Graduate Jobs

MPs on the UK House of Commons education committee have released a report titled “Value for Money in Higher Education.” They draw attention to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) that indicated 49 percent of recent graduates (within five years of achieving their degree) were in non-graduate roles in 2017.

This is a significant increase over the proportion at the start of 2009, just after the 2008 financial crash, when 41 percent of recent graduates were in that position. It is matched by a very similar rise even among the population of graduates taken as a whole—including mature students—from 31 percent to 37 percent in the same years.

The report stated: “Higher education institutions must be more transparent about the labour market returns of their courses.” It came with the warning that “too many universities are not providing value for money, and … students are not getting good outcomes from the degrees for which so many of them rack up debt.”

As the title of the report implies, much of the attention on graduate employment is due to the political controversy over the funding of Higher Education in the UK and the cost of participation in degree courses.

But there is another issue which has received less attention: how graduate (and non graduate) jobs are defined.

The Office for National Statistics explains the classification system as follows

1.The skill level groups are created by grouping jobs together based on their occupation according to the Standard Occupation Classification (SOC) 2010 lower level groups. The occupation group is not available for some workers, these have been excluded from the total.

Occupations were grouped by the skill level required according to the following guidelines:

2,1. High – This skill level is normally acquired through a degree or an equivalent period of work experience. Occupations at this level are generally termed ‘professional’ or managerial positions, and are found in corporate enterprises or governments. Examples include senior government officials, financial managers, scientists, engineers, medical doctors, teachers and accountants.

2,2. Upper-middle – This skill level equates to competence acquired through post-compulsory education but not to degree level. Occupations found at this level include a variety of technical and trades occupations, and proprietors of small business. For the latter, significant work experience may be typical. Examples of occupations at this level include catering managers, building inspectors, nurses, police officers (sergeant and below), electricians and plumbers.

2,3. Lower-middle – This skill level covers occupations that require the same competence acquired through compulsory education, but involve a longer period of work-related training and experience. Examples of occupations at this level include machine operation, driving, caring occupations, retailing, and clerical and secretarial occupations.

2,4. Low – This skill level equates to the competence acquired through compulsory education. Job-related competence involves knowledge of relevant health and safety regulations and may be acquired through a short period of training. Examples of occupations at this level include postal workers, hotel porters, cleaners and catering assistants.

The sentence “Occupations at this level are generally termed ‘professional’ or managerial positions, and are found in corporate enterprises or governments.” Arguably this ignores ongoing changes in the economy with high skilled technical jobs being created by Small and Medium Enterprises rather than large corporations. As Malcolm Todd,  Provost (Academic) of the University of Derby, points out in an article in WonkHE: “The current government methodology of using traditional Standard Occupational Codes (SOC) to declare which roles are graduate level is dated. It’s not reflective of the current employment market and is not ready for the future job market. Codes are based on traditional views of careers and highly skilled roles, not the whole requirements of a role.”

He draws attention to Teaching Assistants working with pupils that have special education needs and disabilities, and emerging jobs in the growing retail, social care and hospitality, many of which require high skills but are classified as non graduate jobs. At the same time, jobs presently classified as requiring a degree such as accountants are like to decline due to automation and the use of Artificial Intelligence.

To some degree, the debate is clouded by a perception that graduate level jobs should command a higher salary (an argument used by the Government to justify high university tuition fees. Yet wage growth in the UK has been low across all sectors since the onset of the recession in 2008.

But with growing skills required in a range of different jobs, maybe it is time for a new look at how graduate jobs are classified or even whether dividing employment into graduate or non graduate occupations is relevant any more.

 

Four domains of learning

four development domaninspng

I came upon this text today when I was seeking to extend on an article I was writing that included the idea of learning in four domains. It was produced, I think, for the EmployID MOOC on the Changing World of Work and was probably written by Alan Brown and Jenny Bimrose.Sadly, I was so tied up with producing my own materials for the MOOC and didn’t get to read all of the other peoples. But at a time when there is a growing need to question to division between humanities and technical subjects, I think this offers a good way forward.

