Vocational education and training – a perspective after dropping out of higher education study
Findings from the JOBSTARTER plus programme
Katharina Kanschat, Wolfgang Müller-Tamke
The JOBSTARTER plus programme is a testing ground for new cooperation arrangements between VET stakeholders in the regions. The present article takes the main funding focus of “Support for small and medium-sized enterprises in acquiring higher education drop-outs as trainees” as an example in investigating which findings the external evaluation has delivered and which conclusions may be drawn from these for the further development of the programme.
Key data on the programme and programme evaluation
The JOBSTARTER programme (since 2014 JOBSTARTER plus) has been in place since 2006. It uses financing from the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF) [Federal Ministry of Education and Research] and from the European Social Fund to support regional projects with the aim of countering the shortage of skilled workers in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Evaluation research for JOBSTARTER plus takes place at the Programme Office at BIBB, which has established an extensive project monitoring system. It assesses reports and fosters the transfer of results via workshops, specialist conferences and publications. The practical experiences and outcomes which emerge from the project are collated and subjected to overall external evaluation by IFGE Gesellschaft für Innovationsforschung und Beratung mbH (cf. Information Box). The securing of results and the impact analyses conducted provide the foundations for recommendations on further development of the project work. At the same time, they make tried-and-tested instruments available to the projects.
Evaluation of JOBSTARTER plus
The evaluation concept is divided into four areas of analysis:
- Analysis of attainment of objectives – were the goals achieved, which factors (co)determined the level of target achievement?
- Analysis of outreach to the target group – to what extent were the potential programme participants successfully addressed and how far do possible selectivity patterns exist in the way in which the target group was approached?
- Analysis of the implementation process – did specific realisation of the JOBSTARTER plus programme (application, project execution, transfer) proceed efficiently?
- Analysis of the programme approach – are the selected (funding) measures fundamentally suitable for achievement of the support goals?
The evaluation assignment thus prescribes both a summative (i.e. assessment of results) and a formative (process support) approach, which involves the generation of relevant control information for the client on an ongoing basis.
The “higher education drop-outs” funding line
This funding line supports SMEs with the acquisition, appointment and training of (potential) drop-outs from higher education. Target group-specific recruitment pathways and support structures for SMEs are developed and piloted. A second aim is to make higher education drop-outs receptive to the idea of dual training and the associated continuing training and career prospects.
The results outlined below are based on the evaluation of 18 project reports by the IFGE, which monitored and surveyed 18 project heads and 65 regional project partners as well as conducting three supplementary case studies (cf. IFGE 2018). The focus is on analysis of effective outreach to the target group and on the related question of which concepts were developed and successfully piloted for the purpose of addressing the interests of companies and students.
Outreach to the target group
The results of the evaluation confirm that the projects succeeded in raising awareness on the part of a large number of companies of higher education drop-outs as a target group and that they were also able to provide information and guidance to many such (potential) drop-outs regarding the option of VET. The majority of projects deployed a combination of measures in order to acquire both target groups for dual training by acting in conjunction with regional stakeholders such as the chambers and employment agencies. One important result which emerged from this target group work is that it was usually possible for higher education drop-outs to be recruited to training places at SMEs directly, i.e. without a prior practical placement, and around 40 percent proceeded to the second year of training straightaway (cf. IGFE, 2018, p. 135).
A further outcome is enhanced awareness amongst the public and by network partners of the topic of “VET following discontinuation of higher education study”. According to the assessment arrived at by the evaluation, the projects mainly achieved this via active networking and cooperation with relevant regional stakeholders (cf. ibid., p. 27).
As the case studies included in the evaluation indicate, the institutes of higher education generally act as the point of contact for initial guidance with the aim of resolving the problems being experienced by the students and ensuring successful study. This may also involve a change of course of study or moving to another institute of higher education. By way of contrast, the employment agencies and chambers are downstream ports of call which are often only sought out as a last resort. Whereas the employment agencies offer neutral and cross-cutting labour market and vocational orientation, chambers enjoy direct access to companies providing training and are able to provide advice on specific occupational fields and on opportunities for credit transfer or shortening of training.
The evaluation arrives at the following result in respect of the structural development measures of the project (cf. IGFE 2018):
- In many cases, networking between institutes of higher education and the training or vocational guidance services provided by the employment agencies and the chambers was moderated and intensified by the projects. This formed an essential prerequisite for approaching and acquiring higher education drop-outs for VET. Cooperation agreements between institutes of higher education, employment agencies, chambers and other regional stakeholders were concluded in just over half of the projects (p. 136).
- Virtually all projects succeeded in initiating processes involving a spectrum of stakeholders for the addressing and guidance of (potential) higher education drop-outs and were also able to establish communication and coordination platforms between institutes of higher education, chambers and employment agencies for this purpose (p. 136).
Advisory bodies at the institutes of higher education were one specific result of these cooperation agreements. Early warning systems for (potential) drop-outs were established and piloted at some locations.
Implementation process and programme approach
On the basis of the survey conducted, the external evaluation judges the execution of the funding line via the projects funded to be predominantly positive and also links this with the “implementation process” and “programme approach”. Apart from a few exceptions, programme implementation, including all stages from application submission to transfer to stabilisation of the project results, was to the satisfaction of the project heads. The programme approach was also largely shown to have been correctly designed and realised. Significant problems and challenges faced by the SMEs were addressed, and appropriate possible solutions were developed with regard to information, guidance and support.
Prospects for further development
One further result to emerge from the evaluation, however, is that one third of projects were in particular not able to acquire the desired number of institutes of higher education for a cooperation agreement (cf. ibid., p. 131). For this reason, projects implementing a follow-up programme in this funding line since the start of 2018 have been required to integrate regional institutes of higher education into their project work as fixed cooperation partners.
Even if a large degree of success has been achieved in terms of raising companies’ awareness of the target group of higher education drop-outs, deficits are revealed in some cases with regard to take-up of external services for the support structure. According to the evaluation report, one possible reason for this is that acquisition of higher education drop-outs for VET is a complex process which also requires companies to be ready to embrace change, something which may involve a longer period of time.
Another issue which must still not be overlooked is that the projects have been unable to bring their guidance and support provision to the whole of the target group in the region within the scope of their limited term and in particular in light of the enormous challenges that have arisen in respect of regional structural and network development. The focus here needs to be on tapping into further areas of potential.
IFGE GESELLSCHAFT FÜR INNOVATIONSFORSCHUNG UND BERATUNG MBH: Abschlussbericht "Unterstützung von KMU bei der Gewinnung von Studienabbrecherinnen und Studienabbrechern als Auszubildenden" im Rahmen der begleitenden Evaluation der 1. Förderrunde von JOBSTARTER plus im Auftrag des Bundesinstituts für Berufsbildung (BIBB). Berlin 2018
Head of the “Strengthening VET/Educational Chains Initiative” Division at BIBB
Research Associate in the “Strengthening VET/Educational Chains Initiative” Division at BIBB
Translation from the German original (published in BWP 5/2018): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin