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New Forms of Education of Professionals for Vocational Education and Training

Graham Attwell
Institüt Technik und Bildung, University of Bremen
Traditionally vocational education and training has never been seen as a profession in itself,
like, for instance doctors or general schoolteachers. At a research level VET has been the
preserve of a variety of different disciplines - including psychology, pedagogy, labour market
research, and work science. Planners and policy makers in vocational education and training
have likewise been drawn from many different fields. The failure of vocational education and
training to gain recognition as a profession is reflected in the relatively low prestige, and rates
of pay, for vocational teachers and trainers. It may also be seen in the generally low levels of
training for people working in the field when compared with established professions.
‘New Forms of Education of Professionals in VET’ (EUROPROF) is a two year Leonardo
Surveys and Analyses project bringing together researchers from fourteen different European
countries. The long term aim of the project is to develop a ‘community’ of VET researchers
and practitioners and the ‘professionalisation’ of VET, in other words to gain the recognition
of VET as a discipline and a profession in its own right. In the shorter term the project aims
to build an international network of VET researchers and to develop new qualifications for
VET professionals, planners, teachers and trainers, through a European Masters (MA)
qualification to be offered in universities in different European countries.
The very ambitious aims for the project, together with the national diversity of the
partnership and the spread of disciplines, interests and approaches of the project scientists,
has posed a serious challenge in terms of the development and application of methodology.
This paper will examine some of the questions that have been raised and some of the
approaches the project has adopted. It is not intended to convey the impression that
EUROPROF solved all the problems facing partners in trans-national European research.
Rather it is hoped that the ideas developed in the project may serve as a basis for information
and reflection and mutual learning between members of the international VET research
community. In this respect two important methodological approaches should be mentioned at
the outset. The first has been our desire to build links and networks and seek active
interchange with researchers, practitioners and policy makers in the carrying out of the
project activities. For this activity we have coined the phrase ‘on-going interactive
dissemination’. In particular EUROPROF has built strong links with a number of other
Leonardo Survey and Analyses projects and actively collaborated with the FORUM1 network,
with CEDEFOP and with the VETNET network. We have also sought to actively involve
new institutions and individuals in the project activities through creating the status of
Associate Partner. Secondly the project has adopted a ‘problem finding approach’ in stead of
just seeking to solve problems. We are aware that any international research effort of this sort
is going to face fairly serious problems in carrying through its activities especially if the
desired impact is reform and change in different member states. For this reason it is better to
actively seek to identify the research challenges and problems in order to be able to bring a
collective experience to their consideration if not resolution.
Collaboration and Co-operation

FORUM is the Forum for European Research in Vocational Education and Training. The network, comprised
of researchers and practitioners, is examining the development of a European path for VET. VETNET is the
VET network of the European Education Research Association.

Two important questions concerned the project design and methodology. Traditionally
international projects in vocational education and training have tended to work through
comparative methodology, through an examination of the different national systems for VET.
Such a methodology is inadequate for the aims of EUROPROF. Instead the project has
developed the idea of collaborative research2, through both building transnational teams to
focus on common research questions (See figure 1), and through a process of mutual learning
based on national research (Attwell and Heidegger, 1997 forthcoming). The aim is not to
transfer features from one national system to another but rather to use the analysis of different
national systems as a springboard for the development of new ideas and innovations. Whilst
the project will, of course, address its findings to policy makers and planners, the driving
force for change is from the bottom up, in changing the practice in the different partner
countries and in developing ‘model projects’ which can serve as an observatory for evaluation
and reform. As such the project is based within the tradition of ‘action research’.

Figure 1: Research Questions and Development Tasks

Research Questions
• Defining work process knowledge;
• Vocational Education and Training, Human Resource Development and regional
• The connection between collaborative research and comparative research
• What are the ‘shaping skills’ required for ‘anthropocentric’ production?
• New European occupational profiles and cultural diversity and curriculum flexibility
• Project dissemination and the development of new programmes for education of VET
Development Tasks
• The development of new forms of Vocational Education and Training and Human
Resource Development for ‘social organisation of innovation’ and life-long learning.
• The examination of the strengths and weaknesses of existing provision of Education for
Vocational Education and Training professionals in the member states of the
European Union and the identification of the opportunities for new programmes and
• The identification and development of new occupational profiles for VET professionals.