Relational development – learning with and from interacting with other people

A major route for relational development is learning through interactions at work, learning with and from others (in multiple contexts) and learning as participation in communities of practice (and communities of interest) while working with others. Socialisation at work, peer learning and identity work all contribute to individuals’ relational development. Many processes of relational development occur alongside other activities but more complex relationships requiring the use of influencing skills, engaging people for particular purposes, supporting the learning of others and exercising supervision, management or (team) leadership responsibilities may benefit from support through explicit education, training or development activities.

Jack from the UK had switched career and now who worked as a carer. From the outset Jack learned much about his work from engaging with residents in the care home as well as learning from other staff. He had received letters from residents expressing their gratitude, which had boosted his confidence. His manager encouraged him to become a trainer in the care home, and although nervous and unsure he delivered the training and his self-efficacy increased.

Cognitive development – acquiring knowledge and thinking skills

A major work-related route for cognitive development involves learning through mastery of an appropriate knowledge base and any subsequent technical updating. This form of development makes use of learning by acquisition and highlights the importance of subject or disciplinary knowledge and/or craft and technical knowledge, and it will be concerned with developing particular cognitive abilities, such as critical thinking; evaluating; synthesising etc.

Bernard, a Czech automotive worker, participated in a short internal company technical training programme which positively surprised him in terms of practical outcomes and motivated him to actively work on his vocational development. ‘You had to know your stuff, the trainer was extremely competent, he knew his field very well, but sometimes I had difficulties to follow him. Anyway, it was really done by professionals who knew their stuff, and I appreciated it very much. I was very satisfied. I learned lots of things that were later very useful for my work […] It was very interesting to meet people from a completely different and a rather specialised area. I learned a lot of things and I was proud of it. I think this was the moment that made me change my attitude towards learning. I became much more curious.’

Practical development – learning by doing, by experience, by taking on challenges

For practical development the major developmental route is often learning on the job, particularly learning through challenging work. Learning a practice is also about relationships, identity and cognitive development but there is value in drawing attention to this idea, even if conceptually it is a different order to the other forms of development highlighted in this representation of learning as a process of identity development. Practical development can encompass the importance of critical inquiry, innovation, new ideas, changing ways of working and (critical) reflection on practice. It may be facilitated by learning through experience, project work and/or by use of particular approaches to practice, such as planning and preparation, implementation (including problem-solving) and evaluation. The ultimate goal may be vocational mastery, with progressive inculcation into particular ways of thinking and practising, including acceptance of appropriate standards, ethics and values, and the development of particular skill sets and capabilities associated with developing expertise.

Davide, an Italian carpenter, saw learning as a practice-based process driven by curiosity, a spirit of observation, and trial and error. A major role was played by his passion for the transformation of matter, which he perceived as an almost sacred event: ‘It really struck me to see that from a piece of wood one can create a piece of furniture’.

Emotional development – making sense of your own feelings and how others feel 

For emotional development, the major developmental routes are learning through engagement,  reflexiveness that leads to greater self-understanding, and the development of particular personal qualities. Much emotional development may occur outside work, but the search for meaning in work, developing particular mind-sets, and mindfulness may be components of an individual’s emotional development. Particular avenues of development could include understanding the perspectives of others, respect for the views of others, empathy, anticipating the impact of your own words and actions, and a general reflexiveness, which includes exploring feelings. Identity development at work may also be influenced by changing ideas individuals have about their own well-being and changing definitions of career success (Brown & Bimrose 2014).

Henrik from Denmark switched career, moving into caring and developed a new relationship with his work, which he found much more emotionally engaging. While studying for his skilled worker qualification, Henrik immersed himself in individual assignments of his own choice. In one assignment, he developed a ‘product’ to help improve a pupil’s ability to communicate, an ability which was being lost due to a rare disease. When Henrik talked about the assignment he was very engaged and showed insight into the syndrome. Because the assignment was closely related to his experience and practice, he saw meaning in undertaking it: ‘It was as though there was a circle I could complete on my own.’ He received a top grade for the assignment, and it is evident that positive learning experiences and the perception of entering into learning processes that are meaningful to his life and work situation are strong motivating factors in his engagement in further learning.

