The vocational education and training system in Colombia – status quo and prospects

An interview with Juan Pablo Castro and Jorge Cruz

The Head of SENA’s International Cooperation Department, Juan Pablo Castro, and Jorge Cruz, Coordinator of Dual Training at SENA, speak about the implementation of the dual system in Colombia and cooperation with BIBB.

The vocational education and training system in Colombia – status quo and prospects
Jorge Cruz and Juan Pablo Castro during the interview.

BIBB: What are the major challenges currently being faced by the Colombian vocational education and training system?

Juan Pablo Castro: From SENA’s point of view, there is no doubt that the biggest challenge for the Colombian (vocational) education system is the integration of companies into the training process. The traditional form of training offered by SENA consists of a theory-based and a practice-oriented component. SENA has the task of managing direct contact with company owners to ensure that they deploy their trainees in a useful manner. After all, these people are their human capital. In addition, entrepreneurs need to be made aware of the fact that trainees also help achieve higher productivity and better profitability levels. Alongside closer cooperation with the companies, a further challenge is to bring about a change in corporate culture in Colombia.

Jorge Cruz: There are several challenges associated with working on a design concept and methodological structure for a dual training system. Firstly, the focus needs to be on aligning vocational education and training more closely to real practice and on acquiring more people on the company side who are prepared to act as trainers and to seek training from SENA in order to qualify for this role. Secondly, the principle of the company as a co-trainer needs to be publicised and dual training must ultimately become institutionalised.

BIBB: How would you describe the overall image of VET in Colombia?

Juan Pablo Castro: SENA is the largest training institution in Colombia and the second largest such body in South America after SENAI in Brazil — both in terms of the number of training places and qualifications and with regard to regional coverage. SENA can look back at almost 60 years of experience and is represented in all 32 Departamentos in Colombia, as well as in the capital Bogotá. SENA has a total of 117 training centres, more than 3,000 training venues and 180 mobile classrooms at its disposal, and these are able to reach more than 98% of Colombian territory. All of this helps create a good picture as far as VET in Colombia is concerned in that all Colombians have access to vocational education and training which is also characterised by a high level of quality because SENA trainers are trained at the Escuela Nacional de Instructores, the National School for Trainers. President Santos himself recently stressed that SENA needs to become the employment engine of the country via the public employment agency [Agencia Pública de Empleo] and via the company start-up and management programmes the institute offers. Nevertheless, vocational education and training in Colombia faces the challenge of improving its reputation and the degree of societal acceptance it enjoys in order to achieve a higher degree of significance compared to higher education. The fact that SENA provides both training opportunities and a subsequent chance of continuing employment is helping to enhance the image of technical VET in the country. Vocational education and training and relevant employment constitute one possible way of improving quality of life.

BIBB: What is motivating Colombia to deliver training via the dual model?

Jorge Cruz: The most important motivation is the high degree of relevance offered by dual training. The dual system obtains its relevance by dint of the fact that the requirements of the market are taken into account. Further reasons in favour of the dual system are the benefits which accrue for trainees and an improvement in the employment rate.

Juan Pablo Castro: Our motivation is that our trainees undergo training at companies under real conditions and have the opportunity to be offered permanent employment once this training has been completed. The motivation for the companies is that trainees in the dual model increase productivity and that the firms involved are investing in the future of their own human resources whilst also having workers available in the shape of the trainees.

Germany is a pioneer, both in respect of dual training itself and with regard to international consultancy in the field of vocational education and training.

BIBB: Why did you opt to seek consultancy services from Germany in the field of vocational education and training?

Juan Pablo Castro: For us, this is an obvious step. The training model originates from Germany. We want to work with the best in the world and cooperate with those who have the most experience with the system. Germany is a pioneer, both in respect of dual training itself and with regard to international consultancy in the field of vocational education and training. In order to establish dual training in Colombia, we wish to seek an alliance with the best and want to be able to refer to international role models.

BIBB: In your opinion, to what extent is the German dual model of VET a particularly good match for the situation in Colombia and where are adaptations required?

Jorge Cruz: Although we have taken numerous elements of the German system on board for our own dual model, our corporate culture is definitely quite different. One aspect which was adapted to the situation in Colombia is the introduction of the role of the co-trainer. Germany has inter-company training centres for trainees from small and medium-sized enterprises to whom not all training contents can be imparted within their own company. In the dual model here in Colombia, we are only working with large companies from the outset, because they are in a position to provide trainers and are also able to offer learning venues.

Cooperation with BIBB/with other stakeholders

BIBB: In Colombia’s cooperation with BIBB, why was the theme of “research in VET” (including topics such as preparation of data reports and cost-benefits analyses) of particular importance from the very beginning?

Jorge Cruz: Research is an indispensable foundation for the ongoing further development of a training system. From a Colombian perspective, we look at the research works carried out in Latin America by the Inter-American Centre for Knowledge Development in Vocational Training (CINTERFOR, Centro Interamericano para el Desarrollo del Conocimiento en la Formación Profesional), part of the United Nations International Labour Organisation. Europe assumes a pioneering role in the field of vocational education and training research. This is an area in which BIBB in particular conducts extremely good and useful work. The carrying out of investigations and surveys with regard to core aspects or whole processes provides us with findings and enables us to build on the knowledge gained from this. Since the start of our cooperation, it has been clear that support for all change processes in VET at SENA needs to be based on data and analyses.

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Head of SENA’s International Cooperation Department: Juan Pablo Castro

BIBB: Why is the topic of institutionalisation/regulation of vocational education and training, including the creation of a legal framework for dual training, (currently) so important to Colombia?

