Strengthening teaching and leadership in vocational education and training

@OECD recently launched some interesting #VET research: Teachers and Leaders in Vocational Education and Training

Key points:

  • Investing in VET teachers and leaders can boost the system’s resilience during the COVID recovery
  • Encouraging more professionals into VET teaching, improving teacher training, innovating pedagogy and strengthening leadership should be areas of focus for policy makers
  • In a volatile labour market, VET can play a key role in equipping students with the skills they need to find jobs

Vocational education and training (VET) can play a crucial role in the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, by equipping young students and adult learners with the skills that the labour market needs. VET can contribute to tackling youth unemployment, re-skilling workers for growing or emerging sectors and occupations, and ensuring that employers do not encounter skill shortages. At the same time, the VET sector faced many challenges during the COVID-19 crisis, as practical learning was difficult to organise when schools were closed and employers reduced work-based learning opportunities.

Teachers and leaders are essential in ensuring that VET can effectively contribute to the recovery and learn from the challenges faced during the pandemic. Often referred to as a “dual profession”, teachers in VET require both pedagogical skills and industry knowledge. In light of the recovery and ongoing structural changes in the labour market, VET teachers need to keep up to date with the realities of the workplace so they can develop the right skills among their students. At the same time, they need to adapt to changing teaching and learning environments, including the increased use of digital technologies. Leaders of VET institutions play a key role in supporting teachers in their effort to keep their skills and knowledge up to date, by providing opportunities for professional development, offering guidance on the integration of technology in teaching and strengthening the ties with the world of work.

Recent OECD analysis highlights four key areas of VET workforce strategy that can help countries strengthen teaching and leadership in VET:

1. VET teacher supply

VET teacher shortages are significant in many OECD countries, and could hamper the provision of relevant VET programmes to support the recovery. Half of further education college principals in England (United Kingdom) and a third of VET principals in Denmark, Portugal and Turkey reported shortages.

VET teacher shortages are related to the limited attractiveness of the teaching career. For example, in a number of countries, the profession does not offer competitive salaries compared to industry and/or other educational institutions. High workloads, poor management of VET institutions and lack of career development opportunities also have an effect on job satisfaction, which in turn impacts VET teacher retention.

Incentives and support – before and after becoming a teacher – can help attract and retain VET teachers, and can be especially important to ensure a sufficient supply of VET teachers in shortage areas. VET teachers who receive targeted support during their careers are more likely to stay in the profession. For example, the attrition rates among new VET teachers can be reduced through mentoring and structured induction programmes. For experienced teachers, attractive career pathways and targeted support can encourage them to stay in the profession while allowing them to move into senior positions or into other subject areas.

Employing industry professionals can also ease VET teacher shortages, while having the additional benefit of bringing in up-to-date industry expertise. Many countries have relatively strict regulations for VET teacher qualifications – although often allowing for some exceptions – and this can be a significant barrier for industry professionals interested in a teaching career. Flexible or alternative pathways for qualification, training and recruitment may be necessary to ease their entry into teaching – in particular for those who lack the required teaching qualifications and pedagogical skills. Part-time work arrangements can also facilitate flexible teaching in VET, if they do not come at the expense of VET teachers’ working conditions and opportunities for skills development.

2. VET teacher training

Ensuring that VET teachers have the right set of skills requires strong initial teacher education and training systems and ample opportunities for professional development. Data from the OECD’s 2018 international survey of teachers, TALIS, suggest that initial VET teacher education and training does not equip future VET teachers with all the skills and knowledge they need, especially concerning emerging and innovative pedagogy. To fix this, institutions offering initial teacher education should keep their curricula up to date, collaborate with VET institutions to offer practical teacher training, and develop research and innovation into pedagogical approaches. Offering work-based learning opportunities in industry as part of such programmes can be particularly helpful for those with no industry background.

After entering the VET teaching workforce, VET teachers need to continue to develop their skills to keep up with changing teaching and learning environments and changing skill needs in industry. However, VET teachers often face barriers to accessing training due to a lack of support or incentives, and conflicts with their work schedule. Relevant, customised and engaging training can be offered if all the VET stakeholders collaborate to provide such opportunities and support participation – including VET institutions, teacher and school networks, local companies, universities and other associations.

3. Innovative pedagogy in VET

The COVID-19 crisis underlined the need for strong digital skills, but also strong basic and soft skills to be able to navigate a changing labour market. Teachers can develop these skills in VET through innovative pedagogical approaches. Fostering the capacity of VET teachers to take advantage of new technologies can encourage this. Online learning, virtual/augmented reality, robotics and simulators can offer flexible, cost-effective and safe learning opportunities in VET.

However, data suggest that a large share of VET teachers – especially older ones – do not feel confident using digital technologies in their teaching practices. Strategic guidance and institutional support to VET teachers – on effective teaching methods, for example, or access to digital devices, high-tech equipment and technical support – can encourage the use of innovative pedagogical approaches. Training opportunities are crucial, as are networking opportunities and partnerships between the VET sector and industry to promote and improve the use of materials and equipment tailored to teaching and learning needs in VET.

4. Strengthened leadership in VET

VET institutions need well-prepared leaders, who understand the VET sector and the labour market, and have strong organisational and pedagogical leadership skills. Evidence from TALIS 2018 shows that the large majority of VET leaders have a background in teaching, and not all of them have gone through relevant training to cover other aspects of the leadership role. Improving and updating definitions of VET leadership responsibilities is an important first step in attracting and maintaining well-prepared VET leaders, as it would constitute a key point of reference for those considering becoming a leader, and for those organising their selection and training.

Relevant training, including peer-learning opportunities, is just as crucial for VET leaders as it is for teachers. Leadership support at the start of their careers and the backing from well-trained mid-level management staff can help VET leaders better cope with their many responsibilities, including supporting teachers, engaging employers and other stakeholders, and improving the quality of VET.

Investing in VET teachers and leaders will help make VET systems more resilient in light of structural changes and the COVID-19 crisis. Well-trained VET teachers who are supported by effective leaders have the potential to strengthen the quality and relevance of VET and with it the employability and adaptability of VET graduates.

Check out the OECD's Teachers and Leaders in VET publication page to see the full report with detailed policy recommendations and good practice examples, a dedicated policy brief, and the recodring of a webinar with speakers from England, Denmark and the United States. 

This article was published on the OECD Education and Skills Today blog.

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