An action research approach to studying apprenticeship in Spain

helmet-1636348_1920This is a new paper, written by Graham Attwell and Ana Garcia about the new apprenticeship system in Spain. The research was sponsored by the International Network on Innovative Apprenticeship (INAP) and the paper will be presented at the “Crossing Boundaries in VET: Social Dimension and Participation” conference in rostaock in August. We will provide a downlaodable version of the paper once we have overcome our fight with Word templates.

Abstract: This paper, explores the outcomes of a short action research project, undertaken in Valencia Spain in 2016, into the introduction of the new apprenticeship qualification, FP Dual. The hypothesis underpinning the work was that the development of apprenticeship programmes in Spain needs to build on existing cultural and organisational norms and requires an in-depth understanding of critical factors in the perception of apprenticeship by different actors. The research was undertaken through a series of over 30 in depth interviews with different actors. The paper explains the background and methodology, before outlining the major issues that emerged from the research. The conclusion suggests the need to address cultural and educational issues that the introduction of a Dual System system raises, including the relations between companies and education institutions, the prestige of vocational qualifications, the training of teachers and trainers and issues of pedagogy and curriculum.

Keywords: Action research, Semi structured interview, Apprenticeship, Policy, Spain

1         Introduction

The Spanish economy is still struggling from the impact of the ‘crisis’, with persistently high levels of youth unemployment and low skills levels. Unemployment is especially high for those leaving school early with no qualifications and for recent graduates (Esenciales Fundación BBVA, 2016).

A series of reports have suggested that moving beyond the school based, initial vocational training system to adopt a dual system based, apprenticeship model offers benefits to the economy, to companies and to individuals (Wolter and Mühlemann, 2015).

However, other research points to the difficulties in transferring models developed in one culture – such as the German Dual apprenticeship system – to other cultures such as Spain (Pilz, 2016). These include the weakness of trade unions at a company level, educational polarisation between vocational and higher education, resistance at company level, resistance by families and young people, variation in co-ordination between actors from region to region, complex interactions between national and regional levels, the government, social partners and employment organisations and, of course, the ongoing economic crisis (Cedefop, (2015).

The Spanish government has established an experimental apprenticeship framework, FP Dual, with pilots running in parallel to existing VET schemes (Refer Net Spain, 2014). The implementation of the programmes varies greatly in different Autonomous Communities, based on different cultures, different economies and different organisational and governance forms.

Clara Bassols and Guillem Salvans (2016) say that the Spanish FP Dual system is underdeveloped and needs to be refined and improved to ensure that it is genuinely capable of providing young people with the necessary professional skills and thus employability. Comparing developments in Spain with the German Dual apprenticeship training system, they say that while the two Dual VET systems will never be the same, comparison with Germany reveals that the Spanish system lacks some of the defining strengths of the German system. That the Spanish Dual VET system is so new is viewed as “an opportunity to make changes before it becomes too entrenched.”

Our hypothesis is that the development of apprenticeship programmes in Spain needs to build on existing cultural and organisational norms. This requires an in-depth understanding of critical factors in the perception of apprenticeship by different actors and how these affect the development and implementation of apprenticeship programmes.

The ‘Understanding cultural barriers and opportunities for developing new apprenticeship programmes’ project, sponsored by INEP, has undertaken a four-month research study based in Valencia, to explore the cultural and organisational norms and the barriers and opportunities these afford to introducing apprenticeship. In this paper, we explain the methodology behind the research and the main findings.

2 Research Methodology

A key aim for the project was understanding the introduction of an education innovation – apprenticeship – within a local setting and with a wide range of different actors.

