During the last few decades, in Europe, interest and participation in Work-based Learning (WBL) has steadily increased. Some might argue that this is a direct response to policy-level targets and priorities, at national and European levels, in which the benefits and values of work-based learning are regularly highlighted. Others see this as a natural reflection of the changing nature of the workforce, and the workplace, in which we see an ever increasing use of new technologies, growing internationalisation, changing career patterns and greater recognition of the importance of the knowledge economy.
At European level, targets and priorities for WBL are confirmed (directly and indirectly) within a number of core strategies and initiatives, namely:
- Europe 2020 Growth Strategy: aims to enhance the quality and relevance of education and training systems, to improve competitiveness and to achieve smart, sustainable and inclusive growth;
- ET 2020 Strategic Framework: supports policy development in EU Member States, notably including targets for the implementation of national VET reforms with a view to strengthening work-based learning and apprenticeship-type schemes;
- Agenda for New Skills and Jobs: aims to support the EU employment target of 75% of the working-age population (20-64 years) by 2020, also by involving employers in the co-investment, development and delivery of education;
- European Alliance for Apprenticeships (EAfA): established in 2013, and targeting the promotion of youth employment, the alliance works on a broad variety of initiatives and targets improvement in the quality, supply and perception of European apprenticeships.
At National level, WBL policies are highly diverse and encompass a broad variety of work-based learning practices, across different European countries and diverse work and learning environments. In some European countries, WBL has a long tradition, often within vocational education and training (VET), with dual apprenticeships and education-industry partnerships having operated successfully for many years (Austria, Germany, Switzerland). There are other countries where WBL is recognised as an emerging trend (Ireland, Finland, France, Netherlands) yet, similarly, there are countries where WBL does not yet feature fully as a part of education and training provision (Poland).
Beyond VET, there are benefits to be had from work-based or work oriented learning in other areas of education and training with, for example, well-established university-business alliances supporting the development and delivery of many academic programmes in areas such as medicine, teacher training and the creative industries.
In fact, and in summary, there are few areas of education and training that have yet to see the benefits of work-based learning, and there is an increasing number of countries that has started to embrace this important mechanism for skills development and skills renewal.
European Commission (2013): Work-Based Learning in Europe. Practices and Policy Pointers.
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