INTERNAL OBSTACLES & RECOMMENDATIONS ON HOW TO OVERCOME THEM
Internal obstacles are generally issues that you don’t have direct control over, e.g. time availability, needed skills or talent. The VET@work team has selected the following 5 internal obstacles as the ones that prevents VET and work collaborations:
- Obstacle 1: Flexibility
- Obstacle 2: Mindset
- Obstacle 3: Lack of time
- Obstacle 4: Lack of professional development
- Obstacle 5: Timetable
When speaking with VET providers, teachers, employers and employees involved in educating VET students we’ve noticed that the 5 main internal obstacles that prevented VET providers and employers from setting up pedagogical collaborations were motivation, mindset, time, lack of professional development and the timetable. The first step in overcoming these obstacles is to critically self-evaluate what internal obstacles prevents VET and work collaborations from happening and setting targets and milestones on how and by when these obstacles will have been solved. Remember, when there is a genuine will there is always way of changing internal strategies and ways of conduct!
As mentioned in the sub-chapter about external obstacles the school year does not match labour market needs and annual calendar. In some fields teachers and students are on their summer breaks at the time when the companies would have the most to offer students to learning and developing valued skills. In some countries the rigidity of school schedules makes it difficult to match hours, e.g. students can be prohibited from doing shift work. This can create problems of accessibility and reachability as teachers might not be in office when the employer needs/has the time to contact the teacher and vice versa. This affects the motivation to sit down and discuss ways of collaborating. To solve this obstacle the VET providers and employers need to be flexible and be willing to make compromises.
In some fields there is no need for more skilled staff and more competition. This can cause employers to be reluctant to open up their companies for students. They don’t see the need and value in spending time on teaching students if they feel that they have nothing to gain. It is important to open up the communication channels and for the VET providers to listen to employers reasonings for being hesitant for VET and work collaborations. VET providers need to showcase what long term benefits there are for the company. The VET providers need to be responsive to the employers needs and flexible when it comes to setting up the curriculum and the tasks given. Our recommendation is that the VET provider/teacher and employer/work mentor sit down together to agree on tasks/projects that students can do and that fits the needs of the employer. To motivate employers to open their companies to VET providers and students, we have noticed that the employers need to be involved in the writing of the curriculum and the assignments. The employers must be given the opportunity to have an input when it comes to timing, what they can offer students/VET providers and the management of assignments that they are involved in.
Mindset it the biggest of internal obstacles in our opinion. The fear of change and feelings of insecurity prevents many employers and VET providers from opening their minds to collaborations. This fear of change results in a mindset that is unwilling to open up their organization to new ways of doing things. In some cases the pace of change is considered too fast and VET providers and employers feel that they can’t keep up with change and instead opt to continue doing things the way they have always been done. In other cases employers feel that the pace change happens in VET is too slow and that VET focuses on the wrong things. We are aware that changing existing mindsets is difficult and can sometimes feel impossible but we are convinced that this can be done. It does require time, patience and thinking in solutions rather than in obstacles. The change of mindset must come from the top management in order to be successful. The management can be seen as ambassadors that leads the work in changing existing preventing mindset to collaborative mindsets. Communication is the starting point of changing mindsets. Voicing your fears and concerns but also listening to others points of views and fears are the beginning of changing mindsets.
Employers need to review their role as employers when it comes to VET and work collaborations. They need to become aware that their role is to provide students with learning opportunities and help mold them into skilled workers. The employers/work mentors need to allow teachers to question existing practices and both employers and VET providers have to be willing to step out of their comfort zones. They also need to accept that there is a generation gap that will effect the way we communicate, learn, work and think. We need to allow the existence of different mindsets/ways of thinking and build on them in order to grow and set up VET and work collaboration.