• The development of new curricula for the education of VET professionals and the launch
of pilot programmes

Collaborative research involves comparative tools, but not as an end in itself.

The second methodological question regards the question of different national cultures and
traditions. Within the arena of social policy there are quite different degrees of similarity and
difference in different fields of activity. Vocational education and training systems in Europe
are unusually diverse, reflecting their emergence in different historical, social, economic and
cultural situations (Rose, 1991). Even following the establishment of the European Union and
the growth of an international economy, processes of convergence have been accompanied by
simultaneous divergent trends. A European qualification implies a degree of conformity in
terms of recognition, curriculum, organisation and pedagogy. At the same time it is necessary
to respect and capitalise on the different traditions of education in the different countries and
on the different regional and national economic needs such education programmes will
In part our different understanding of quite basic and fundamental ideas underpinning
national vocational education and training systems causes this problem. This is not merely a
language question. In fact it is precisely in those areas where language is most similar that the
greatest problems of understanding arise. For instance the English term ‘competence’ may
easily be understood in any European language. However when the real meaning of the term
is explored there are very different conceptual understandings of the nature of competence
which, in themselves, reveal different approaches to the whole question of vocational
education and training. For instance in the UK competence is seen as the ability to perform a
series of pre-defined external tasks to a given standard whilst in Germany competence is an
internal quality of the individual relating to both their knowledge and skills but also to their
occupational identity. Another example comes from Finland where the concept of ‘work-life’
underlies much of the research in vocational education and training. Whilst the term ‘work
life’ is perfect English as a concept it has no meaning. Therefore in undertaking research and
development projects in Europe it is necessary to spend some time sorting out and agreeing
on the basic ideas before rushing into development activities.
In recognition of the importance of ‘training the trainers’ the European Commission has
sponsored a plethora of different projects and initiatives over the past decade. Yet, despite
well meaning intentions and hard and earnest endeavours by researchers and policy makers
alike, there has been a marked failure to develop any common approach to the education of
VET professionals. The project has developed an approach to this question based on
identifying and elaborating a series of common ‘cornerstones’ that underpin the surveys and
analyses (Attwell, 1996).
Anthropocentric Production and Shaping Skills

The first of the project cornerstones is the idea of anthropocentric production - that workers
should be given the skills and the autonomy to shape and control technology and design their
own work organisation. Such a concept stands in contrast to the customary ‘deficit model’ of
vocational education and training, to providing the skills and understanding required for
people to adapt to socio-economic and technological development. This model has led to a
situation where VET is always following behind new technology and new economic
developments in a vain attempt to catch up. Instead the project proposes that VET should be
providing for ‘future skills’. But instead of trying to predict or guess future skill needs, for
new production processes and new commercial and social services, it is proposed that people
themselves should have the ability to participate in the shaping of the content, form and
organisation of work technology. Obviously this idea is underpinned by social principle and
on wider ideas of the organisation of society itself. But it is also predicated within the
changes in the organisation of manufacturing and services with increasing rates of change in
technology and new emphasis on quality and small batch production. The move away from
mass production, the emphasis on small and medium enterprises as the driving force for job
creation and the emergence of the ‘learning organisation’ as a goal for organisational
development all ask new competencies of the workforce. The ability of workers to undertake
work self-reliantly, independently and to utilise creative and communication skills is a new
goal for vocational education and training. Human centred innovation has implications for the
organisation of production with the competences of teamwork, and communication becoming
highly valued.
The ‘Social Organisation of Innovation’
The idea of ‘shaping’ is linked to the aim of the ‘social organisation of innovation’. Human
skills are increasingly seen as the key element in economic competitiveness resulting in the
high priority currently being given to vocational education and training. The European
cultural tradition of social partnership and social inclusion emphasises not only economic
competitiveness but also social competitiveness - social cohesion and personal self-fulfilment.
Technical innovation and new forms of work organisation, linked to regional development,
the creation of new employment opportunities and social reform comprises the social
organisation of innovation. In other words innovation and economic growth and development
are not based just on the introduction of new technology and cheaper production costs but
also on the social process of skilled work. VET professionals, planners, teachers, trainers,
have a wider role than the traditional passing on of a set of skills. In viewing human skills as
the basis of societal innovation then VET professionals themselves become pivotal in the
process of innovation.
Work Process Knowledge

