Training modules - competence and outcome orientation in educational provision within the transitional sector

Stefan Ekert, Lisa Rotthowe, Bernd Weiterer

Criticism has been levelled at the transitional area between school and vocational education and training for a number of years due to the fact that educational provision does not usually impart training content to a sufficient degree for credit transfer to be given. The aim now is to use competence-oriented training modules to increase the quality of transitional measures and to make learning outcomes transparent. Yet how can competence-oriented training modules be successfully implemented into existing measures in a way which enables all stakeholders to carry out routine actions in a well-rehearsed manner and which effects are already discernible as a result of this implementation? The present paper describes and reflects upon the initial findings which have emerged from the piloting of training modules in the JOBSTARTER CONNECT Programme.

What are training modules?

Training modules are time-limited, standardised and didactically founded constituent elements of applicable training regulations. They describe what learners should be able to do after completion of a module. The idea is based on a definition of competence which is aligned to the learning field concept of the Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs in the Federal Republic of Germany (KMK). Competences are understood to be the potential of a person to deal with the objective, social and personal requirements within the fields of work of an occupation. The modules encompass relevant fields of activity within the respective occupational profile and are aligned towards work and business processes typical of the occupation and area of deployment, the sum total of which maps the occupational profile. There is no plan to introduce separate examinations and certifications based on these modules (cf. FRANK 2010; FRANK/GRUNWALD 2008). The stipulated order in which training modules are to be completed takes learning development into account.


Following a recommendation made by the Innovation in Vocational Education and Training Working Group (IKBB) and based on usual regulatory procedures, 14 occupational fields were structured to form training modules. Since 2009, these modules have been undergoing piloting within existing measures via 40 regional projects as part of the JOBSTARTER CONNECT Programme. The project is sponsored by federal state ministries, training centres of the competent bodies, vocational schools, the educational establishments of the social partners and trade and industry associations and a number of independent project partners. Relevant committees and stakeholders are involved at all levels in the piloting process via regional project councils and the CONNECT Project Council itself.

Evaluation research to accompany the projects has been conducted by the Programme Office at BIBB, and CONNECT has been undergoing external evaluation since 2010. Data on participants and the training modules they have completed is recorded in a monitoring system. In addition, all projects draw up Annual Reports. External evaluation activities include the conducting of case studies and repeated surveys of projects heads, companies and young people. Working groups and workshops are staged on a variety of topics. The data obtained from these different sources forms the basis of the present article.

In which areas of educational provision are training modules being piloted?

Piloting is taking place across all relevant forms of vocational training preparation, in publicly funded training and in second-chance qualification (cf. Figure).

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The subsequent observation of effects rendered visible by the deployment of training modules will focus on examples of individual types of measures included within the pilot project.

Introductory training is an instrument introduced within the scope of German Social Security Code III. It is mainly company-oriented and seeks to target the so-called "stickability effect". The aim is for young people to learn the basics of an occupation via a practical company placement of six to twelve months' duration and gain the skills they need to be offered permanent training status.

The vocational preparation scheme run by the Federal Employment Agency focuses on vocational orientation, acquisition of basic vocational training and support in finding a training place. A second chance to obtain school leaving qualifications is provided where required. Socio-pedagogical support forms an integral part of this approach.

Vocational education and training at extra-company training institutions is a form of training for disadvantaged young people whose learning or social difficulties have made it impossible to place them in a company even if training support benefits are provided. The aim is to achieve a vocational education and training qualification.

The school-based educational provision on offer (basic vocational training year, prevocational training year, full-time vocational school) offers opportunities to complete compulsory schooling, to have a further attempt at achieving school-leaving qualifications and to receive basic vocational training.

The aim of second chance qualification is to provide training for semi-skilled and unskilled workers and to enable them to obtain a vocational education and training qualification via an external examination.

What are the challenges of implementation within the various measures?

Integrating training modules in introductory training means reaching binding agreements that the competences described in the training module can be acquired at the company. Against the background of the strong order orientation of many companies and the widespread practice of structuring company-based training in accordance with the current business processes which need to be managed within the company, it is no easy task for the CONNECT projects to ensure that young people can learn precisely the competences prescribed in the training module during their period of introductory training at the company.

A further challenge results from the methodological and didactic implications of competence orientation or from the objective of developing employability skills. At the companies, interns undergoing introductory training are "automatically" familiarised with operational processes and tasks and are also instructed in the professional fulfilment of assignments. Competences, however, are primarily developed via the autonomous solving of challenging (development) tasks which neither demand too little nor too much of the learners (RAUNER/HAASLER 2009, p. 9).

Training modules within the vocational preparation scheme mean that parts of training need to be completed during prevocational training. This confronts the projects with the challenge of the early identification of young people who are largely vocationally oriented. Training takes place in the form of individual or small-group approaches due to the fact that not all participants in the vocational preparation scheme fulfil this criterion. The period of time available in transitional training is often insufficient for the imparting of longer training modules. The implementation of competence orientation requires new methodological and didactic approaches with which trainers first need to be familiarised.

