Inform 15: Social Partnership in Vocational Education and Training
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Inform 15: Social Partnership in Vocational Education and Training

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Inform is a series of policy briefings prepared by the experts of the European Training Foundation (ETF)

Inform is a series of policy briefings prepared by the experts of the European Training Foundation (ETF)

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  • 1. SOCIAL PARTNERSHIP IN VOCATIONALEDUCATION AND TRAININGINFORMISSUE 15APRIL 2013NEWS AND VIEWSTO KEEP YOUIN THE KNOWFROM THE ETFCOMMUNITYBy working together, governments,employers and trade unions can developeducation and training to respond to thediverse needs of society, the economy andindividuals. Cooperation between all theseactors however remains a challenge inmost countries. For vocational training inparticular, it is of paramount importancethat governments, employers and tradeunions develop their capacities to worktogether in making and implementingvocational education and training policies.This analysis builds on the outcomes of theETF’s work over the years in the partnercountries, particularly in its recent projectsthat have specifically targeted socialpartners.WHO ARE THE SOCIAL PARTNERS?The term social partners generally refers totrade unions and employer organisationsthat exist to promote and protect theinterests of their members. According tothe International Labour Organisation (ILO),a social partner should be independentfrom government, represent the sector towhich it belongs and based on freedom ofassociation. Independent social partnerorganisations receive their legitimacy andmandate from their members.Social partnership in vocationaleducation and training is aboutemployers, trade unions, publicauthorities and traininginstitutions cooperating toensure that the training providedis adequate and relevant tolabour market needs.Occupations are changing.Economic restructuring andglobal competition aredestroying old style jobs andcreating new ones that have newdemands for human capital.Young people entering thelabour market frequently lack thecompetences that are required injobs and ageing workforcesstruggle to keep pace withtechnological developments.Making training relevant tolabour market needs is an issueof concern the world over.WHY SHOULD SOCIAL PARTNERS BEINVOLVED IN VOCATIONALEDUCATION AND TRAINING?Social partners represent labour markets,which are the main beneficiaries ofvocational training. While the skills needsof labour markets evolve, vocationaltraining provision must keep pace and thisimplies the need for detailed informationon labour market trends that go beyondmere statistics. Employer and employeeorganisations are well placed to providethis information. Social partners cantherefore articulate labour market needsduring the design of vocational trainingpolicy and explain what is expected fromgraduates entering the labour market.If vocational training and higher educationbetter meet the needs of the labourmarket, everyone benefits – learners,enterprises and, hand-in-hand witheconomic development, society as awhole.Although education is not the only factorthat can have a positive impact on theeconomy, countries like Finland that havedeveloped dramatically over the past 50years, have also invested heavily ineducation, including vocational education.SOCIALPARTNERSHIPISSUEƒƒ The importance of involving social partners in vocational trainingpolicy making.ƒƒ How they are involved nowƒƒ What can be done to get them more involved in the futureCONTENTS
  • 2. INFOINFORMSocial partners participate in both policymaking and the practical provision oftraining in the ETF’s partner countries. Theyare involved in different ways at differentlevels of the system (national, regional andlocal). At national level, for example theyare likely to play a consultative role informulating vocational training policies orestablishing occupational standards fordifferent sectors, while at regional and locallevels their involvement might take theform of analysing labour market trends witha view to translating this information intotraining programmes.Social partners often play a key active rolein providing work-based learning, includingcontinuing training, and active labourmarket policies, which can support theprovision of training for company workforces or unemployed job seekers.NATIONAL