Jorge Cruz: Institutionalisation of the dual training model in Colombia is highly significant because we are currently forced to recognise a general lack of familiarity with the concept of dual training when we create a link between the company and the training centre. Everyone should know about this concept. This requires the provision of a large amount of information and the raising of awareness. Learning environments are still very strongly structured and stipulated. Everything would be better if the dual model was institutionalised across the nation and was more widely disseminated by SENA. In addition, we need institutionalisation and a firm legal framework to establish our dual projects over the long term.

Juan Pablo Castro: The Directorate General of SENA is facing the challenge of institutionalising dual training. We have already made major progress in this regard. The task involves the creation of a legal basis and the drawing up of a document by the Consejo Directivo of SENA to act as a mandate and as a valid mechanism at the institute. The Consejo Directivo is the board at SENA that is responsible for vocational education and training. Alongside SENA’s executive management, its members include the Ministers of Education, Labour, Trade and Industry, the national employers’ associations, trade unions, the church, representatives of academic research and other institutions. Legal regulation is fundamental in terms of bringing about a change in thinking in civil society, in the companies, at SENA and in the government of the country. SENA is a very large institution, and institutional change also implies that the topic must be disseminated to all SENA training centres.

BIBB: From SENA’s point of view, what have proved to be the particularly useful/interesting aspects to emerge from cooperation with BIBB thus far?

Juan Pablo Castro: The most useful and interesting thing has mainly been the chance to network with BIBB in the field of dual training in Germany. Consultancy by BIBB has also assisted us with the establishment of the SENNOVA Research Centre. SENNOVA promotes vocational education and training research and development at SENA. With regard to academic research, considerable benefit has also been derived from cooperation with the SENA Monitoring Centre for Work and Employment (Observatorio Laboral y Ocupacional) and from knowledge transfer on the collection of data and preparation of analyses. The implementation of pilot projects for dual training was also extremely helpful in that it enabled us to make further progress towards a response to the necessity of a “tropicalised” model adapted to our conditions. Such a model is adjusted to the prevailing circumstances in Colombia and stipulates that the companies should say what they need rather than having the direction of travel set out by us. In addition, we are encouraging trainees to report on successful experiences which have resulted in the progression from training to employment.

BIBB: Which results are particular important to you within the scope of the cooperation with BIBB?

Juan Pablo Castro: Alongside the aspects already stated, such as the establishment of a Research Centre and the initiation of pilot projects, the assistance we received in developing the first Data Report on Vocational Education and Training and the VET workshops staged in Germany and Colombia in conjunction with the Observatorio Laboral y Ocupacional at SENA were highly important. Intensive support in the drawing up of a dual model for vocational education and training in Colombia was also of particular significance.

BIBB: As well as the focused cooperation with BIBB, do you have any further German partners within the field of vocational education and training? How is it looking in regards to other prospects for cooperation?

Juan Pablo Castro: We actually have several German partners, with whom we have been cooperating for some considerable time. We are, for example, working with the company Festo in the field of automation and industrial processes. We are also cooperating with Bosch Rexroth on hydraulics and automation, with the German Embassy and with the FunCyTCA Foundation, which brings together a whole series of German companies. To be precise, we are on the point of signing an agreement with this foundation. We are also collaborating with the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) on the establishment of the Fondo Emprender, the intended focus of which is the creation of “green jobs”. We take a positive view towards further cooperation with German institutions because we still have much to learn. We want German companies to teach us about the nature of precision, quality and corporate culture in vocational education and training. We also maintain close ties with the German-Colombian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Bogotá.

SENA is working to raise awareness of the benefits of dual training and of the opportunities that arise from it.


BIBB: How have the developments/changes in VET in Colombia been received/accepted by vocational education and training stakeholders and by society?

Jorge Cruz: It is visible, tangible and obvious that SENA is working to raise awareness of the benefits of dual training and of the opportunities that arise from it. Nowadays, vocational education and training in Colombia is increasingly being perceived as prospect which leads to employment. The experiences gained from traditional VET provided by SENA, which is not based on dual structures, have taught us many lessons with regard to closer cooperation with companies and in relation to emphasising the benefits of dual training in the training centres. The aspect of training for SENA trainers has been revised in light of the fact that company-based trainers now also undergo training at the SENA Escuela Nacional de Instructores (ENI). A far higher level of motivation is discernible amongst the young people who participate in dual training programmes. Equally, the drop-out rates in dual training are significantly lower than those for traditional training.

BIBB: In future, which proportion/significance should dual training assume/acquire with regard to the whole of the Colombian educational spectrum/in the Colombian educational system?

Jorge Cruz: Dual training should be introduced at the Tecnólogos (technologist) level. Up until now, provision has only applied to the levels of Auxiliar/Operario (machine and plant operator) and Técnico (technician). Training programmes for Tecnólogos are 24 months long. The programmes for Técnicos and Auxiliar/Operario are of a duration of 12 to 15 months and 6 months respectively. The topic of legislation is extremely rigid, but this is something we are seeking to work on. This is a major challenge in terms of facilitating implementation of dual training at the level of the Tecnólogos.

BIBB: Which further elements of dual training should be applied/introduced?

Jorge Cruz: Alongside aspects such as corporate culture and institutionalisation of the model, we need to achieve a cultural shift in our institution and in the trade and industry sector.

Juan Pablo Castro: We have high expectations of our cooperation with BIBB over the coming four years. For us, this represents a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness of the benefits of dual training, including within the general public. It is important that elements such as strengthening the role of companies as co-trainers and institutionalisation are implemented via the vehicle of a legal framework or mandate. Our alliance with BIBB will provide us with considerable assistance across the whole of this process, and we are grateful for the consistently good relations and concentrated cooperation. All of this contributes towards improving the quality of vocational education and training in Colombia and towards increasing employability and profitability.

The interview was conducted by Diana Cáceres-Reebs