The project adopted an action research approach. Our aim was to develop an understanding of the underlying causes of issues relating to the introduction of educational practice in order, in the longer term, to arrive at consensus by different social partners on how practice can be improved. Our focus has been on qualitative research with different actors who may have an important voice in this area, the organisation of apprenticeship, the role of different organisations and the cultural factors affecting the provision and reform of vocational education and training in the Valencia Community and in Spain.

Elden (1983) has introduced the notion of ‘local theory’. To understand the challenges of each specific workplace, he said, as well as how to attack them, there is a need to understand this specific workplace. In a similar way, we would suggest the need to understand the specific ideas and activities and ‘theories’ of different actors involved at a local level in apprenticeship. Here theory might be understood as the specific pedagogic and learning approach of apprenticeship in bringing together vocational training within schools with alternance periods spent within companies. One objective for our research was how such theory is linked to practice in introducing and supporting such programmes.

In the first stage of the project, we identified the major actors involved in the development and introduction of the apprenticeship programmes in Valencia. These included:

  1. Vocational Training Schools (directors, teachers, tutors)
  2. Policy Makers (regional government and political parties and organisations)
  3. Students and trainees
  4. Parents and carers
  5. Companies especially Small and Medium Enterprises.

The project adopted the idea of purposive sampling for selecting respondents for interviews (Patton, 1990). Interviews were conducted face-to-face using semi structured questionnaires. Overall, thirty interviews were conducted, recorded and transcribed.

3. Findings

In line with our approach to the project, we present here detailed findings from te different actors involved in developing apprenticeship at a local city level.

The role of companies in the FP Dual

Given the central nature of companies to the FP Dual system, it is not surprising that the relationship between companies and vocational schools, as well as the local administration was a major issue raised by all the different social partners. Although most company representatives interviewed were positive about the FP Dual and vocational schools welcomed the partnership with companies, it is proving time consuming to develop a culture and processes to support a dual system and the number of apprenticeship programmes and the number enrolled in Valencia remains limited. There are particular difficulties involving SMEs, who are reluctant to contribute to the cost of apprenticeship and lack skilled trainers.

The role of the school centres

Despite the support of some large and important companies, the adoption of FP Dual is being driven by the School Centres. In such a situation, it is possible that the large integrated centres are in a better position to lead such development, although this is not to downplay the contribution and effort of the smaller centres. School leadership is a critical factor, as is the commitment and contribution of teachers in the vocational schools. Directors and teachers receive no remuneration to working with companies to develop new programmes.

Administration and Contracts

The bureaucracy associated with the establishment of new apprenticeship programmes, both for the schools and for the companies, is troubling.

Some Autonomous Communities have legislation on contracts and remuneration for apprentices with differing rulings. In Valencia, it depends on the individual programmes negotiated between the company and the vocational schools. Quite obviously, this is problematic in that some apprentices are being paid for their work at the company while others are not. Furthermore, some apprentices, who are not receiving remuneration from the company, may be incurring some considerable expenses for travel.

Curriculum Design

At present, the FP Dual programmes last two years in contrast to the normal three-year length of apprenticeships in the German Dual system. There is concern that a some subjects, the curriculum is too heavy for such a time and there is a need for rebalancing drawn between what is learnt through the school and through in-company training.

Sector organisations

One key factor in implementing the FP Dual, is the strength and support of sector organisations which varies between different sectors. The initial programmes are being implemented where there is good communication and support between sectors, vocational schools and industries.

Flexibility and collaboration

The flexibility for the Autonomous Communities to implement apprenticeship schemes allows programmes to be adapted and planned according to the needs of local economies and societies. This may be a problem in terms of transferability of different courses and in transparency of what apprenticeship programmes stand for. There is an important balance to be achieved between the design of programmes to cater for the needs of individual companies and more standardised curricula which meet the needs of students in their education.

