There are numerous advantages to using work-based learning (WBL). They include the fact that students experience real working life and teamwork, while obtaining professional experience and theoretical training, increasing their responsibility and personal growth, and that they can evaluate their knowledge, skills, and competencies in a real work environment. All of this contributes to increasing students’ employability.
But what is actually involved in work-based learning? We could define it as “the acquisition of knowledge and skills by carrying out tasks (after theoretical reflection) in a professional context, be it in the workplace (within the framework of alternative training, for example) or at a vocational training center” (CEDEFOP, 2011).
WBL applies in different contexts: from education centers, where practical experiences are had with real projects in collaboration with companies, to dual systems and internships, and on to vocational training centers with learning phases in the workplace (for example, mandatory internships) and training actions for employment.
The European Commission, member states, and social partners are dedicating a great deal of effort to improving education and vocational training systems. However, there are many challenges. One of the most significant, as indicated by CEDEFOP (2016: 7), is “strengthening links between vocational training programs and markets to reduce the mismatch in competencies and ensure that such programs act as a bridge to employment.”
At a more pedagogical level, the most significant challenges presented by this learning model have to do with the company choosing the most appropriate advisor to lead shadowing and provide training for the future professional; the students’ level of knowledge prior to starting at the company; and the recognition and dedication of the trainer. The existence of appropriate coordination between the training center and the company is also equally important.
Although demand for WBL trainers and educators is expected to continue to grow, there is no specific qualification establishing the competencies necessary to perform this task optimally. What’s more, many professionals who are quite competent in their field are being asked to collaborate in work center learning, be it as advisors, trainers, or mentors to the trainees. However, they are not receiving assistance to develop their teaching skills to be able to carry this out effectively.
In this sense, it is key for WBL professionals, specifically company and training center advisors, to have the necessary skills to design, plan, promote, and evaluate WBL programs. This is precisely the purpose of the Erasmus+ project funded by the European Commission “Qualification, Open Resources & Toolkit for the Work-Based Learning Professional” (WBL PRO). This project was developed by 10 organizations from six European countries: CIAPE, USRV, and SCALIGERA (Italy), ANESPO and ISQ (Portugal), EMCRA and VHS Cham (Germany), BFE (Bulgaria), Universidad Europea (Spain), and Biedriba Eurofortis (Latvia).
This project gives WBL professionals an open platform in different languages offering a kit of materials with 160 best practices and tools to perform their WBL tasks. Other important results from the project are the definition of a new competency profile for WBL professionals, by applying the European EQF and ECVET standards, and several qualification and certification manuals for said professionals. The qualification manual, aimed at training companies, indicates the procedures that should be included in the training activities for WBL professionals in order to ensure the quality of their work. Moreover, the certification manual is aimed at certification bodies and stakeholders to train experts in WBL according to ISO standard 17024.
This project is expected to contribute to increasing the quality and scope of vocational training and specifically boosting the professionalization of WBL as an essential learning model to improve employability.