Training modules in school-based prevocational training mean the implementation of training content which is standardised at a national level and can be time credited. This represents a first for school-based prevocational training measures. Training modules also offer starting points for integrating companies into training. This enables practical placement phases to be prepared in a targeted manner and become an integral component of the school-based implementation of training modules. Company integration, however, requires additional human resources and know-how.

Training modules for vocational education and training at extra-company training institutions means the implementation of outcome orientation in a measure which has been largely input-oriented thus far. Instruction processes are replaced by competence acquisition via learning and work orders which are based on problem situations typical of the occupation and on the principle of the self-contained activity. The fact that some of "their" young people have a difficult background in terms of prior learning is one of the reasons why the extra-company sector has developed training routines which primarily act as preparation for the final vocational education and training examination and sometimes exhibit little reference to company practice.

Competence assessment

An indispensable part of documenting competences acquired in a credible manner is to ascertain whether and to which extent such competences are present. This assessment is usually carried out by training staff. This process is an internal evaluation of the success of training rather than an examination in the formal or legal sense. It aims to provide companies with credible evidence of employability skills and thus enhance opportunities for the time crediting of prequalifications in accordance with § 7 of the Vocational Training Act (BBiG) and open up access to an external examination pursuant to § 45 Paragraph 2, Clause 3 BBiG.

JOBSTARTER CONNECT projects have developed and are piloting various competence assessment procedures. Taking as a starting point the consideration that training modules represent evidence of the presence of competences within defined occupational fields of activity and need to be differentiated from "certificates of participation", two working groups were formed within the programme. In order to create a uniform level of competence assessment within the programme, the overwhelming majority of projects involved in these working groups agreed upon an orientation framework. This regulates the fundamental conditions for procedures where a cut-off date applies. Guidance is currently being drawn up, piloted and agreed with the employer and employee sides as well as with BIBB and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Process-related competence assessment procedures are also being deployed alongside competence assessment which is based on a cut-off date. Irrespective of the procedure selected, the purpose of competence assessment is to determine whether and at which level the competences encompassed within the training module have been acquired and whether such an acquisition of competence can be considered sufficient for certification. All competence assessment results need to be documented in an appropriate way in order to ensure quality, transparency and credibility.

Competence assessment involves an inherent conflict between requirements which are contradictory in some regards. One the one hand, these requirements need to be valid in order to ensure that the documentation is substantive and credible. This is indispensable for occupational acceptance. On the other hand, the procedures deployed must be practicable so as to permit their deployment at various learning venues. They must also exhibit a reasonable cost-benefits ratio whilst displaying reliable results. The development of minimum standards is aligned towards just such requirements.

Which effects are indicated during piloting?

In order to represent the effect of training modules, evaluation relates to young people who have successfully completed at least one training module.1

274 young people completed introductory training based on training modules up until the training year 2011/2012. Of the 208 whose destination is known, 153 (74%) progressed directly to a company training contract. 142 young people successfully completed at least one training module. 120 of these (85%) commenced company-based training immediately afterwards. 58 of these young people (48%) received a time credit, which in the case of 42 persons (72%) encompassed the first year of training. Because time credits for subsequent training outside the piloting programme gained within introductory training do not usually occur in relevant volumes and mostly extend to a period of up to six months when they are granted, the results of the piloting suggest the conclusion that the training modules may represent a good basis for the credit transfer of the first year of training.

248 young people have thus far successfully completed training modules within the scope of a vocational preparation scheme. Of these, 128 (52%) have progressed to company-based training. Time credits for subsequent company-based training have only occurred in seven cases up until now. A further 30 young people commenced school-based training and six began extra-company training. Nevertheless, 224 participants in this phase also succeeded in completing 283 training modules, meaning that they were able to acquire the employability skills encompassed within the respective module.

In school-based courses using training modules (basic vocational training year, prevocational training year, full-time vocational school), 210 of 374 young people (56%) acquired at least one training module. 64 of these (30%) subsequently transferred to company-based training. Five young people from the full-time vocational school were taken on by companies in the second year of training. The feedback from the projects undergoing piloting is that occupational decisions following training involving training modules is extremely stable thus far and that there have been virtually no training dropouts, something which is highly unusual compared with experience with other pupils.

596 young people are taking part in the piloting within the scope of an extra-company or trade and industry related form of training. During the course of this training, 40 of these have thus far transferred to company-based training. Up until now, 27 young people have successfully completed a final vocational education and training examination conducted by the competent body. You young people are repeating this examination. It will not be possible to make more extensive observations regarding vocational education and training at extra-company training institutions until the third quarter of 2012, when many of the training courses commenced at the start of the piloting process in the autumn of 2009 will have been completed. For this reason, no analysis can yet be undertaken of developments at the so-called "second threshold", or transitions to subsequent employment.

Further cross-cutting effects are already discernible. Reports, case studies and surveys all indicate that the clear time structure of the training modules, the resulting improved feedback culture and the issuing of documented training modules have all produced a visible increase in participant motivation in many of the projects.
Extensive coordination processes also took place between the learning venues initiated by CONNECT projects in order to be able to secure the acquisition of the competences formulated within the training modules.