Careers guidance and the role of parents

There is only limited public awareness of the FP Dual and the aims and the organisation of apprenticeship. This issue is particularly salient given the high prestige placed on academic courses in Spain and particularly university programmes within the wider Spanish society. The weakness of education and guidance networks and services within Valencia is a major issue if young people, and especially higher achieving young people are to be recruited on FP Dual programmes and if companies and SMEs are to understand the value of apprenticeship.

Initial training and Professional development

There is a lack of a dedicated and well organised and resourced programme of professional development for vocational teachers and for trainers in companies, which is seen as a pre-condition for the future success of apprenticeship in Valencia. Initial training for vocational school teachers is overly focused on the subject with too little attention to pedagogic approaches to teaching and learning.

Sharing resources and good practices

The vocational schools appear to have well developed unofficial networks. But more formal networks are needed which could generalise discourses over strategies and approaches to apprenticeship and provide a forum for knowledge development and exchange.

There is a general concern that vocational education lack prestige, but more importantly the vocational centres often lack sufficient resources to not only maintain present programmes but to develop apprenticeship. This is linked to their understanding of the need for recognised quality in teaching and learning if apprenticeship is to succeed. Many teachers said they lack resources and there is poor access to technology.

International collaboration

European projects and programmes, including the development of new curricula and qualifications, new pedagogic approaches, the use of new technologies and the exchange of students and teachers are extremely valuable for vocational schools to develop and exchange knowledge and experience about apprenticeship.

Regional and city wide collaboration

Vocational schools appear to be approaching companies individually. There could be gains through developing more formal and extended networks between schools and companies, either on a regional or a sector basis. To an extent this role is being undertaken at a national basis by the Alliance for Apprenticeship. The establishment of the Alliance at the level of the Autonomous Communities could be an important step in promoting the FP Dual.

FP Dual and the local economy

Many of those interviewed saw apprenticeship as a way of proving the skills which the local economy would need in the future, particularly in view of the potential flexibility in designing new programmes together with employers. However, they also recognised the challenges in developing such a responsive system.

Evaluation

The new apprenticeship programmes are experimental, and many of the issues arising are not unique to Spain. Indeed, many of these issues have been raised in research into the long established German Dual System. However, the lack of qualitative evaluation of the FP Dual programmes, especially scientifically undertaken and published case studies, is a barrier to understanding what is working, what is not and how to improve the quality of the programmes.

4. Conclusions

The findings from this research are focused on the context of educational change and introducing apprenticeship in one community, Valencia in Spain. This raises the question of how generalizable they are to other regions and other countries. We would suggest the findings show the limitation in attempting to transfer models of vocational education and training from one country to another. Inevitably, FP Dual reflects the governmental, cultural, pedagogic and curricula history and practices of Valencia, as well as the particular context of the ongoing economic crisis. That does not mean that developing an apprenticeship system in Valencia is either undesirable or impossible. But it does mean going beyond lauding the strengths of dual system approaches to education and training and whilst recognising that a Dual system in Spain will always be different to Germany, addressing some of the cultural and educational issues that such a system raises. These include the relations between companies and education institutions, the prestige of vocational qualifications, the training of teachers and trainers and issues of pedagogy and curriculum. Announcing a new systemic innovation alone is not enough: unless these key issues can be addressed apprenticeship will not succeed in Valencia or in Spain.

References

Bassols, C. and Salvans, G.  (2016). High Quality Vocational training in Spain: the Alliance for Dual Vocational training, Bertelsmann Foundation, Madrid

Cedefop (2015). Governance and financing of apprenticeship, Cedefop, Thessaloniki

Elden, M. (1983). Democratization and participative research in developing local theory. Journal of Occupational Behaviour, 4(1), 21–34.

