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Vocational training in Spain: Changes in the model of skill production and in management modalities

Firstly, this text deals with the role of vocational training in the qualified Spanish work force. It also deals with the restructuring process in which the different modalities of vocational training existing in Spain are merged. Finally, it deals with the challenges that vocational training faces today. In this paper we do not intend to make a description of the Spanish vocational training system beyond what is indispensable to analyse the aforementioned subjects (The reader that is interested in it may find a description of vocational training in Spain in: “ Vocational education and training in Spain ” (short description), 2001, 46 pp., Cedefop Panorama Series. Catalogue nr.: TI-41-01-396-EN-C.
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This paper is based on the idea that an essential element to understanding the vocational training system of a country is knowing what its contribution is to the production of skills for the economy of this very same country.

We cannot understand Spanish vocational training outside a general system of skill production for the economy, in which general education and the experience acquired through work have played a fundamental role. This consideration, which is valid for any country, is essential in the Spanish case, for this generalised presence of vocational training cycles is relatively recent and the presence of such cycles in the younger generations of Spanish people is relatively poor, as we will see later on. This is why the training of a general type and that acquired through work experience have constituted the essential source of skill acquisition for most generations that are presently working in Spain .

In 1970, the Ley General de Educación (LGE , General Act of Education) was approved in Spain . Its introduction around 1980 implied the generalisation of the presence of vocational training in the initial training of the Spanish population. This is why this generalised offer of initial vocational training (IVT) has only affected the generation born from the middle of the 1960s onwards. For the previous generations, many of them still present in the working population, vocational training has only had an anecdotal presence.

This fact has characterised the offer of Spanish work for some decades and, to some extent, it still does, as Kölher's work (1994) proves. When referring to the predominance of work itself as a source of skill production for work, the latter even spoke about the “Spanish production model”.

The development of IVT in Spain has corresponded, grosso modo, to the development of other modalities of vocational training – Occupational Training (OVT) and Continuous Vocational Training CVT. Therefore, when we generally speak about vocational training in Spain, we are referring to three modalities separately organised and that are presently undergoing a process of integration, within the Qualifications and Vocational Training Act ( Ley de Cualificaciones y de la Formación Profesional ).

In addition, the different modalities of vocational training in Spain are closely structured with the other educational cycles from which one may access them. In turn, from the IVT cycles it is possible to access general training cycles; therefore, we are dealing with an initial training system that integrates general training and vocational training. What is more, the effort of the Spanish administrative agencies in charge of vocational training are directed towards an integrated system including the different vocational training studies.

This paper consists of three sections: the first one deals with the space that vocational training occupies in the production of the work skills of today's Spanish working population ( Población Activa, PA ); the second one discusses the reform of vocational training that is in progress by means of the implementation of the “Qualifications and Vocational Training Act”; and, finally, the last one discusses the main challenges that vocational training faces today in Spain; these challenges are outlined by formulating an hypothesis regarding the future changes in the model of skill production for the economy in Spain.


1. Vocational training in Spain and the production of the skills needed for the economy

Over the last decades, in Spain – with some delay compared to other EU countries – we have seen a change in the model of skill production in which the amplification of the initial training undergone in our countries has played a leading role (Béduwè and Planas, 2003).

Today, most of the economically working population is made up of people born between the 1940s and the 1980s in the twentieth century. The education level of these generations varies very much; this is a reflection of the history of our education system during the second half of the twentieth century. Each generation had different opportunities of access to the education system (including initial vocational training) and acquired its professional skills from different models of behaviour.

From the 1980s onwards, the presence of the modalities of Occupational Training and Continuous Training has increased in the training of the Spanish working population, but it has also increasingly concentrated its presence in the younger population with a high level of initial training, as we will see in the following sections.

If we analyse the role of vocational training, we cannot forget the demographic factor; the Spanish demographic evolution has been so important that the generation born in 1990, which would be ready to enter lower-level of IVT, only represents 60% of the population born in 1970. In Spain, the number of young people is constantly decreasing.

In the following sections, we will see what the presence of the different modalities of vocational training is in the training of the Spanish working population, and consequently, in the production of skills for the economy. To do this, we will separately present and comment on the three subsystems that make up vocational training in Spain: Initial Vocational Training, Continuous Training and Occupational Training.

1.1  Initial Vocational Training (IVT)

Today, initial vocational training is ruled by a law, the Ley de Ordenación General del Sistema Educativo (Act on the General Organisation of the Education System, LOGSE ), passed in 1990. This law structures vocational training in two cycles: Ciclos Formativos de Grado Medio (Lower-Level of Initial Vocational Training, CFGM ), to which one may have access after passing compulsory education, and the Ciclos Formativos de Grado Superior (Superior-Level Vocational Training, CFGS ), to which one may have access after passing the baccalaureate. The students that have not passed compulsory education cannot access CFGS ; for the students that have not passed it, there exist some Programas de Garantía Social (Social Guarantee Programmes, PGS ), about which we will talk later.