Second-chance qualification projects indicate that the training modules represent the availability of a structured system which is capable of standardised deployment on a nationwide basis. This provides those unable to provide evidence of the minimum period of occupational experience required for admission to the external examination with an alternative opportunity to demonstrate their employability skills in a credible way (§ 45 Paragraph 2, Clause 3 BBiG). Outside the JOBSTARTER CONNECT Programme, admissions to the external examination on the basis of credible evidence of employability skills have been rare thus far (GRUND /KRAMER 2010).

Consolidating and expanding promising approaches

JOBSTARTER CONNECT is a pilot programme which is aligned towards structural development. The piloting shows that competence oriented training modules can be implemented into existing measures. Nevertheless, it is also clear that the reorganisation of measures and training courses is not a foregone conclusion. Time, expertise and changes of a greater or lesser extent depending on the particular measure will all be required. The definition and understanding of competence were, for example, not stipulated in precise terms until the piloting was underway and are still not being applied in a standardised way during implementation. The piloting process gradually revealed that the first training module in certain occupational profiles is "too long" for many piloting measures, that not every participant in a vocational preparation scheme can be considered for training based on training modules and that teachers and training staff are only receptive to the new training approach if they are contacted and integrated in a certain manner.

Although learning processes have thrived extensively within the programme, the transition figures from the training courses of the first two cohorts of participants depicted above also reflect errors made during the initial stages. To this extent, the training modules have not yet been able to unfurl their full potential effect. Notwithstanding this, a series of positive effects is already emerging from the piloting process.

  • In some training courses, completion of training modules seems to increase the chances of making the transition to company-based training.
  • The company-based approach adopted in introductory training in particular can serve to facilitate the awarding of time credits on the basis of training modules.
  • Modules make the structure of training courses clearer for young people. The documentation of stages completed, transparent learning success and a better feedback culture frequently have a motivating effect on the young people.

Consideration needs to be accorded to the fact that training modules are not the sole reason for these effects. The piloting projects are also equipped with additional personnel who in turn exert their own influence on the course and results of training. At the end of the programme, it will be the task of evaluation research and external evaluation to separate the various effects analytically and carry out an individual review.

The present team of authors is of the opinion that the interim results thus far available are promising and justify continued implementation beyond pilot projects. A similar view is adopted by the two federal states executing out the project, Hamburg and Berlin. Both have already announced their intention to seek to implement competence oriented training modules within the transitional area in the federal state based measures in their vocational schools.


Translations of the titles, authorship details and publication references of German language literature are provided in [italics in square brackets]. These are intended merely as an indication of the contents of these works and the nature of the source and do not necessarily suggest that they are available in English.

FRANK., I.: Ausbildungsbausteine - ein Beitrag zur Weiterentwicklung der dualen Berufsausbildung [Training modules - a contribution towards the further development of dual vocational education and training]. In: JOBSTARTER CONNECT - Ausbildungsbausteine in der Praxis [JOBSTARTER CONNECT - training modules in practice]. Bonn 2nd Edition 2010, pp. 20-28

FRANK, I.; GRUNWALD, J.-G.: Ausbildungsbausteine - ein Beitrag zur Weiterentwicklung der dualen Berufsausbildung [Training modules - a contribution towards the further development of dual vocational education and training] In: BWP [Vocational Training in Research and Practice] 37 (2008) 4, pp. 13-17 - URL: www.bibb.de/veroeffentlichungen/de/publication/show/id/1366 (last updated: 12.06.2012)

GRUND, S; KRAMER, B.: Zulassung zur Externenprüfung. Analyse und Auswertung der qualitativen Interviews mit den zuständigen Stellen zum Vorgehen bei der Zulassung zur Externenprüfung. Ergebnisbericht [Admission to the external examination. Analysis and evaluation of qualitative interviews with the competent bodies regarding procedures for admission to the external examination. Summary of results]. ZWH - Zentralstelle für die Weiterbildung im Handwerk [Central Agency for Continuing Vocational Education and Training in the Skilled Crafts, ZWH], Düsseldorf 2010

INSTITUT FÜR ARBEITSMARKT- UND BERUFSFORSCHUNG [INSTITUTE FOR EMPLOYMENT RESEARCH, IAB]: Weiterführung der Begleitforschung zur Einstiegsqualifizierung (EQ) [Continuation of evaluation research for introductory training]. Berlin/Nuremberg 2010

RAUNER, F.; HAASLER, B.: Lernen im Betrieb - eine Handreichung für Ausbilder und Personalentwickler [Company-based learning - guidance for trainers and human resources developers]. Konstanz 2009

Graduate economist, managing director of InterVal GmbH , Berlin

Research associate in the “JOBSTARTER CONNECT” Programme at BIBB

Research associate in the “JOBSTARTER CONNECT” Programme at BIBB

Translation from the German original (published in BWP 4/2012): Global Sprachteam Berlin

  • 1

    The cut-off point for data evaluation is 30 April 2012.