Esenciales Fundación BBVA (2016). La formación ha avanzado durante la crisis, peroel abandono escolar, los desajustes en competencias y el paro limitan el aprovechamiento del esfuerzo educativo, Ivie N.º 03/2016

Patton, M. (1990) Qualitative evaluation and research methods. (pp. 169-186), Sage Publications, Beverly Hills, CA

Pilz, M. (2016). Training Patterns of German Companies in India, China, Japan and the USA:What Really Works?, International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training (IJRVET), Vol. 3, Issue 2, August 2016, pp. 66-87

Refer Net Spain (2014) Apprenticeship-type schemes and structured work-based learning programmes: Spain, CEDEFOP

Wolter, C. and Mühlemann, S. (2015) Apprenticeship training in Spain – a cost effective model for firms?, Bertelsmann Stiftung, Guetersloh

 

Recognising competence and learning

As promised some further thoughts on the DISCUSS conference, held earlier this week in Munich.

One of the themes for discussion was the recognition of (prior) learning. The theme had emerged after looking at the main work of Europa projects, particularly in the field of lifelong learning. The idea and attraction of recognising learning from different contexts, and particularly form informal learning is hardly new. In the 1990s, in the UK, the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (as it was then called) devoted resources to developing systems for the Accreditation of Prior Learning. One of the ideas behind National Vocational Qualifications was teh decoupling of teaching and learning from learning outcomes, expressed in terms of competences and performance criteria. Therefore, it was thought, anyone should be able to have their competences recognised (through certification) regardless of whether or not they had followed a particular formal training programme. Despite the considerable investment, it was only at best a limited success. Developing observably robust processes for accrediting such learning was problematic, as was the time and cost in implementing such processes.

It is interesting to consider why there is once more an upsurge of interest in the recognition of prior learning. My feeling was in the UK, the initiative wax driven because of teh weak links between vocational education and training and the labour market.n In countries liek Germany, with a strong apprenticeship training system, there was seen as no need for such a procedure. Furthermore learning was linked to the work process, and competence seen as the internalised ability to perform in an occupation, rather than as an externalised series of criteria for qualification. However the recent waves of migration, initially from Eastern Europe and now of refugees, has resulted in large numbers of people who may be well qualified (in all senses of the word) but with no easily recognisable qualification for employment.

I am unconvinced that attempts to formally assess prior competence as a basis for the fast tracking of  awarding qualifications will work. I think we probably need to look much deeper at both ideas around effective practice and at what exactly we mean my recognition and will write more about this in future posts. But digging around in my computer today I came up with a paper I wrote together with Jenny Hughes around some of these issues. I am not sure the title helped attract a wide readership: The role and importance of informal competences in the process of acquisition and transfer of work skills. Validation of competencies – a review of reference models in the light of youth research: United Kingdom. Below is an extract.

“NVQs and the accreditation of informal learning

As Bjørnåvold (2000) says the system of NVQs is, in principle, open to any learning path and learning form and places a particular emphasis on experience-based learning at work, At least in theory, it does not matter how or where you have learned; what matters is what you have learned. The system is open to learning taking place outside formal education and training institutions, or to what Bjørnåvold terms non-formal learning. This learning has to be identified and judged, so it is no coincidence that questions of assessment and recognition have become crucial in the debate on the current status of the NVQ system and its future prospects.

While the NVQ system as such dates back to 1989, the actual introduction of “new” assessment methodologies can be dated to 1991. This was the year the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ) and its Scottish equivalent, Scotvec, required that “accreditation of prior learning” should be available for all qualifications accredited by these bodies (NVQs and general national qualifications, GNVQs). The introduction of a specialised assessment approach to supplement the ordinary assessment and testing procedures used when following traditional and formal pathways, was motivated by the following factors:

1. to give formal recognition to the knowledge and skills which people already possess, as a route to new employment;
2. to increase the number of people with formal qualifications;
3. to reduce training time by avoiding repetition of what candidates already know.