As regards initial training, the data presented in Table 1 indicate that the importance of vocational training as regards the initial training of the working population is incidental for the generations born before the 1960s, and limited, at least compared to countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom, for the later ones. The generalised growth in the level of studies of the younger generations (Vincens, 2002) appears mostly in the growth in the number of students with a baccalaureate degree and a university degree who, as a whole, total 45% as regards the generation born in 1980 (Planas, Sala, Vivas, 2003).

In the younger generations, the number of people that have obtained an Initial Vocational Training degree shows an important decrease. For the individuals of the generation born in 1980, who are just completing their first work experience, the presence of initial vocational training undergoes a twofold decrease: firstly, a reduction in the percentage of the individuals that obtain a degree in vocational training due to the increase in the tendency towards carrying out higher studies of the people born in this generation - those with a baccalaureate degree or university degree of this generation surpass 45% - with the corresponding decrease in the percentage of those individuals that carry out vocational training studies, and secondly, in absolute numbers due to the demographic decline (Planas, Sala, Vivas, 2003).

The data available indicate that between the 1970 generation and the 1980 one, the students who graduated in vocational training in Spain decreased by about 25% (Planas, Sala, Vivas, 2003). For the following generations, whatever the scenario considered, the decrease is maintained (Planas, Sala, Vivas, 2003). The data on the number of students presently registered in Vocational Training Cycles published by the Ministry of Education ( corroborate the trends indicated for the generations which are still for the most part in the school system.

All these data on the evolution of the presence of students that have graduated in Initial Vocational Training ( IVT ) of the different generations not only are historically interesting as regards the evolution of the Initial Vocational Training system in Spain, but they express as well today's reality as regards the Spanish working population and provide a projection of its future (Planas, Sala, Vivas, 2004).

1.2 Continuous Training (CVT)

Continuous training may be an initiative of the companies or of the individuals. In both cases, in Spain, they can count on the financial and organisational support of the Fundación Tripartita (Tripartite Foundation) (In the past it was called FORCEM; it is a foundation managed with a tripartite participation: state, trade unions and employers' associations.), which administers funds for the “Vocational Training Quota” (“Cuota de Formación Profesional”) (0.7% of the total wages bill).

The role of the companies in Continuous Training appears in the results of the CVTS (Continuous Vocational Training Survey 1993 & 1999), a European survey of companies. According to its results, the participation of the Spanish companies in Continuous Training in 1999 was 33.6%. This datum places them in a medium/low position with regard to the EU average, between the highest level of 96% of the Danish companies and the lowest level of 18% of the Greek ones.

According to this survey, 25% of the Spanish employees received Continuous Training during 1999 for an average period of 42 hours. This percentage implies an important increase compared to the 20% that received it in 1993.

In the companies that asserted that they had carried out continuous training, more than half of the employees followed some continuous training course (56.5%). This figure must be nuanced according to the size of the company; in small companies, the percentage of employees that are being trained is very low in comparison with that of companies with 250 employees or more. The difference is even bigger if we only take into consideration large companies, for very often they have their own departments of human resources from which they manage specific training plans for the company, whereas small companies do not have training plans available.

According to the kind of tasks carried out, the greater levels of participation in Continuous Training correspond to the group of “professionals and medium-level technicians”, followed by “executives and higher technicians”, “office employees and other services”. If we are to compare these data with the ones provided by the European surveys, no significant differences are observed. As Peraita (2000) indicates, “In addition, the distribution of training is concentrated in the most qualified employees in the highest sections of wage distribution” (p. 305).

In view of these results, we may conclude that, although the levels of Continuous Training in Spain are still very low in comparison with those of other European countries, the profile of the population that is still benefiting from continuous training is similar (Planas & Rifa, 2003); that is to say, continuous training is concentrated in the most highly trained employees that carry out the most qualified tasks.

According to the Encuesta de Población Activa (Labour Force Survey), based on individuals, we conclude that not only initial training, but the fact of “being young” as well, are key factors for the access to continuous training. People are trained mostly in the first years after entering the labour market and after a short break from initial training.

Thus, according to these data, “long-life training” is not as long as its name might suggest and it is concentrated during the first period of working life. No doubt, this is due to a multiplicity of factors (the younger people are the most highly trained ones; to train them may be more profitable for they have all their working life ahead, they have more free time for it and greater expectations, etc.).

