The need to strengthen work-based learning
Work-based learning plays an important role in ensuring that learning meets the needs of the labour market. The workplace provides a strong learning environment and facilitates recruitment, while trainees contribute to output. Work-based learning opportunities are also a direct expression of employer needs and can encompass a variety of arrangements including apprenticeships, informal learning on the job, work placements that form part of formal qualifications, and internships of various types (oECD, 2010, 2014b).
in latvia, it is noticeable that policy documents refer to “vocational education” rather than to “vocational education and training”, the term more commonly used across Europe. This reflects the fact that vocational education is primarily conducted within schools, rather than through a combination of school-based and work-based learning. only a fraction of young people combine work and study in latvia (oECD, 2015b).
Latvia has recognised this issue and intends to introduce work-based learning into vocational education programmes as part of its wider reforms (MoES, 2015).
As mentioned earlier, a pilot project of work-based learning is currently under way to assess the feasibility of such model in the Latvian context. Among other things, the pilot includes the development of a flexible curriculum (according to occupational characteristics) and sharing responsibility for teaching (theory) and training (practical) between school and enterprises. Students split their time between the school and the workplace, both of which contribute to the development of occupational expertise and other “employability-related” attributes. This promising pilot initiative is to be expanded in 2015 but its coverage is expected to remain insufficient (European Commission, 2015). Another possible limitation of the pilot project at present is that it is separate from the existing apprenticeship provision organised by the Chamber of Crafts. This isolation from the existing provision is a missed opportunity to engage employers who take apprentices, and to learn from the existing expertise in work-based learning.
Currently the apprenticeship system falls outside the formal education system and its qualifications provide access to neither the regulated professions nor the formal education system. There are also no mechanisms in place for those who dropped out from an apprenticeship before completing it to continue their learning (Daija, Kinta and Ramina, 2014). Integrating the existing long-standing apprenticeship provision into Latvia’s education system may help to increase the status and attractiveness of vocational education. It would also provide a valuable source of expertise in work-based learning, enable vocational schools to form partnerships with more employers in both the public and private sectors, and generally strengthen the relationship between education and the labour market.
In developing its work-based learning model Latvia should therefore ensure it draws from the expertise of the existing apprenticeship system and, as intended, incorporate the apprenticeships organised by the Chamber of Crafts into the formal education system.
Expanding work-based learning in Latvia will be a challenge given the large proportion of SMEs and micro-enterprises in the economy but all countries, including those with well-established dual-system models, have to make continuous efforts to sustain the involvement of employers across all sectors (see Fuller and Unwin, 2012 for international case studies). The work-based learning pilots provide an important opportunity to evaluate the level of willingness of Latvian employers to commit to a formal apprenticeship model and to what extent a more differentiated approach might be required, one that offers apprenticeship alongside full- and part-time vocational education programmes with mandatory work experience and internships.
Motivating companies, especially SMEs, to provide quality work-based learning placements remains a challenge (European Commission, 2015). A number of countries provide examples of how to support smaller enterprises to enable them to recruit and train apprentices. These include creating pools of apprentices through sector-based group training associations so they can be shared among employers, as is done in Australia, England (the United Kingdom), Norway and Switzerland.
Latvia lacks a proper legislative framework regulating the relationships between apprentices and employers (e.g. on pay and training requirements) and effective incentives for companies to provide apprenticeships or practical training placements (European Commission, 2015). The development and expansion of a quality work-based learning system may require a system of financial incentives to facilitate the provision of learning opportunities on the employers’ side (oECD, 2015b). A positive development in this context is the ongoing discussion with the government on the support measures for employers who offer training placements; these include labour tax exemptions for employers who offer training placements.
Employers in Latvia also need to do their part. They need to take responsibility for and ownership of the new work-based learning model by offering training places and quality supervision, among other actions. Research shows they have much to gain from it, including a better image, a potential positive impact on recruitment and even higher productivity. Research evidence also shows that in many cases the financial benefits of apprenticeships outweigh the training cost (ETF, 2013b). A survey of employers in Belgium, for example, has shown that, despite initial net costs due to the low productivity of novice apprentices, by the end of the training period productive returns from apprentices outweigh training costs (De Rick, 2008). The SECs will have an important role in engaging with employers and expanding the pool of enterprises offering training places.