The aim of life long learning has been the focus for numerous national and European
Community initiatives over the past five years. Life long learning demands new skills and a
new approach to learning and work, which cannot be gained from traditional VET. VET
professionals themselves not only must understand the new skills required, demanding
changes in their own skills and knowledge, the new didactic models and methodologies such
an approach implies but must themselves accept the need for life long learning. If teachers
and trainers are to utilise the workplace as the basis for lifelong learning then they,
themselves need a thorough grounding in occupational and technical skills and work process
knowledge. A third cornerstone for the project is the idea of work process knowledge. The
role of skilled work in the encouragement of innovation has already been explained.
Empirical research has pointed to the importance of work process knowledge - knowledge
encompassing the whole work process, often acquired through the experience of work and
knowledge which is required for successful performance in the workplace (Fischer, 1996).
Whilst theories of the learning organisation and of situated learning have illustrated the
centrality of the design of the workplace as a medium and opportunity for learning, less
attention has been paid to the role of the teacher and trainer in mediating and facilitating this
process. Many of the studies in the field have tended to concentrate on the human resource
development and the implications of new forms of work organisation for management
development, rather than examine the role of the teacher and trainer in the acquisition and
development of work based knowledge and skills (Attwell and Jennes, 1996).
New Occupational Profiles
The new role and responsibilities for VET professionals are very different to the traditional
view of a vocational teacher or trainer. One of the major objectives for the project has been to
identify new occupational profiles for VET professionals in the different European countries.
Of course many of the teachers and trainers do not currently require or utilise the wide range
of competences and skills being proposed. As such a traditional needs analysis would not be
sufficient for this purpose, concentrating as it does on the present skills demands. Instead the
researchers have conducted interviews with a wide range of different organisations and
individuals including policy makers and planners, existing providers of education for teachers
and trainers, managers and HRD specialists in enterprises and VET practitioners themselves.
The new occupational profiles are multi-dimensional and involve the integration of different
expertise and skills.
One key decision has regarded the different organisational focus for the planners, teachers
and trainers. Should there be separate occupational profiles for a school teacher working in
initial vocational education and training, a trainer working in a training centre with the long
term unemployed and in enterprise based trainers in initial and continuing education? The
EUROPROF project team has attempted to bring together these different roles within a single
broad occupational profile. Firstly it is felt that the present divide between initial and
continuing VET does not reflect the goal of lifelong learning. Secondly it is seen as desirable
that the VET professional of the future is able to employ a wide variety of learning strategies
and pedagogic methodologies. Obviously there are different learning strategies for continuing
training in a work based situation and for young students in a vocational school. But VET
professionals should have an understanding of the theories of learning and to be able to
design learning situations based on the needs of the trainees. It is also felt that in the future
VET professionals should themselves possess the skills and knowledge to be able to move
between different contexts for learning, in the development of their own professional career.
An understanding of the broad basis of vocational education and training is also central to the
idea of a community of practice, itself an integral part of the goal of developing VET as a
Occupations and Human Resource Development

