Values-based action in a market-oriented environment

Hubert Ertl

Dear readers,

Vocational education and training has always pursued the overarching objective of equipping individuals to operate successfully in the world of work. However, placing the focus solely on teaching abilities and skills that meet the technical and social requirements of employment roles would be an overly narrow approach.

This edition of BWP therefore aims to broaden horizons and open up new ways of examining values in VET in this age of advancing globalisation and digitalisation in the workplace.

Combining civil society engagement and skills acquisition

The articles consider systems and educational approaches that combine participation in civil society with the acquisition of skills in professional contexts. The service learning approach, for example, demonstrates how technical and methodological skills and values-based attitudes can be developed in the learning process and thereby promote social engagement together with the acquisition of vocational competence.

The ability, within a market-oriented economic environment, to base our actions on values is an objective that the American philosopher John Dewey also advocated. In his 1916 book “Democracy and Education”, he outlines how the construct of the vocation not only enables a professional career, but also the development of a whole way of life. At the core of Dewey’s work is an all-encompassing concept of education, in which the emphasis is placed on dealing with social issues that go beyond the purely market-driven interests of the economic system. Education is closely related to the development of basic democratic values that serve as guiding lines for values-based vocational education and training; the service learning approach outlined in this issue can be traced back to Dewey’s ideas.

Integration in curricula and operational structures

The task of modern VET is also to prepare students to take responsibility for society as a whole and contribute to making it more humane. However, it is only possible to live up to this ambition if ethical aspects of production, business and service provision are also anchored in regulations on continuing VET and if teaching practice provides learning opportunities for tackling the ethical conflicts that are typical in a professional context.

The excesses that led to the financial crisis of 2008 are just one example that clearly demonstrates the necessity of a values-based approach if we are to correct the mechanisms of a globalised and, in many areas, only lightly regulated market. Fostering a spirit of solidarity and an awareness of the universal principle of justice are therefore key objectives of vocational education programmes. Their advantage over general education programmes is that they enable concrete experience of social relations in a working environment. However, this of course requires that the work structures in the company are open to collaborative design and allow participation and that the training staff accept the mission of developing these values. If this is achieved, there are far-reaching opportunities to design vocational education and training that promotes comprehensive vocational competence in the truest sense of the word.


Prof. Dr., Director of Research and Vice President of BIBB

Translation from the German original (published in BWP 4/2019): Beverly Rudd, Exact! Sprachenservice, Mannheim