Another major internal obstacle is the use of time. In many cases the VET providers point out in their strategies that their mission is to collaborate with companies but when it comes time to the actual collaboration they don’t allocate the time that genuinely enables this kind of collaboration. Allocating resources and scheduling teachers to collaborate with companies forces teachers to prioritize and when forced to prioritize between teaching or visiting/collaborating with employers the teachers tend to prioritize teaching. Instead of allocating teachers with the resources on paper they should first look at the teacher’s workload and make sure that the teachers have the time to focus on the VET and work collaboration and then schedule this collaboration just like any subject that teachers teach in class. All VET and work collaborations should be scheduled/ planned from the beginning collaboratively by the VET provider and employer(s). After this the VET providers should select teachers that are committed and eager to collaborate with employers/work mentors. Employers should, in their turn, select staff that are interested and committed to working with teachers and sharing their knowledge with other teachers and students. Looking at who has space in their schedule and appointing teachers/work mentors based on this is not the right way to set up a collaboration and destroys motivation! There is nothing that destroys motivation as fast as working with an unmotivated person who has been forced to do something against their will.
VET providers don’t upskill their teachers to modern employer practices and teachers are often outdated when it comes to understanding the realities of the working life. In some cases the motivation and interest to learn more and upskill your professional skills and awareness is missing among the teachers. Teachers have become accustomed to doing things the way it has always been done and they feel unmotivated to change their teaching or getting familiar with the latest trends/methods. Employers on the other hand are unmotivated to set up collaborations with VET providers because they feel that they have nothing to gain from collaborating with a VET provider that is unwilling to upskill their teachers. As mentioned above there is a lack of time to sit down together and share knowledge and agree on how to develop teachers’ skills to match the needs of the employer. The VET@work team are of the opinion that we are currently missing a common channel and clear vision on what kind of professional development/upskilling is needed.
To encourage and support the professional development needed we recommend that VET provides encourage and enable their teachers to spend some time in companies within their VET field and update, upskill and reskill their professional skills/knowledge. One thing that prevents this way of professional development is money and resources. However, we could recommend a staff swap! While the teachers goes to work in a company a staff member from that company could be invited to come to school to teach. We also want to remind the employers that if they want specialist and skilled work force in the future they must be willing to contribute to the teaching of these skills.
VET teachers often hear the work mentors/employers say that they are not teachers and don’t feel comfortable in their new role as facilitators of learning. To solve this obstacle we recommend VET providers to offer face to face or online work mentor courses that focus on mentoring and facilitating learning. There are a lot of national mentor training courses available that you can use and we also want to invite you to take part in the WorkMentor online course that you can access here: An online course for coaching and mentoring at work
Last but not least, finding a timetable that fits both VET providers and the world of work is a challenge that prevents VET and work collaborations. The working hours of teachers and employers/work mentors don’t match due to different times of holidays and work days. The schedules of teachers and work mentors are often very busy and there is no room to add hours for VET and work collaborations. To overcome this obstacle we recommend VET provider and employers sit down and look at their existing timetables and try and synchronize them so that both parties feel that it is in their interest to collaborate. After synchronizing the timetables make sure that the working hours this collaboration requires are scheduled on the teachers and the work mentors work schedule so that they can commit to the collaboration. Make sure that the persons you nominate are motivated and willing to take part in this collaboration and be willing to reschedule your staff members schedules so that you can appoint the right persons to the task!
The workplace schedule does not match the students time and the activities on offer at companies might not match the curriculum needs. In some cases, employers only take on students when they are on low season and things are quiet. This might result in students finding them in situations where nothing happens and they find that they have nothing to learn at the company. In other cases, companies allow students to come and do internships when they are very busy and look at students as free workers and an extra pair of hands. To solve this obstacle we recommend that the VET providers, teachers, employers and work mentors sit down and agree on what the employer can offer and when and build the time schedule so that it fits the needs of the employer while it allows students to learn as much as possible. After coming to an agreement make a binding contract where the obligations and tasks are agreed on. Review the contract and the time schedules regularly to make sure that they are up to date and fulfil the needs and requirements of both parties.