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BIBB has been advising other countries on the reform of their vocational education and training systems since 1994. The findings and experiences that have emerged from these many years of consultancy activity act as “lessons learned” and are used to inform the structuring of future international cooperation agreements.

BIBB has been advising other countries on the reform of their vocational education and training systems since as long ago as 1994. The well-founded expertise that BIBB is able to offer and over 20 years of international consultancy experience inform the cooperation that takes place with the institutions involved. The findings from the advisory services provided are continuously reviewed. They help inform the structuring of consultancy work by serving as “lessons learned”.

It takes time to establish trust, identify requirements and reach agreement regarding common objectives

The first phase of system consultancy focuses on building up trust between the partners. Both sides present their interests and expectations before moving on to identify intersections and develop joint objectives and proposals. Establishing and managing contact with all relevant stakeholders is of central importance during this phase. There may also be language barriers that have to be taken into account. Sufficient time needs to be allocated to the creation of trust and to the definition of a common target. The formulation of objectives facilitates the subsequent identification of requirements in the countries and thus provides a solid foundation for cooperation.

A joint basic understanding of “dual training” is required

In most countries, vocational training is delivered via school-based training systems. Dual vocational education and training as practised in Germany is frequently unknown elsewhere. For this reason, BIBB needs to impart the German understanding of dual training to the stakeholders in the different countries. The basic principle of close cooperation between the state, trade and industry and the social partners needs in particular to be clarified. This approach serves as the basis for the development of a joint understanding of dual training that is aligned towards the country in question and is the prerequisite for targeted advice and support on the part of BIBB.

Common terminology is required

Different language and cultural environments mean that attention needs to be paid to the use of standardised terminology. Key concepts, for example, must be precisely defined in order to avoid misunderstandings in the communication process. Terminology that has neutral or positive associations in the countries concerned should be used wherever possible.

General political and economic conditions influence cooperation

Cooperation between BIBB and the various countries is influenced by the general prevailing political and economic conditions. Germany's political and economic strength, prominent position in Europe and export-oriented economy leads to fears in some quarters that it will interfere and seek to take advantage. The political or economic situation within the country concerned can also make consultancy more difficult. A country may, for example, be undergoing fundamental reform processes or be facing domestic political or social conflict or a difficult economic situation. During the system consultancy process, consideration should be taken of such general prevailing conditions by instigating measures to establish trust.

Conflicts of interest are often reflected in the cooperation process

Vocational education and training is organised very differently in different countries. Areas of responsibility may, for example, be assigned to various ministries at the same time. It is also often the case that the social partners and trade and industry are not integrated into the VET process. Some countries have no trade unions that are able to take on a role in shaping vocational education and training.
Account also needs to be taken of the individual interests of stakeholders, many of whom fear that they will lose influence in the wake of reform.
Such general prevailing conditions influence consultancy and may hamper the reform process of the VET system.

Changes in the way in which vocational education and training systems are managed constitute a challenge

The reform of VET systems is only successful if continuity of work can be ensured. Changes in the way in which vocational education and training is managed constitute a challenge. Such changes may be brought about by factors such as new statutory initiatives, by the reallocation of areas of responsibility or by a change of policy contact partners. Integration of all relevant stakeholders and groups at the earliest possible opportunity is the most effective way of countering these challenges. In addition, it is also useful for the reform process for countries to nominate permanent contact partners who are assigned the necessary responsibilities and authorisations.

The law and actual practice may deviate

Statutory provision and actual practice may deviate from each other when it comes to the reform of vocational education and training systems. It may, for example, be the case that social partners are only involved in the structuring of training regulation and curricula in a formal sense, or "on paper" and that their actual opportunity to help shape processes is slight. Well-founded analysis of practice at a local level is required in order to make such discrepancies visible and to agree the consultancy services to be provided by BIBB on the basis of the actual circumstances.

Networking between the stakeholders from Germany and from the different countries is part of the remit

Reform processes in VET systems require networking between various stakeholders. Account needs to be taken of the fact that the configuration of such stakeholders in the countries concerned frequently does not correspond to the situation in Germany. For this reason, the respective relevant stakeholders within a country need to be identified and integrated into the cooperation process.

The plethora of German initiatives leads to misunderstandings in the various countries

Various German stakeholders are actively involved in the topic of vocational training in the countries concerned. These include the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF,) the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS), the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) and the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce abroad. Within the scope of system consultancy in the countries, this sometimes leads to a lack of clarity regarding the areas of responsibility, objectives and interests of the different German stakeholders. The German Office for International Cooperation in Vocational Education and Training (GOVET), which was established in September 2013, ensures that the action undertaken by German stakeholders is transparent and coordinated.

Conclusion

Previous experiences show that, alongside the right general conditions, many instruments are required for targeted system consultancy. Particular attention needs to be paid to a clear separation of the work and management level. The following instruments are currently used in system consultancy.