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Continuing vocational training and competence development in enterprises - Transversal competences increasingly important

Continuing training in enterprises is an important part of lifelong learning and therefore of great importance for the political sector, trade, industry society and all individuals. The European survey on the provision of continuing vocational training in enterprises - the European Continuing Vocational Training Survey (CVTS) - has been conducted in regular intervals for the last 15 years. The Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) conducted a supplementary national survey for each of the European surveys. These supplementary surveys dealt with additional questions regarding qualitative aspects of continuing vocational training. In addition to the focal issues 'linkage between initial vocational training and continuing vocational training' and 'demographic change and continuing vocational training for older employees', the 2009 supplementary national survey also examined for the first time the question of which employee competences are fostered by the different types of continuing vocational training in enterprises. The following report outlines selected findings on this subject from the CVTS 3 supplementary national survey.

What is the CVTS?

The European surveys on continuing vocational training in enterprises (CVTS = Continuing Vocational Training Survey) provide important information regarding the quantitative and qualitative structures of continuing vocational training and supply comparable data from a large number of European countries. These surveys were conducted in 1995, 2000 and 2006 for the reference years 1993, 1999 and 2005. Twenty-eight countries and more than 100,000 enterprises participated in the third CVTS (CVTS3) survey. BIBB conducted a supplementary national survey with funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research to flank the main CVTS3 survey. This supplementary survey dealt with additional questions regarding qualitative aspects of continuing vocational training. It was conducted with funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The CVTS3 survey covered 2,188 firms that provide continuing vocational training. A total of 302 of these firms were interviewed for the supplementary national survey using the CATI (computer assisted telephone interview) method. The surveyed firms that provide continuing vocational training were extrapolated with the help of a weighting factor that the Federal Statistical Office calculated specially for the CVTS3 survey.

Which attributes do the individual forms of learning in enterprises exhibit?

Continuing vocational training (CVT) in enterprises uses a mix of different types of learning. In addition to traditional continuing vocational training activities such as seminars and courses (here: internal and external training courses), 'other' forms of continuing vocational training such as planned phases of continuing vocational training in the workplace, self-directed learning and information courses also play an important role. For this reason, all three European continuing vocational training surveys examined a number of 'other' forms of continuing vocational training in addition to the traditional forms (internal and external training courses). These 'other' forms of CVT included:

  • Planned phases of continuing vocational training in the workplace: instruction provided by superiors, specialists or co-workers and learning through the use of normal working equipment/materials and other media (induction training),
  • Specialised lectures, trade conferences/congresses/symposia/ colloquia, trade fairs, groups set up for exchanging information on past experience and other information activities,
  • Systematic continuing vocational training via job rotation and/or exchange programmes with other enterprises,
  • Participation in learning circles/quality circles,
  • Self-directed learning through distance learning, audiovisual aids such as videos, computer-based learning, the Internet.

On-the-job learning and learning that takes place in close connection with the individual's work processes are in no way new. Some of these forms of learning - such as workplace instruction provided by superiors and/or induction training and continuing training in information courses - have always been important and were used at the enterprises surveyed. For this reason, it is more likely that they can be classified as conventional 'other' forms of continuing vocational training. Job rotation, exchange programmes, learning circles, quality circles and self-directed learning count as more modern 'other' forms of continuing vocational training. In the case of these forms of learning, it is assumed that they can be put to effective use particularly during internal production-related or organisational changes and additionally enable learning in the workplace (see GRÜNEWLD/MORAAL/SCHÖNFELD 2003).

In the following sections we discuss the findings from the supplementary national survey to CVTS3 (MORAAL/LORIG/SCHREIBER/AZEEZ 2008) (see box).1 Table 1 below summarizes some of the key attributes of the individual forms of learning in enterprises.

Table 1: Learning in enterprises - Key attributes of the respective form of learning

* The category 'All training courses' is comprised of only internal training courses, only external training courses and internal and external training courses together.
** Findings from the main CVTS3 survey for those 302 companies that took part in the supplementary national survey to the CVTS3 survey. Denominators for the rates are the enterprises that provide continuing vocational training. In other words, companies that offer training courses and/or other forms of continuing vocational training in enterprises.
*** Not asked in the main CVTS3 survey.
**** Not asked in the supplementary national survey to the CVTS3 survey because it is assumed that learning rather than work clearly predominates in the case of internal and external training courses.


