Tracking the progress of VET graduates

In 2011 the Békéscsaba Central Vocational School and Student Dormitory (BÉKSZI) developed and implemented a career tracking system. This was one aspect of their approach to quality assurance. This annual data collection system investigates the extent to which the school’s training meets the demands of the labour market and how students make use of the knowledge and skills they acquire during training. The response rate is high – it is over 80%.

Following a complex restructuring of the Hungarian VET system, in 2015 the Békéscsaba Vocational Training Centre (BSZC) was formed from the former BÉKSZI and five other VET schools – BSZC now has eight VET schools. This new organisation provides a wider range of vocational training and offers pathways for students who wish to move from one school to another within the Centre to gain new knowledge or to acquire a second vocational qualification.

The Centre aims to meet the requirements of the economy by offering training which responds flexibly to the changing demands of the labour market – this improves the opportunities offered to students. The Centre’s Board of Directors looked at the career tracking system used in the three schools in BÉKSZI and decided it was a good instrument to use to meet the Centre’s aims. The Board decided to extend the use of this system to the five new members of the Centre. All member schools now include this data collection and monitoring system in their strategic document – the Pedagogical Programme.

The national experience shows that at the provider level, the destination of VET learners at a designated point in time after completing training is only followed up in a few institutions.

The BSZC system tracks the destination of VET graduates six months after they complete their training – and data is available for each member school and at the Centre level.

How are the EQAVET+ indicative descriptors used?

In each member school, the career tracking system is operated by the quality management team in partnership with the school’s form teachers[1]. The system covers all school leavers. At the end of each school year the form teachers with responsibility for students who are leaving complete a standardised spread sheet. This includes collecting students’ contact details including their (mobile) telephone numbers, email accounts and social media addresses. Six months after completing their training, the form teachers use this information to collect details on each student’s occupation and qualifications. They identify how each student’s career is developing and whether they are continuing with their studies. For those who continue to study, information is collected on the level of the course, the name of the qualification and institution etc. If the student isn’t continuing his/her studies, the information shows whether they are in employment and whether their employment is related to their qualifications. If a student cannot be contacted, this information is also recorded.

Social media is widely used by the form teachers to contact VET graduates. The form teachers are supported by a school secretary who telephones the students if they are difficult to contact. In addition students are encouraged to stay in contact with their form teacher because, if they have a good personal relationship, they are likely to want to discuss what they are doing and, sometimes, ask for advice.

The school limits the number of questions to be answered by the graduates to three (the principle is to get less but more reliable data). The responses are put in writing (anonymously) and processed electronically. The response rate is high – it is over 80%. The data that is collected by form teachers is summarised at the departmental level and member school level. It is analysed in order to evaluate and compare departments, types of training, vocational sectors and qualifications. The outcomes of this analysis are presented and discussed with all the staff at one of the regular staff meetings.

The member schools use information from the VET tracking system to inform strategic decisions and improve the quality of provision. In addition the data improves opportunities for learners as it provides information for potential students and their parents on their prospects for future employment as a result of gaining each qualification.

Within the Centre (BSZC) the tracking system supports strategic developments i.e. the data from the tracking system can be analysed at the member school and Centre levels; conclusions can be made on the success or lack of success of each vocational qualification in terms of employment, the professional and career development of former students. The data helps to identify ways to develop the Centre’s education and training programmes and make improvements at all levels.

Within the Centre, member schools offer different career choices and one of the most important outcomes from tracking is to find out:

  • the popularity and the success rate of learners who study for different trades or vocations;
  • whether the student is more successful when they have qualification(s) in one or two trades;
  • what percentage of students gain admission to college or university;
  • how successful are learners at the local compared to the national level.

The analysis of the data collected by the form teachers helps to answer these questions, and the results from individual member schools can be compared. In addition to monitoring the quality of individual training programmes, the Centre sets the next year’s enrolment targets for each vocation/qualification.

The analysis of the results from the career tracking system helps staff in the Centre to assess the labour market situation in the region, and identify where there is a shortage of students for the available jobs. This helps to focus the attention of students on training programmes where the graduates are in high demand.

This case study is linked to the following EQAVET indicators:

  • Number 5: Placement rate in VET programmes – an outcome indicator which gives information on the destination of VET learners and the share of employed learners at a designated point in time after completion of training
  • Number 9: Mechanisms to identify training needs in the labour market – a context/input indicator which gives information on mechanisms set up to identify changing demands at different levels and the evidence of their effectiveness (qualitative information)

Each indicator can support policy priorities such as employability, improving the responsiveness of VET to the changing demands in the labour market, and improving the quality of training provision. They may be used in planning stage of the quality assurance cycle, and indicator number 5 can support the assessment and monitoring of accessibility and attractiveness of VET programmes by demonstrating the relevance of these programmes to employment and/or higher education.

What problems were encountered and overcome in using these EQAVET+ indicative descriptors?

Communication systems and the way in which learners make use of these systems are changing very rapidly. Systems which are popular at the moment can disappear quickly e.g. social media is very popular and most former students can be reached in this way – but things can change.

The evaluation and analysis of the data is time consuming – sometimes there are no teachers willing to do the job. As a result more electronic systems (e.g. Google questionnaires) are used to evaluate students’ responses. Those former students who do not reply to the questionnaire can be contacted by phone.

The role of the form teacher is crucial. Their willingness to cooperate has a large impact on the school’s ability to track former students. In some situations, a positive attitude is not enough. When students take employment abroad, form teachers find it more difficult to contact them and data on employment is often lost. The largest problems arise when the data are inconsistent and conclusions cannot be made from one year to the next because the data are missing or previous surveys used different parameters.

What lessons have been learnt by using these EQAVET+ indicative descriptors?

Although the method used for tracking students’ careers is simple, it has proved to be very efficient. It provides information on about 80% of the students who completed training. BSZC has found it useful to look at the data on placement, employment in different vocational sectors, and across the different vocational qualifications. It is particularly useful for planning the number of students to be enrolled in the next school year for each qualification. It also helps evaluate the students’ success in the end of course exams. If there are high levels of failure in a profession, the causes will be analysed and changes can be made.

Three months after completing the training is an appropriate time for form teachers to contact former students. Waiting longer makes it much more difficult to contact students and collect the relevant data.

The experience shows that the direct approach is the only one that works. However, sending emails is not effective and efficient – the on-line social networking services (e.g. Facebook) have proven to be the most effective way of keeping contact and communicating with VET graduates.

[1] A form teacher or form master is a teacher who has responsibility for a particular class in a school. They have a special responsibility for tracking the progress of students in their class.

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