A further decision, and one that has excited much debate and not inconsiderable
disagreements, has regarded the occupational focus of the profiles. Over the past decade
Human Resource Development has become well established as a university discipline and
within enterprises there has been a move away from seeing training as a personnel function to
the appointment of HRD managers. The background for these new HRD professionals is
varied although many seem to have an initial degree in business studies. University courses in
Human Resource Management are almost always free of any occupational focus,
concentrating as they do on the theory, process and management of human resources. In
contrast the EUROPROF project design has adopted an occupational focus as the basis for
new occupational profiles. The reason lies in the belief in the practice of skilled work as the
basis for innovation and on work process knowledge as central to life long learning. One of
the conditions for the development of occupational expertise is the ability to reflect on ones
own professional and occupational practice. As such VET professionals play two roles, as a
skilled practitioner in their own occupational area and as a teacher, trainer or planner in
education and training. This is not to imply that the two are separate and can be acquired as
add on components. A teacher or trainer in health care needs to be able to reflect on his or her
practice as a health care professional from the viewpoint of vocational education and training;
similarly they must be able to reflect on their practice as a teacher from the viewpoint of a
health care professional. In other words the new occupational profiles include both technical
and pedagogic skills. Whilst occupationally focused it would be foolish to narrow the
occupational range of practice unnecessarily, especially given the movements towards multi-
skilling within the European workforce. In practice the selection of a range of occupations as
a basis for the new profiles is not as difficult as it might at first sight appear. Most European
countries have a classification system for similar broad occupational roles. In fact the
EUROPROF project partners have concentrated on two different groups of occupations -
those in areas where technological development and new work organisation is leading to very
rapid development and change, such as engineering, and new emerging occupations, like
child care and tourism. The decision to develop occupationally based profiles does not mean,
however, that the importance of human resource development has been ignored. Many of the
ideas, which have been developed by HRD practitioners, such as the learning organisation
and the importance of continuing training are included in the new profiles.

New tasks and Profiles: New Methodological Questions

The cornerstones served as the basis for a series of surveys undertaken in different partner
countries. The EUROPROF project did not set out to analyse and compare the present
occupational roles and profiles of VET professionals, but rather to develop future scenarios
(Heidegger, 1996). Such aims influenced the methodology leading the partners to undertake a
series of semi-structured interviews and qualitative analysis instead of conducting a
quantitative survey. A further concern was to identify trends and changes in the activities
being undertaken by VET professionals. The work of McLagen (1989) and surveys
undertaken in Europe utilising the McLagen questionnaire (Ginkel, Mulder and Nijhof 1994;
Odenthal and Nijhof, 1997) reveal changes in the functions of HRD professionals, what they
fail to reveal is crucial changes being undertaken within these functions and in particular new
methods, activities and strategies being employed in teaching and instructing. Functional
analyses of the role of VET professionals like in the UK (TDLB, 1995) similarly only show
the present activities undertaken by VET professionals. A second reason for wishing to
undertake a series of interviews was the necessity to build networks for intervention and
change. The individuals, institutions and organisations that serve as the primary source of
information and data also are important as potential change agents for dissemination, impact
and change. Project partners are organising national networks and meetings to disseminate the
findings of the surveys, to validate the findings and to propose further activity to implement
the outcomes in their own countries.
Convergence of trend: divergence of effect
The results of our studies have posed new methodological questions in transforming the
survey and analyses work into an ongoing action plan for the development of new
programmes for VET professionals. The EUROPROF survey reveals a complex process of
simultaneous convergence and divergence. Firstly there is a broadening in the role of VET
professionals in most countries in Europe. Perhaps of greatest significance is the increased
attention being paid to continuing vocational training. Where as previously the main focus for
continuing training lay in the area of management development the acceptance of ideas such
as life long learning and the changes in work organisation are extending continuing training
to include wider sections of the workforce. This is meaning new responsibilities for
traditional HRD specialists but also leading to a blurring in the division of roles between what
was seen as the work of VET practitioners and that of HRD professionals. Allied to this trend
is the new emphasis on organisational learning leading to new roles for VET and HRD
professionals within the work process and new tasks in initial education and training. The
third area where roles have broadened is in the provision of vocational education and training
for the unemployed where there is a movement away from lower level instructional activities
to view the task of retraining the workforce as a major concern and including counselling,
work placement, monitoring as well as the planning and management of more demanding
retraining programmes.
The trend towards decentralisation of vocational education and training provision is leading
to new roles in the management of the VET. At the same time the emphasis on situated
learning and work process knowledge are leading to deep seated changes in the form of VET
provision with a move away from instruction and classroom provision towards a new focus
on the management of the learning process and the identification, design and structuring of
learning activities. This in turn is highlighting activities such as mentoring, coaching,
simulating and facilitating rather than instructing and training. Once more the trends towards
reform of initial vocational education and training towards more work process related
activities rather than classroom learning is both broadening the role of VET professionals and
at the same time leading to a convergence between the traditional roles of VET and HRD
specialists. For both their main role is becoming the management of learning.