The actual procedure applied can be divided into the following steps. The first step consists of providing general information about the APL process, normally by advisers who are not subject specialists, often supported by printed material or videos. The second and most crucial step includes the gathering and preparation of a portfolio. No fixed format for the portfolio has been established but all evidence must be related to the requirements of the target qualification. The portfolio should include statements of job tasks and responsibilities from past or present employers as well as examples (proofs) of relevant “products”. Results of tests or specifically-undertaken projects should also be included. Thirdly, the actual assessment of the candidate takes place. As it is stated:”The assessment process is substantially the same as that which is used for any candidate for an NVQ. The APL differs from the normal assessment process in that the candidate is providing evidence largely of past activity rather than of skills acquired during the current training course.”The result of the assessment can lead to full recognition, although only a minority of candidates have sufficient prior experience to achieve this, In most cases, the portfolio assessment leads to exemption from parts of a programme or course. The attention towards specialised APL methodologies has diminished somewhat in the UK during recent years. It is argued that there is a danger of isolating APL, and rather, it should be integrated into normal assessments as one of several sources of evidence.”The view that APL is different and separate has resulted in evidence of prior learning and achievement being used less widely than anticipated. Assessors have taken steps to avoid this source of evidence or at least become over-anxious about its inclusion in the overall evidence a candidate may have to offer.”We can thus observe a situation where responsible bodies have tried to strike a balance between evidence of prior and current learning as well as between informal and formal learning. This has not been a straightforward task as several findings suggest that APL is perceived as a “short cut”, less rigorously applied than traditional assessment approaches. The actual use of this kind of evidence, either through explicit APL procedures or in other, more integrated ways, is difficult to overview. Awarding bodies are not required to list alternative learning routes, including APL, on the certificate of a candidate. This makes it almost impossible to identify where prior or informal learning has been used as evidence.

As mentioned in the discussions of the Mediterranean and Nordic experiences, the question of assessment methodologies cannot be separated from the question of qualification standards. Whatever evidence is gathered, some sort of reference point must be established. This has become the most challenging part of the NVQ exercise in general and the assessment exercise in particular.We will approach this question indirectly by addressing some of the underlying assumptions of the NVQ system and its translation into practical measures. Currently the system relies heavily on the following basic assumptions: legitimacy is to be assured through the assumed match between the national vocational standards and competences gained at work. The involvement of industry in defining and setting up standards has been a crucial part of this struggle for acceptance, Validity is supposed to be assured through the linking and location of both training and assessment, to the workplace. The intention is to strengthen the authenticity of both processes, avoiding simulated training and assessment situations where validity is threatened. Reliability is assured through detailed specifications of each single qualification (and module). Together with extensive training of the assessors, this is supposed to secure the consistency of assessments and eventually lead to an acceptable level of reliability.

A number of observers have argued that these assumptions are difficult to defend. When it comes to legitimacy, it is true that employers are represented in the above-mentioned leading bodies and standards councils, but several weaknesses of both a practical and fundamental character have appeared. Firstly, there are limits to what a relatively small group of employer representatives can contribute, often on the basis of scarce resources and limited time. Secondly, the more powerful and more technically knowledgeable organisations usually represent large companies with good training records and wield the greatest influence. Smaller, less influential organisations obtain less relevant results. Thirdly, disagreements in committees, irrespective of who is represented, are more easily resolved by inclusion than exclusion, inflating the scope of the qualifications. Generally speaking, there is a conflict of interest built into the national standards between the commitment to describe competences valid on a universal level and the commitment to create as specific and precise standards as possible. As to the questions of validity and reliability, our discussion touches upon drawing up the boundaries of the domain to be assessed and tested. High quality assessments depend on the existence of clear competence domains; validity and reliability depend on clear-cut definitions, domain-boundaries, domain-content and ways whereby this content can be expressed.

As in the Finnish case, the UK approach immediately faced a problem in this area. While early efforts concentrated on narrow task-analysis, a gradual shift towards broader function-analysis had taken place This shift reflects the need to create national standards describing transferable competences. Observers have noted that the introduction of functions was paralleled by detailed descriptions of every element in each function, prescribing performance criteria and the range of conditions for successful performance. The length and complexity of NVQs, currently a much criticised factor, stems from this “dynamic”. As Wolf says, we seem to have entered a “never ending spiral of specifications”. Researchers at the University of Sussex have concluded on the challenges facing NVQ-based assessments: pursuing perfect reliability leads to meaningless assessment. Pursuing perfect validity leads towards assessments which cover everything relevant, but take too much time, and leave too little time for learning. This statement reflects the challenges faced by all countries introducing output or performance-based systems relying heavily on assessments.

