I recently returned from a VET to Job project meeting that took place in Cyprus. I had taken some clouds and rainfalls with me that the islanders had not experienced in several months. Heat and sunshine were sufficient for a northerner like me. The meeting, however, was held indoors, where representatives of all participant countries had gathered to hear about good practices to prevent unemployment and exclusion, presented by a Cypriot participant. The trip was fully successful, and the programme was well constructed and professionally rewarding.
On the island state, with a long and rich history and less than a million inhabitants, things are approached and conducted in a personal style. The European course of action is applied efficiently, yet with due consideration to the local circumstances and needs. Owing to the drastic rundown of the banking sector, the Cypriots need to change the priorities of development and education quickly. The unemployment rate among young people is now approximately 30 per cent. There are plans to educate labour for the fields of tourism and energy. Also, Cypriots seek momentum from the VET to Job project.
In the VET to Job project, managed by the labour administration, the English, Spanish, Austrian, Cypriot, Finnish and Hungarian players look for means to promote youth employment and prevent exclusion. Sataedu is the only education provider and Finnish member in the VET to Job project. This project, which aims to decrease unemployment and increase human well-being, provides an opportunity for learning from other players and for sharing good practices with them.
Mid-term review of project
As regards its duration and operations, the VET to Job has approximately reached its midpoint. So far, the project group has become acquainted with practices in Austria, Finland and Cyprus. The opening meeting was held in Spain, whose operational models have also been presented during the meetings. The experiences have been positive in every aspect. It has been interesting to observe how a given problem can be approached in different ways in different countries. On the other hand, it is good to bear in mind that the financial and social circumstances vary between European countries. The development history also has an effect on the operating culture. The solutions to prevent employment and exclusion are based on each country’s own starting points, although common European models are used in principle.
Experiences from along the way
It has been particularly impressive to get acquainted with the Austrian labour administration’s (Arbeitsmarktservice Österreich, AMS) way of acting as an organisation and cooperating with the service providers. AMS plays a strong role in coordinating the resources in an appropriate manner. Its operations are characterised by a wide range of services, systematic implementation of national programmes, comprehensive quality management system as well as long-term counselling, designed to meet individual needs. Many countries lack the means required for vocational preparation, but in Austria there are tools, such as “production schools” of educational institutions, providing young people with preparatory activities and support in a vocational operational environment.
The Austrian educational system is characterised by comprehensive cooperation between economic players and educational institutions. The bipartite educational system, where theoretical education and practical education are coordinated, is used both in apprenticeship training and at upper secondary vocational schools. The Educational Guarantee, introduced in Austria in 2008, secures that each young person up to the age of 19 has a study place in vocational education after compulsory education. In Austria, vocational education is mostly implemented as apprenticeship training in an enterprise or at an apprenticeship training institution. Nearly half of Austrians in the age group complete apprenticeship training.
Meanwhile in Finland
In Finland, plenty of good work is done to support the unemployed and to prevent exclusion. Nevertheless, when compared to Austria, for example, the Finnish efforts come across as fragmentary, and the overall responsibility or the coordination of the support measures is not quite clear. In particular, the implementation of the Youth Guarantee comprises separate measures taken by various organisations in the public sector, and the effectiveness of these measures has not been considered optimal. With the Government’s productivity programme in force, local employment services have been reduced. The need for personal local services has not necessarily disappeared, and, as a result, local players seek to fill in service gaps with activities established with project funding.
Vocational education is functioning well in Finland. On the international level, the Finnish educational system is appreciated and instruction considered to be high quality. The Finnish vocational education earns special merit for its well-functioning working life contacts, in which also the partners in the VET to Job project have been interested. On the other hand, vocational education has a lot of responsibilities in Finland when we think of young people’s life management, prevention of exclusion, employment after studies, or vocational further and continuing education in the prevention of unemployment. When the Finnish system and particularly Finnish course of action are put into comparison, we observe shortcomings in the coordination of major issues and in the smoothness of cooperation. Allocation of resources should be increasingly based on the needs of the target person, yet keeping the controls strictly geared towards the goal.
Veli-Matti Vuori, Development director of Sataedu