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Work-based learning in the Western Balkans

Work-based learning (WBL) has been high on the policy agendas of the Western Balkans economies for the last couple of years. Together with the EU Member States, the Western Balkans economies have all agreed on a new set of medium-term deliverables that includes WBL and thus given it an impetus and due relevance.

In the Western Balkans, vocational education and training (VET) is mainly provided in 3- and 4-year programmes which are deeply rooted in the formal education system. The 4-year programmes usually lead to certificates that allow learners to enter higher education. Very few of these 3- and 4-year programmes have compulsory WBL components.

Curriculum frames usually include general subjects, vocational theory and vocational practice. In theory, a substantial part of the vocational practice – or in some cases even all the practical training – could be implemented in the form of WBL. However, such frameworks have often not been supported by the necessary by-laws that would, for example, stipulate the rights and obligations of the companies, learners and VET schools. For instance, the selection of learners, their contractual situation and their remuneration often remain unclear and may differ from school to school or company to company, thus not being regulated at systemic level. Further, common standards for the administration and supervision of learners are often not in place.

As a result, WBL is still not widespread. Instead, most of the practical training takes place in the VET schools’ workshops, and a lot remains to be done to make businesses an active partner in the education process – ensuring the legal framework, regulating the rights and responsiblities of participants, ensuring financial resources to promote and coordinate WBL within the companies, remuneration of learners, establishment of monitoring systems and quality assurance, and many more.

However, the Western Balkans economies are highly aware of the needs of connecting the business sector with the education system. All of them are investing significant efforts, with the help of international donor organizations, to regulate the WBL system and make it functional, productive and relevant for building a labour-market relevant skills-base in the region.

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