“Measurement of competences” is first and foremost a question of establishing reference points and less a question of instruments and tools. This is clearly illustrated by the NVQ system where questions of standards clearly stand out as more important than the specific tools developed during the past decade. And as stated, specific approaches like, “accreditation of prior learning” (APL), and “accreditation of prior experiential learning” (APEL), have become less visible as the NVQ system has settled. This is an understandable and fully reasonable development since all assessment approaches in the NVQ system in principle have to face the challenge of experientially-based learning, i.e., learning outside the formal school context. The experiences from APL and APEL are thus being integrated into the NVQ system albeit to an extent that is difficult to judge. In a way, this is an example of the maturing of the system. The UK system, being one of the first to try to construct a performance-based system, linking various formal and non-formal learning paths, illustrates the dilemmas of assessing and recognising non-formal learning better than most other systems because there has been time to observe and study systematically the problems and possibilities. The future challenge facing the UK system can be summarised as follows: who should take part in the definition standards, how should competence domains be described and how should boundaries be set? When these questions are answered, high quality assessments can materialise.”

Does technology destroy jobs

Infoposter_V1The argument over whether technology creates or destroys jobs has been going on for as long as I can remember.

Only yesterday John Naughton, in an article entitled “We are ignoring the new machine age at our peril“, worried about the impact of self driving cars and other technology on the future of employment. Naughton argued that there are “radical discontinuities that nobody could have anticipated”, driven by “combinatorial” effects of different technology trends coming together. These, he siad, include: “the near-infinite computing power provided by Moore’s law; precise digital mapping; GPS; developments in laser and infrared sensor technology; and machine-learning algorithms plus the availability of massive data-sets on which to train them.”

He warned the outcome could be “that vast swaths of human activity – and employment – which were hitherto regarded as beyond the reach of “intelligent” machines may now be susceptible to automation.” he went on to quote a studyby  Dr Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, two researchers at the Martin School in Oxford,T heir report, The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?,  estimates the probability of computerisation for 702 detailed occupations, based on US government classifications of those occupations.  About 47% of total US employment, they conclude, is at risk from technologies now operational in laboratories and in the field.

However a study entitled ‘Are ICT Displacing Workers? Evidence from Seven European Countries‘ by Smaranda Pantea, Federico Biagi and Anna Sabadash from the Institute of Prospective Technologies in Seville comes up with a different answer. Looking at micro data ins even European countries for companies in the manufacturing, ICT producing and service sector the study found “a non-significant relationship between employment growth and ICT intensity among ICT-using firms.: The authors say: “Since our estimates mainly capture the “substitution” effects of ICT on employment (i.e. those due to ICT substituting for some type of labour and to ICT increasing productivity and hence reducing demand for inputs, for constant values of output), our results indicate that these effects are statistically insignificant.”

Of course this study and the American study are not directly comparable. They looked at different things and used different methodologies. One conclusion might be that whilst technology is not being directly substituted for overall employment, it is changing the nature of jobs available. Some labour market studies (for instance based on the US O*Net surveys) have suggested that what is happening is a bifurcation of labour, with an increasing number of high qualified jobs and of low skilled (and consequently low paid) service sector jobs. And of course another impact may be on the ;content’ and different skills required in different jobs. For instance our work in the construction industry through the Learning layers project suggests increasing adoption of technology is leading to the need for new (and higher) skills levels within what was traditionally seen as a lower skills sector. This has considerable implications for vocational education and training. ather than training for presents skills demands VET systems need to be looking at future skills. And by providing those future orein3eteds kills this could provide a workforce and society with the abilities and motivation to shape our use of technology in society, rather than as John Naughton fears that “we’re bound to lose this race against the machine” and in the course “enrich the corporations that own it.”