QUALIFICATIONSFRAMEWORKSSocial partners have a recognised role inproviding advice on training content withinthe context of the development of nationalqualifications frameworks. For example, inTurkey and Ukraine, employersorganisations play an active part in thedevelopment of their national qualificationsframeworks, which cover occupationalstandards and curricula. Trade unions onthe other hand have often had a morepassive (or only reactive) role due to thefact that vocational training and skillsdevelopment seem to be low on their listsof priorities.WORK-BASED LEARNINGVery often skills development takes placein the workplace. Work-based learning istypically the responsibility of the employerswho develop the skills of their staff.Vocational training institutions aresometimes contracted by enterprises toprovide specific staff training. Enterprisesalso offer on-the-job training for students orapprentices and there are many examplesof cooperation between enterprises andvocational schools on practical training. Themost developed system of work-basedlearning is apprenticeship training. Basedon the German model, Egypt has recentlydeveloped apprenticeship trainingHOW ARE SOCIAL PARTNERS INVOLVED? HOdoculegisstruccounsociabeyomotiwhelikelyinvoestacanThislimitfacta traeventakea goregiopartnMeddifficbetwmorecollaA TRIn mseenauthsupported by the National Centre forHuman Resources Development, which isin fact part of a business organisation, theInvestor Associations Union.Some employer organisations, enterprisesand even trade unions have their owntraining centres. In Russia, largeenterprises such as RUSAL, the world’slargest aluminium company, even havetheir own corporate universities. RussianRailways has more than 50 training centresand the biggest Russian trade unionconfederation, FNPR, has two universities.In Palestine, the trade union PGFTU hasrun joint projects with European tradeunions to provide vocational training forworkers.COOPERATION STRUCTURESFor policy consultations with socialpartners and other stakeholders many ETFpartner countries have establishedEconomic and Social Councils, VETCouncils or Employment Councils. Somecountries also have employment or trainingcouncils at regional or local level. At locallevel, social partners are sometimesmembers of school boards, advisorybodies or training institutions.Serbia has established the Council forVocational Education and Adult Education,which is a tripartite body to develop thenational qualifications framework andcurricula. Serbian employers are involved inthe policy development and strategicplanning of vocational training. They alsoparticipate in the definition of occupationalstandards and examinations.In Morocco, the Office de la FormationProfessionnelle et de la Promotion duTravail, whose tripartite board representsthe government, employers and tradeunions, is in charge of implementingcontinuing training programmes. There arealso tripartite committees for continuingtraining in ten different regions in thecountry.Sectoral social dialogue on vocationaltraining exists in Croatia and Turkey. Croatiahas 13 VET sector councils which startedas voluntary bodies with a limited mandate.Their legal basis was established in 2009and their task is to define nationalqualifications. Turkey has occupationalstandard committees and a VocationalQualifications Agency. Overall in thepartner countries, there is a lot of interestin sector initiatives including establishingskills councils. For example, the Republic ofMoldova and Kyrgyzstan have recentlyestablished sector councils which arecurrently getting up and running.Efficiency is an issue. VET or sector skillcouncils and school boards can serve aseffective cooperation platforms if they havethe expertise, staff and funding to fulfiltheir mandate. With supportive frameworksin place, employers and trade unions candevelop their capacity to contribute to thevocational training policy process to ensurethat provision meets labour market needs.This entails establishing objectives andorganising their work to meet them.Sharing responsibilities and power is in thecore of social partnership. The first step isthat governments demonstrate theirwillingness to work with social partners.This can be expressed in various policyWith supportive frameworks inplace, employers and tradeunions can develop their capacityto contribute to the vocationaltraining policy process to ensurethat training provision meetslabour market needs.
