Designing VET programmes for vulnerable learners

The curricula for all Austrian VET schools have been changed in recent years. There has been a shift from focusing on content to competence-based provision and learning outcomes. In the Austrian dual system, the training regulations for each occupation (and the associated part-time vocational school curriculum) set out the competences and learning outcomes that should be acquired and demonstrated at the end of a three year apprenticeship programme. The final examination for the apprenticeship focuses on these competences; and assessment is based on the apprentice demonstrating the learning outcomes.

Introduced in 2003, the inclusive initial VET scheme (Integrative Berufsausbildung - IBA) offers greater flexibility for vulnerable groups of learners. IBA offers these students the option of gaining a partial qualification or extending the length of the apprenticeship by up to one year. Those who are disadvantaged in the labour market (e.g. through a physical or learning difficulty, or because they have not successfully finished secondary school) have a better opportunity to be prepared for a working life.

If the length of the apprenticeship is extended everything is done in the same way over four rather than the usual three years (including the final examination, the training regulations and the curriculum). If a decision is taken to study for a partial qualification then there is a more individualised approach: training objectives are defined for each apprentice, the content and learning outcomes are set for the individual, and there is an individual final exam. All these decisions are taken by a “committee of the five”: the parents of the apprentice, the training company, the school inspectorate, the vocational school and the vocational training assistant (Berufsausbildungsassistenz).This vocational training assistant has a coordinating role (as one member of the ‘committee of five’, they moderate the decisions which specify the objectives and the learning outcomes of the apprentice under the IBA programme); and support the apprentice (e.g. by acting on behalf of the apprentice if there are difficulties).

In order to strengthen the transparency of these partial qualifications the Ministry of the Economy has had, since 2015, the opportunity to set standardised training programmes for partial qualifications.

When the inclusive IVET scheme is used the vocational training assistant supports the needs of the individual apprentice. And when a partial qualification is chosen, the training regulations for the training company and the curriculum for the vocational school have to be adapted for this apprentice. Both options are based on learning outcomes which have to be defined for the individual and their training situation.

The IBA was evaluated in 2008 by the Austrian Institute for SME Research. Data on participation rates are collected regularly and cover the actual numbers and the percentage of apprentices in an inclusive IVET scheme compared to the total number of apprentices. It is more difficult to find numbers for success rates and data on whether those who finish an inclusive IVET scheme find get a job in their profession.

What problems were encountered and overcome in using this EQAVET+ indicative descriptor?  

There is no evidence of specific problems associated with the scheme. As one way to use learning outcomes to describe VET qualifications it responds to the same problems as the “regular” VET school system. From 2010 to 2015 the curricula of initial VET schools were changed from input or content based descriptions to competence and learning outcome based curricula. This was – and still is – a paradigm shift for the system as the whole way of thinking about education and training has changed. And this is the same for the inclusive initial VET scheme. As this scheme is part of the dual system, it has been easier to respond to the move to competences and learning outcomes.

One problem has been the definition of the specific and individualised learning outcomes – this needs a high level of expertise and experience from the vocational training assistance.

What lessons have been learnt by using this EQAVET+ indicative descriptor?

We cannot answer this question at a system level but there has been a successful evaluation in 2008. As a consequence the status of the inclusive IVET scheme has been changed from a limited project to an unlimited part of the regular training scheme of Austria.

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