However the way these changes are manifested in effect in different sectors and countries is
very complex. Much depends on the interaction between occupational profiles and the labour
market. In countries with a strongly regulated labour market such as Germany the changes in
role may be slower to appear as regulations take time to catch up with the new profiles and
there remains a strong division between the roles of VET teachers, instructors and industrial
trainers (Heise, 1996). In deregulated labour markets like the UK there may be a tendency
towards increased specialisation in order to reduce costs. In some industrial sectors groups of
employers have a strong influence over the actual implementation of occupational profiles
and in some sectors and countries social partners also play a major role (Force, 1994; Nielsen,
The design and organisation of initial VET in different countries also has a major influence
on the roles undertaken by VET professionals. Whilst there is a general movement towards
some form of alternance training throughout most of Europe in those countries with a school
based VET system divisions between the VET and HRD function remain stronger. There are
further differences caused by cultural and societal influences. EUROPROF studies
undertaken in Greece (Patiniotis, 1996) have noted the strong influence of family
environments exerting pressure for university education and the relative isolation of
vocational education from labour market needs. Finally the very forms of education for VET
professionals, which forms the central focus for the EUROPROF studies, will in themselves
effect the occupational profiles and roles. In order to see the enactment of the new broader
roles being advocated then there is the need for a thoroughgoing professionalisation of the
education and training of VET professionals.
Existing education for VET Professionals
The second field of development tasks, the existing provision of education for VET
professionals reveals a picture of inconsistency and fragmentation (Attwell, 1997). Not only
are there very different patterns of education of VET professionals between different
countries but provision varies within individual occupations, countries and regions. The
fragmentation of provision may be seen as a reflection in the fragmentation of VET provision
itself. Indeed it is generally within those countries with the fullest developed systems for
vocational education and training that is seen the best practice in the education of VET
provision. But it is also a reflection of the lack of esteem attached to VET provision and also
the uneasy status of VET in failing to develop as a discipline in itself but rather forming a sub
set of a number of related disciplines.
From fragmentation to collaboration
While it is possible to prescribe a need for professionalisation in the education and practice of
VET professionals in Europe and to identify convergence of trends in occupational roles and
profiles the situation outlined above does not hold promise for the introduction of new
common programmes between different countries. Realistically the task may be posed as
moving from fragmentation to collaboration in VET professional education (Kauppi, 1997).
There remains the need for further comparative research but there is also an imperative to
seek and develop new methods for collaboration and co-operation at a research level. How
might this be achieved? The fragmentation outlined above limits the possibility for formal co-
operation between governing and regulatory bodies in order to instigate a raising of standards.
The limited mobility of VET teachers and language barriers also impose a limitation on
student exchange and mobility as do the different national requirements for VET