  • 3. INFORMHOW CAN SOCIAL PARTNERS GET MORE INVOLVED?cooperation is based on the involvement ofenterprises. Public authorities also inviteindividual experts or enterprises toparticipate in the development ofqualifications or standards.Employer organisations and trade unionsare autonomous when representing theinterests of their members, but there areconstraints. Governments do not alwayswelcome the independence of the socialpartners, while social partners areoccasionally limited by their capacity to beinvolved in complicated policy issues. Theyoften lack information to support theirargumentation.They define the needs of their members aspriorities and goals in their policy papers.Vocational and continuing training areindependent issues but they are also linkedto the wider agenda of an employerorganisation or a trade union. Trade unionsin partner countries have so far only rarelydefined links between vocational trainingand their agendas.KEY ACTORSSocial partner involvement can be inhibitedif employers and trade unions do not seethemselves as key actors. All concernedparties, including governmental actors,should understand the benefits of theirSOCIALPARTNERSHIPISSUEdocuments and supported by appropriatelegislation and practice. Secondlystructures like vocational training or sectorcouncils must be agreed together withsocial partners. Effective partnership goesbeyond mere formal cooperation. Themotivation of the stakeholders depends onwhether they believe that their voices arelikely to be heard. Thirdly, to enhance theirinvolvement, the governments mustestablish a vision to which stakeholderscan respond.This doesn’t mean that initiatives should belimited to governments, but in view of thefact that many ETF partner countries havea tradition of centralised policy making,even with the best political will, changetakes time. In many cases social dialogue isa government led operation. The ETFregional project to support socialpartnerships in southern and easternMediterranean has proved that it can bedifficult to establish bipartite partnershipsbetween employers and trade unions oftenmore used to confrontation rather thancollaboration.A TRIPARTITE PROCESSIn many ETF partner countries, dialogue isseen as a tripartite process in which publicauthorities also take part. Practicalstgic oflshaveorksnheureds.theis.nityreparticipation. The different roles andfunctions in cooperation at different levelsof governance can be defined inagreements between the three parties, ashappened in Albania in 2009.The representation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) and employersfrom the informal economy is an issue inmany ETF partner countries, as they arerarely members of employer or businessassociations. Trade unionisation is oftenconcentrated in the public sector or bigcompanies and unions rarely cover alleconomic sectors. These limitations canaffect the part social partners can play in allareas of their work.
  • 4. INFORMFor information on our activities,job and tendering opportunities,please visit our website,www.etf.europa.euFor other enquiries, please contact:ETF Communication DepartmentE info@etf.europa.euT +39 011 6302222F +39 011 6302200Petri Lempinen, ETF expert© European Training Foundation, 2013Reproduction is authorised, except for commercialpurposes, provided the source is acknowledgedCONCLUSIONSThe involvement of the social partners is based on their awareness of the changing skillsneeds of the labour market – a precondition for employment and economic growth. Theybring added value to the development of VET policies and practices if they argue theseneeds. Employers and trade unions also promote training in enterprises in many ways.VET councils or other permanent cooperation structures exist in most ETF partnercountries but their capacity is not always fully exploited. Real cooperation demands trustfrom all partners. By working together, governments, employers and trade unions candevelop education and training to respond to the diverse needs of society, the economyand individuals. When successful, cooperation transforms the role of social partners froma reactive one to active participation even if their role remains consultative. Bothgovernments and social partner organisations need to demonstrate their willingness andcapacities to work together. At the same time, cooperation has the potential to increasethe capacities of all three parties to impose policies and practises.Employer organisations and trade unions need organisational and individual capacity tocontribute to dialogue on vocational education and training. It includes understanding andarticulating the needs of their members which are companies or workers. Currently theyare not always well organised. Taking on such an active role is part of theprofessionalisation of an organisation. The overall capacity of social partner organisationsdepends on the interests and capacity of their elected leaders and staff. Shortcomings canbe visible at national or regional level. Often resources or organisational capacity vary fromone economic sector to another. If social partners have problems with the way they arerepresented, they often have limited resources and capacity to be involved in variouspolicy debates.Improving the involvement of the social partners is based on understanding that vocationaltraining has close links to the labour market and the economy. If governments are willingto empower social partner organisations to be more involved in vocational training policiesand implementation, they gain by developing expertise among their stakeholders. This canbe used when developing occupational standards, qualifications and training. Thepromotion of work-based learning can improve the quality of learning outcomes in acost-efficient way. Involving social partners should go beyond formal participation into areal contribution that is taken into consideration when decisions are made. Theircontribution requires capacity, but without real involvement in policy work social partnerscannot be empowered.REFERENCESETF Yearbook 2011 Social Partners inVocational Education and Training.Peer review. From Consultations toInitiatives. Activating the role ofSocial Partners in Continuing Trainingin Romania. ETF 2004.Social Partners in Education andTraining: From Policy Development toImplementation. Reflections on theETF 2008 Policy Learning Exercise inCroatia, the Former YugoslavRepublic of Macedonia, Serbia andTurkey. ETF 2009.Social Partners in VocationalEducation and Training in theSouthern Mediterranean. ETF 2011.Youcef Ghellab: Social dialogue onpension reform in South EasternEurope: A survey of the socialpartners. Dialogue Paper No. 20. ILO2008.