Work-based learning within school-based VET: Lessons from Sweden

By Anthony Mann

When it comes to thinking about what makes for excellent vocational education and training (VET), it is hard to overstate the importance of learners spending time in actual workplaces. Work-based learning (WBL) is, of course, fundamental to apprenticeship systems, but it is also essential to high quality school-based programmes. The OECD has consistently argued that WBL should be a mandatory element of school-based VET provision. Here’s five reasons why:

  1. It gives learners the chance to use industry standard equipment (improving the quality of learning while reducing costs to VET schools).
  2. It introduces learners to the distinctive culture of working worlds linked to their occupational interest, allowing them to apply what they have been taught in real-world settings while developing the softer skills which employers value so highly.
  3. It presents employers with the opportunity of getting to know people who they may ultimately recruit.
  4. It serves as a means of reducing risks of skills mismatch (employers offering placements is a strong signal of interest in long-term recruitment).
  5. It shares the costs of preparing students for skilled employment by making use of the workplace as a zone for learning.

Work-based learning is one of the primary subjects of the recent OECD VET review of Sweden published. Over the last decade, WBL has moved centre stage within Swedish VET provision. In upper-secondary VET National Programmes, learners aged 15 to 18 overwhelmingly now undertake placements of at least 15 weeks duration, commonly at the end of courses which last three years. Schools are responsible for finding placements with subject teachers commonly liaising directly with workplaces to structure WBL experiences that suit the learning needs of students. In Sweden, schools should only allow a student to join a National Programme if an appropriate placement has been lined up.

Such an approach has many strengthens. Coming at the end of a programme of study, learners are well placed to productively contribute to workplaces (increasing their attractiveness to employers) and often find permanent employment immediately after their programme ends. The heavy engagement of the classroom teacher in sourcing and overseeing placements can be expected to help ensure that students are well matched to employers and that placements align with learning needs. However, as addressed in the  OECD VET review of Sweden, opportunities exist to further enhance the quality of Swedish WBL which is extremely dependent on individual VET teachers. Responsibilities for sourcing placements can be shared, especially with social partners, to increase supply. The quality of learning within placements can also be evaluated more systematically. Denmark and the Netherlands offer models of provision where social partners are given the responsibility for ensuring the workplace elements of VET are of consistently high quality.

To keep in touch with the work of the OECD VET team, visit: www.oecd.org/edu/VET and/or follow its team leader on Twitter: @AnthonyMannOECD


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