The project is presently exploring different approaches to overcome the problems outlined
above. One proposal is to form an ongoing network for universities and institutions involved
in research and provision for the education of VET professionals. The purposes of the
network could be as follows:
1. The development, piloting and mutual recognition of new MA and Doctorate programmes
for the education of VET professionals;
2. The promotion of exchange programmes for teachers in VET;
3. The promotion of contacts between alumni of networking institutions;
4. The sharing of knowledge through collaborative research, workshops and publications.
5. The development of shared databanks of resources and research findings and papers.
The first task is to develop methodologies which can allow collaboration in the development
of new programmes whilst respecting institutional and cultural autonomy and diversity. Two
approaches are being explored both of which have specific strengths and weaknesses. The
first is the definition of a list of common learning outcomes, which could be incorporated into
new and existing programmes for VET professionals. However there are well-documented
problems with outcome based approaches. The major one is that of disaggregation. This
means getting the level of breakdown and weighting right between the many different skills
and competences a VET professional needs. Secondly is the question of defining and
describing knowledge requirements. John Walton (1997) has drawn attention to the
difficulties in ensuring a trans-cultural and inter-language understanding of a set of outcomes.
This is particularly so given the specific and sometimes obscure nature of the language of
VET. He also advances some useful ideas on how this problem can be overcome. Advantages
of the outcomes approach include the potential clarity of a shared set of outcomes and the
potential to focus development activities in a direct way. Furthermore specifying a series of
core outcomes allows plenty of room for institutional and regional differentiation in design
and delivery of programmes and pedagogy whilst maintaining a common approach.
The second approach is to further develop the initial cornerstones to provide a framework for
programme development and mutual recognition. The key difference here is that whilst the
outcomes approach is based on what the students can do as a result of successfully completing
a ‘EUROPROF MA’, the cornerstones method would be a way of ‘kitemarking’ institutions,
curricula and programmes. The disadvantages of this approach may be the necessarily rather
general nature of the framework and the difficulty in precise interpretation and application.
Towards a European research culture in Vocational Education and Training
Both approaches described above continue to develop the methodologies applied through the
course of the EUROPROF project in building networks and seeking to promote and extend
collaboration and co-operation between different researchers and institutions in Europe
through the identification of common research questions and development tasks. In applying
this approach we have attempted to develop a more extended and generalised picture of what
such a process implies. The aim is to develop a European research culture in Vocational
Education and Training. It is not intended to replace the existing work being undertaken.
Instead we have attempted to build on the existing fragments of a European research culture
and to take and extend the existing methodologies which underpin European research in this
field (Figure 2; Attwell & Heidegger, 1997 forthcoming).

Figure 2: Towards a European research culture in Vocational Education and Training

Existing research methodologies Supplementary methodologies and
Comparative research Collaborative (co-operative) research on
common themes (integrated research groups)
Observation and case studies Action / intervention orientation
(‘pedagogics’ as ‘practical science’)
Combination / interaction of various Integration of disciplines in VET perspective:
disciplines ‘true’, integrative interdisciplinarity
VET as the ‘application’ of various VET recognised as a discipline in itself
‘General’ aspects (according to disciplinary Analysis / shaping of work processes in
approaches) e.g. specific ‘vocational subject areas’
• history of VET Specific pedagogical didactical measures
• development of industrial work (Industrial Intervention / action approach
Different disciplines dealing with various Different work processes (work process
work processes knowledge areas) enlightened by various
‘General’ professionalisation (MA, PhD professionalisation with respect to specific
level) for VET professionals (e.g. HRD, work process knowledge
MBA, Educational Sociology)

various disciplinary research on VET VET research ‘in itself’: concrete interaction
• work (organisation)
• technology
• education, training
within societal / historic conditions.

The table reflects our belief that the education of VET professionals cannot be divorced from
the question of VET research culture as a whole. It is not a finished product. However we
hope that by developing such an analysis and publishing our findings for other VET scientists
we can assist in the process of interaction and debate which underpins the development of an
active VET community and a community of practice in Europe.
Concluding Remarks
Research methodologies cannot be considered when divorced from the context in which they
are applied. As such two challenges face researchers in vocational education and training. The
first is to adapt, borrow and extend methodologies taken from a variety of different
disciplines to apply to the questions confronting vocational education and training. The
second is to develop methodologies for international research. Both tasks have their own
peculiarities and problems. VET is as yet an immature science and we still have to learn to
work with scientists from different cultures and nationalities. The experience of the
EUROPROF project has revealed to us many of the problems and we have, we hope, made
some modest progress in developing new tools and methodologies to confront these
questions. Through an identification of common understandings and cornerstones, through a
process of discourse and interaction and through networks of collaboration it will prove
possible to take the first steps towards developing a European research culture in vocational
education and training.


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