This situation calls for measures to enhance the attractiveness and quality of VET in Croatia. Currently students gain limited practical experience during schooling, mainly through traineeship in schools where the real working conditions are simulated, and only in a small part through traineeship in companies or through apprenticeships in bound crafts. WBL in companies increases employers’ access to workers with relevant skills and knowledge and helps students transition to the world of work. Countries with strong dual vocational education and training systems where learning and practice occur in the company have the lowest youth unemployment rates (OECD 2010). VET programmes must respond to society’s structural changes especially high unemployment rates among young people. It is necessary to adapt the education system, so that students can gain quality work experience during education, and not to be additionally trained through expensive measures, which only keep them from the negative statistics.
For work-based learning (WBL) to become a common practice in Croatia the effort has to be twofold. On the one hand it is crucial to engage companies, through familiarizing them with benefits such as avoiding skills mismatch when recruiting new talent, possibility to choose the best talents for future employment and benefits from their productive capacity. On the other, it is necessary to attract young people to vocational training. Unfortunately, the students and parents perception of VET is mostly negative. Vocational occupations are not considered prospective and are usually students’ last choice or are more likely option for students of lower academic achievement. For students, work-based learning experiences provides exposure to professional and organisation setting, helps them to focus their interests and choose suitable career path.
We need a core and tailored approach in designing national policies that strengthen the links between education and training and practices in the workplace, and that are tailored to local needs. Employers demand for talent is an important context for curriculum development and educational reform. EU strategies have recognized the importance of learning in the workplace and lifelong learning in all levels of education, as acquiring, maintaining, and upgrading skills is an essential characteristic for all employees.
A way to establish system of quality is through partnership of all stakeholders that have a role development of VET policy including the ministries, agencies, chambers, schools, enterprises, local communities, parents and employment service. In Croatia there is no thorough statistics/register of apprenticeship as it is divided between ministry and Chamber of Trades and Crafts, counties, etc. Clearer regulations and guidelines have to be created in the implementation of WBL as well as strategy to encourage enterprises to get involved in VET through ensuring incentives for enterprises, establishing better programs for training of in-company mentors that are suitable to their capacities, licensing of mentors, accreditation of companies involved in WBL and creating the register of companies and mentors. In addition, it is important to ensure quality standards in companies involved in WBL and to make sure that apprentices do not compete with employed workers and are not exploited as a cheap labour supply.
Employers are looking for qualified workers, but at the same time they face multiple challenges in an increasingly competitive and unstable economy. A lot of companies have downsized over the past two decades and it is costly and risky to train new employees who have no previous work experience.
Croatian VET programs have not had significant changes over the past two decades, they do not reflect the development of technologies and trends in the profession and are not compatible with the labour market needs. Companies, mostly SMEs, are not actively engaged in providing work-based learning due to the lack of human and financial resources, low appreciation or other reasons. While ongoing educational reform is emphasizing wider implementation of work-based and entrepreneurial learning, there is no unique institution in Croatia which could act as a one-stop point for SMEs interested in apprenticeship. SME’s need assistance in legal, administrative and logistical issues regarding WBL.
We need employers to have more opportunities to collaborate with other VET institutions and participate in shaping vocational programmes that reflect the up-to-date needs of occupations and workplaces as a way to enhance conditions and quality of work-based learning. It is necessary to establish platform for the selection of apprentices among training companies and for the applicants to find apprenticeship posts in SME's, which calls for deeper involvement of chambers in planning and implementation of VET and also making legal and regulatory changes to enable them to enhance their capacities.
This project contributes to raising VET mentors capacities as well as ensuring support for their work and professional development, ultimately enhancing VET attractiveness and relevance. CCE, following the example of Austrian and German chambers, should have greater role in securing the conditions of implementation of WBL in companies and in identification of the labor market needs.