Columns 1 and 2 show the types of continuing vocational training that are offered by enterprises and the level of employee participation in the individual type of CVT. The findings from the main CVTS3 survey enable a more accurate assessment of the relative importance of these 'other' forms of continuing vocational training for learning in enterprises. The combination of the offerings of these 'other' forms of continuing vocational training in enterprises and employee participation levels provides an indication of the intensity of use. It is clear from the findings from the main CVTS3 survey that the intensity of use for internal and external training courses is more important than the intensity of use for the individual forms of learning that take place in close connection with the individual's work processes. Three-quarters of enterprises that use 'other' forms of continuing training offer their employees instruction and/or induction training, more than 90% offer information courses. All of the more modern 'other' forms are offered much less often in enterprises than conventional 'other' forms. Seen in relative terms, the intensity of use is highest for instruction and/or induction training and is considerably lower for learning circles and/or quality circles and for job rotation and/or exchange programmes. These forms of continuing training in enterprises are of marginal importance (at least for the present). The low intensity of use for information courses is striking. A comparison of the intensities of use for these different forms indicates that the most important forms are self-directed learning and instruction and/or induction training.

Columns 3, 4, 5 and 6 show which occupational groups take part most frequently in the different forms of learning. Here, averages were calculated for the responses given by the enterprises surveyed. The occupational groups that are closest to '1' are those groups that participate the most in the particular form of learning. As a rule, skilled workers, lower-level managerial staff and upper-level managerial staff participate most frequently in the different forms of learning. There are however two exceptions here: external training courses and instruction and/or induction training. Unskilled and semi-skilled workers as well as lower-level and upper-level managerial staff are frequent participants in external training courses. It can be assumed here that these three occupational groups attend different training courses. By contrast, unskilled and semi-skilled workers and skilled workers undergo instruction and/or induction training more frequently.

Column 7 lists the enterprises' assessments regarding whether the respective form of continuing vocational training falls 'more under work' or 'more under learning'. The enterprises were not asked their opinion about internal and external training courses since it can be assumed that learning rather than work clearly predominates during these activities. The enterprises surveyed which provide continuing vocational training classified the various 'other' forms of CVT as 'learning' or 'work'. The vast majority of the enterprises that offer self-directed learning say that this form of learning tends to fall under the heading 'learning'. This also applies to information courses, job rotation and/or exchange programmes and learning circles and/or quality circles. By contrast, they tend to classify instruction and/or induction training as 'work'. In addition, these forms of learning - with the exception of information courses - are part of comprehensive personnel development plans at a majority of enterprises (column 8).

The enterprises that provide continuing vocational training were also asked whether participation in the different forms of learning should be documented according to learning outcome, confirmed or not recorded at all (column 9). The answers were very heterogeneous: Except in the case of information courses and self-directed learning, the majority of the enterprises surveyed that use the respective form of learning were in favour of documenting learning outcomes. This shows just how much importance enterprises attach to the documentation of learning outcomes.

Which competences are fostered by the respective forms of learning?

The relationship between learning in enterprises and employees' vocational competences is the second focus of the supplementary national survey. When compared to the main CVTS2 survey, the CVTS3 survey (EUROSTAT 2007) reveals some shifts in the learning content used in external training courses. A number of changes in the gathering of data for the individual categories were introduced between CVTS2 and CVTS3. Consequently, the continuing vocational training topics are no longer unequivocally comparable (for example, quality management was added to personal development). However, the findings still indicate important shifts in learning content. As the main CVTS3 survey shows, there has been a shift in the learning content used in external training courses compared to 1999. The share of hours spent attending continuing vocational training in the area 'EDP, computer science and computer use' out of the total number of hours spent attending continuing vocational training fell from 21% in 1999 to 14% in 2005. By contrast, the percentage of hours spent on CVT in the area of 'personal development, quality management, work techniques, cooperation training and negotiation skills, working life' rose from 9% in 1999 to 16% in 2005. The main CVTS2 and CVTS3 surveys also show that this shift can be observed in all northwest European countries.

In view of the findings from the main CVTS2 and CVTS3 surveys, it is assumed that this shift in thematic content can also be observed at the level of employee competences. In order to answer the question of how important individual competences are and what value they have in continuing vocational training in enterprises, the supplementary national survey ascertained which competences are fostered by continuing vocational training in enterprises. The forms of learning used in enterprises were then linked with the concept of teaching occupational competence (competence concept).

The competence concept which is commonly used in the vocational training field and follows the vocational and business pedagogics tradition (see REETZ 1999; ROTH 1971; ACHTENHAGEN 2004) was used as a foundation for the interviews. The individual competence dimensions taken together depict occupational competence and are not to be viewed as isolated variables (see HENSGE/LORIG/SCHREIBER 2008).

The survey broke occupational competence down into the following four dimensions:
Social competence (such as the ability to work on a collaborative basis with co-workers, the ability to deal competently customers)
Personal competence (such as the ability to work on one's own, the assumption of responsibility)
Methodological competence (such as the ability to solve problems, better time management, organisational skills)
Technical competence (such as specialised knowledge and skills that are specific to a task or job)

Using this operationalisation, the study examined whether not just technical competence but also so-called transversal competences such as social, methodological and personal competences have become more important.

The CVTS3 supplementary national survey started by asking which employee competences are currently important for the respective enterprise (see Chart 1).

Chart 1: Current and future importance of the respective competence dimension

Source: CVTS3 supplementary national survey

Enterprises currently consider technical competence to be the most important type of competence. Technical competence received an average rating of 1.4 which corresponds to 'important' to 'very important'. Social competence was rated 'important'. It was assigned a 2, placing it second behind technical competence. Personal competence ranked third with an average of 2.4, also making it important. Enterprises view methodological competence to be less important. It is currently assigned the least importance with an average value of 2.8.

Based on these findings, technical competence continues to be the most important competence dimension for enterprises. However, the findings also show that transversal competences in general and social competence in particular play an important role in enterprises.

The enterprises surveyed were also asked how important the individual competences would be for them in the future. Technical competence will continue to be as important in the future as it is today. The order of importance assigned to the transversal competences will also remain unchanged. These competences will however increase in importance. According to the assessments of the enterprises surveyed, methodological competence in particular will become more important.

A closer look at the individual forms of learning shows which competences the companies surveyed feel are fostered by the respective form of learning.

Chart 2: How much does the respective form of learning foster the individual competence?

Source: CVTS3 supplementary national survey

According to the enterprises surveyed that offer external training courses - in other words, seminars and courses - this form of learning fosters primarily technical competence. Methodological competence, personal competence and social competence were rated much lower and are to be considered less important for this form of learning. On the other hand, transversal competences are more relevant for internal training courses than they are for external training courses. Information courses largely target technical competence as well. Transversal competences play the smallest role here.

This picture changes when the 'other forms' of continuing vocational training that are provided in enterprises - in other words, forms of learning that take place in close connection with the individual's work processes - are examined. Technical competence plays the dominant role here as well. However, the respondents also assigned transversal competences greater importance. According to the companies surveyed, job rotation and/or exchange programmes, learning circles and/or quality circles and self-directed learning are particularly suited to fostering methodological competence. In fact, learning circles and/or quality circles and self-directed learning foster methodological competence just as much as they do technical competence, which dominates in the other forms of learning. Job rotation and/or exchange programmes particularly foster the development of personal competence in the opinion of the companies surveyed.

The enterprises surveyed indicated that fostering social competence played a less important role in the individual forms of learning. Interestingly, they considered internal training courses to offer the greatest potential for fostering social competence.

Conclusion

A look at the intensity of use for the different forms of learning reveals considerable differences: External and internal training courses and instruction and/or induction training play a markedly larger role compared to 'other' modern forms of learning.

The findings from the supplementary national survey to the CVTS3 show that in the opinion of the enterprises surveyed not only do all forms of learning foster technical competence; some forms of learning specifically support the (continued) development of transversal competences as well. The importance of transversal competences - particularly methodological competence along with personal and social competence - will increase slightly in future. This will not however be the case with technical competence. The findings show that the training companies surveyed feel that especially the 'other' forms of continuing vocational training in enterprises foster transversal competences in general and methodological competence in particular. It appears that methodological competence is best fostered by forms of learning that take place in the workplace and are closely connected with the individual's actual work.

All in all, the findings indicate that greater importance must be attached in future to 'other' forms of continuing vocational training that is provided in enterprises because these 'other' forms foster those competences that the companies surveyed said will also be particularly important in the future. For this reason, greater use of forms of continuing vocational training that is conducted in the workplace could become more relevant in the future for fostering employees' transversal competences. In addition, it can be assumed on the basis of these findings that providing and making use of a broad range of different forms of learning in enterprises could establish learning-friendly conditions. This would have to be examined in future studies.

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  • 1

    The data from the main CVTS3 survey were linked with the data from the supplementary national survey and extrapolated using a weighting factor calculated by the Federal Statistical Office. It must be taken into consideration here that due to the decision to use a supplementary survey the findings from the CVTS3 supplementary survey deviate in level from the findings from the main CVTS3 survey which have been published elsewhere. The structure of the findings is however virtually identical.
    A comparison of the two continuing vocational training indicators 'CVT offerings' and 'CVT participation' shows that the training enterprises that participated in the CVTS3 supplementary national survey have higher levels of participation in learning activities than those that participated in the main CVTS survey.

  • 2

    For each competence dimension, respondents could answer 'very important', 'important', 'not very important' and 'not important at all'. An average between 1 ('very important') and 4 ('not important at all') was ascertained for each dimension. The closer the value is to 1, the more important the particular competence dimension is.