (and vice versa) they need to know and feel that they have enough time to do so. Our recommendation is to allocate enough resources and make sure that the staff can use the allocated resources for establishing/maintaining contact with each other. This will be a motivation booster and will result in new ways of collaboration that benefits all stakeholders involved.
Another factor that kills motivation is negative past experience and lack of long term planning. The VET providers and teachers must show an interest in the needs and wishes of employers and work mentors. There must be a channel where employers/work mentors can reach VET providers/teachers when needed. For example, if an unexperienced work mentor gets a student that causes situations where the work mentor would need the support of the teachers but the work mentor isn’t able to reach the teacher it is very likely that this work mentor will not be motivated to take on a student in the future and will inform his/her employer the troubles (s)he has faced.
When the VET provider or the teachers don’t show interest in what is happening within their field it will have negative effect on motivation. It will showcase to the employers and work mentors that the VET providers and teachers aren’t committed/motivated to collaborate. One way to avoid this is to show the employers/work mentors that the VET provider has a genuine interest by e.g. sending senior managers or teachers on internships or regular study visits to the industry. By sending senior managers and teachers to companies, they will be able to discuss benefits of collaboration with the employer while at the same time building a relationship of trust and respect. You can also change the roles and invite employers and work mentors to school for internships and/or study visits. Visiting each other this way will help VET providers, teachers, employers and work mentors to gain knowledge of each others’ realities and day to day activities and it will boost their confidence when it comes to setting up new and innovative collaborations and will boost the motivation.
Changing mindsets is always a challenge! It is so easy to do things the way they have always been done. Why change something that seems to work ok! Stepping into new grounds and opening your mind to new ways of doing things is scary and often causes feelings of fear and insecurity. In some cases, it is easier to continue even if what you do is outdated and not up to current standards. One way to change mindsets and remove feelings of fear and insecurity is by allowing time to build up trust and communication channels. The more time you spend with each other, the more you will learn about each other’s realities the safer you will feel. Spending time together will allow regular, open and effective communication and it will give you a feeling of safety which will allow you to change old habits and mindsets that has prevented you from getting involved in VET and work collaborations.
In some cases, there can be a feeling that the other party lacks respect to the collaboration partners and that they under value your capabilities. There can be a feeling that the other party is not able or willing to think outside the box and that they have prejudices towards your capabilities. These thoughts/feelings can easily result in a closed mindset that prevents you collaborating. Once again, the solution for this is opening up the communication channels and being responsive to the needs and wishes of those you work with.
Collaboration requires good communication skills and the knowledge of how to behave in certain circumstances. The way you speak and act can make or break a collaboration. You need to be willing to review your way of communicating and match it to the partner you are about to collaborate with. Ability and willingness to communicate at the right level with others and agreeing to find a common language are keys to starting collaborations. You have to be willing to become a active listener.
You don’t need to change into someone you’re not, but you need to be able to adjust your behavior. If you are willing to do this you will be able to build a relationship of respect, loyalty and trust with those you want to collaborate with.
When setting up a collaboration make sure that you are aware that you are speaking a different language, work language vs academic language. Make sure that you agree on the terminology to be used and avoid abbreviations as they can easily cause feelings of uncertainty and can cause misunderstanding and can in worse case scenarios prevent VET and work collaborations from happening.
Find out about how to behave and what is considered as professional behaviour as this can vary depending on the size of company, field of expertise etc. Be willing to adapt your behavior. You don’t want a collaboration to fail because you weren’t willing to try, do you? Learn and improve your skills of reading people and accept that there are generation gaps and that these generation gaps can affect behavior and ways of communication. Be patient! Giving time for effective communication and remember to be proactive rather than reactive!
As the final habitual obstacle, we selected commitment! In some cases, staff members aren’t committed to their profession. They just do their job because they need an income. These staff members aren’t willing to do anything extra. If the majority of staff members are working just to get by, this will very likely prevent VET and work collaborations from happening. To inspire these staff members and get them committed, we recommend that you sit down with your employees and agree on common goals and how to best achieve them. Agree on what kind of commitment and support they are willing to give to the VET and work collaborations and write it down. This can, for example, be done during development discussions held by the managers with their staff.
To get commitment from your staff, VET providers and employers must make sure that their staff feels that they have an input in their tasks. If employers feel that their views and opinions don’t matter, their commitment will start to deteriorate. Allowing staff members to have an input and a say will encourage ownership and will result in improved commitment. A common understanding of what you want to achieve and by when is vital for any kind of committed collaboration.
Another aspect that prevents commitment is the lack of common goals. You need to agree on short term and long term goals, how to reach these goals and who is responsible for what. It is not enough to just set these goals. You have to evaluate and adjust these terms regularly. Setting common goals, expectations and rules of conduct will prevent the parties involved from having over expectations and setting goals that aren’t doable.
Our last habitual obstacle is expectations! Having unrealistic expectations will result in poor or failing collaboration. When setting up a collaboration you must be honest about what is going to work and not work. You mustn’t be afraid to confront and address issues that you are likely to have. Write down all anticipated obstacles and make solutions to them. Working together on clarifying aims and obstacles you will be able to have an affect on the expectations all those involved will have and your expectations will become more realistic.
Another common obstacle is having too high expectations. To avoid this, sit down and listen to what the others involved can offer. To set expectations you need all involved (VET providers, teachers, employers and their staff), agreeing on what can be done by whom. Avoid false perceptions of what can be done and grey areas. Clear roles and setting responsibilities and common lines of communication at the beginning will help remove false perceptions and potential grey areas. To avoid misunderstanding we recommend that a collective agreement focusing on expectations should be set up. The more realistic the expectations are, the bigger the success rate will be. Remember to learn from past experiences, be honest and willing to compromise and listen to each other.