Ask any of us where we learnt to do our current job and the chances are we will talk about work experience first and educational qualifications second. Education and training systems have (sometimes reluctantly) recognised the benefits of work-based learning as a bridge between the worlds of education and of work. Workplaces are great places to learn both hard and soft skills and they also offer value for money since high-quality vocational programmes in schools or colleges can be expensive.
But getting employers to offer work placements can be hard. Sometimes the balance of costs and benefits is not clear. When training starts, employers make an investment, which only comes to fruition later on when skilled trainees repay the investment with higher productivity. That final period is essential, as it allows employers to make up for the initial losses – but make it too long and trainees will find long periods of being paid a trainee wage with little further learning unattractive. So the design of work-based learning schemes is essential to make them appealing to both employers and learners.
At a seminar in London on 10 February 2016 organised by the OECD and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, 50 participants from nine countries exchanged a host of ideas and innovations on how WBL schemes can balance the different interests of employers and trainees while maximising productivity benefits.
Participants from each country also shared their experiences of initiatives that support firms to offer high-quality work-based learning. Managing inexperienced trainees and dealing with extra administrative work can be demanding, especially for SMEs. In Norway, firms organise themselves in “Training offices” to better coordinate and support apprenticeships. In Switzerland, all supervisors of apprentices must participate in a 100-hour long training course preparing them for the task. Chat in Swiss school corridors also seems to be an important quality assurance tool – apprentices talk to each other during off-the-job training days and the reputation of a firm spreads fast. Some of the best trainers used to be apprentices themselves – an insight that has led to a “train the trainer” module in the final stage of apprenticeships in the US.
The seminar on WBL and productivity is part of a wider OECD project, which focuses on different topics in work-based learning. Key messages from this seminar and analytical work on WBL and productivity will be drawn together in a report to be published in May 2016. Further workshops and seminars will take place between April and September 2016, each focusing on a particular topic.
Further information on the wider OECD project on work-based learning and published reports can be found on our website.