There is the risk that older people (or less qualified younger ones) enter into a dynamic which is a closed circle, because, on the one hand, from a certain age on, it is very difficult for them to go backwards and recuperate the initial training that is missing and, on the other hand, their possibilities of having access to continuous training due to their lack of initial training are reduced.

1.3 Occupational Training (OVT)

(The source of statistical data on occupational training is the “Anuario de Estadísticas Laborales y de Asuntos Sociales 2002”. Ministry of Work and Social Affairs. )

The aim of Occupational Training is “to foster the professional insertion and reinsertion of the individuals seeking work”, with special attention to those groups with greater difficulties.

In 2002, 305,421 people took some courses in continuous training, which means 112 people per every 10,000 inhabitants of the working population (16 to 65 years old).

As regards the age, over 75% of those that followed these courses were less than 35 years old, which means a great concentration in younger ages. As regards the level of studies of the users of this training, it is quite diverse, and although the weight of the lower levels is very high (close to a half), it also includes some students with baccalaureate and university levels (Table 2).

Thus, again, younger people are the ones that access preferentially this type of training modality and, although it is fundamentally addressed to groups with greater difficulties, the presence of baccalaureate and university degrees totals over 40%.

1.4 Programmes of Social Guarantee (Programas de Garantía Social, PGS)

Although their existence is defined within initial vocational training, the Programmes of Social Guarantee deserve to be considered separately.

The Ley de Ordenación General del Sistema Educativo (Act on the General Organisation of the Education System, LOGSE (Act on the General Organisation of the Education System ( Ley de Ordenación General del Sistema Educativo, LOGSE ) (approved in 1990 and implemented at the end of the twentieth century).)), a law that regulates non-university initial vocational training cycles, excludes the teenagers that have not passed Compulsory Secondary Education (Enseñanza Secundaria Obligatoria, ESO). In so doing, it also excludes 25% of the generations that were born after 1980, who are those that did not pass satisfactorily these studies, from their access to the later cycles of secondary education. As an option for those teenagers that get to the end of secondary education when they are 16 without passing it, the same law proposes to access the Programmes of Social Guarantee.

These programmes, not included in the cycles of vocational training, have a twofold aim: to provide a vocational training that allows access to work and to overcome, even if it is only partially, the deficit of initial training, giving access to the cycles of vocational training reserved for those students that have passed Compulsory Secondary Education ( ESO ).

The fact is that only a third of the teenagers that fail in compulsory education finally access these Programmes of Social Guarantee and only a tenth of those that access these programmes continue their professional training in the Lower-Level of Initial Vocational Training Cycles (CFGM), overcoming their failure in their initial training (Merino, 2005).

These figures indicate that the capacity to overcome one's initial failure in Compulsory Education through the Spanish Initial Vocational Training system is quite poor.

1.5 Some general considerations

a) The importance of IVET in the production of skills for the economy has been and still is quite limited. It affects only 20% of a generation, very far from the figures close to 60% in Germany , and its importance tends to decrease again compared to the growth of students who have obtained baccalaureate and university degrees that amount to more than 45% of these generations.

b) The relative decreasing importance of IVT in the generations that have recently incorporated themselves into the labour market is reinforced by a demography that is also decreasing.

c) Only a percentage of the students of CVT and OVT come from IVT. In fact, most students of OVT and CVT come from general training cycles. The structuring in the individuals' training itineraries between cycles of general and vocational training is very important in Spain , which makes it difficult to establish specific itineraries and certification of vocational training.

d) The training itineraries of young people move progressively away from the following sequence: general training, vocational training, employment, continuous training. General training is in many cases the way to access continuous training and it increases the number of people that return to general training (especially university training) after vocational training cycles.

2.  Trying to create an integrated and transparent system: The National System of Qualifications and Vocational Training

The most important recent change that is still in progress in vocational training in Spain is the one regulated by the “Qualifications and Vocational Training Act” (2002). In its fundamental aspects, it is a law of management of the three subsystems (IVT, CVT, OVT) produced by vocational training, the development of which we discussed in the previous section. The main aim of this law is to create a single system of vocational training on a Spanish scale that includes the offer of the three subsystems and improves the transparency of their certification.

Integration is understood in three areas: a) that of the professional qualifications in order to create a common reference of skill certification for all types of vocational training; b) that of the different ways of acquiring professional skills; and c) that of the training offer of vocational training.

Along the lines already undertaken by other countries and international institutions, the main axis of this reform is the creation of a common reference framework for the recognition of the employees' skills, independently of where the latter have been acquired (initial training, continuous training, occupational training or work experience) and planned by the central administration of the Spanish State and for its entire territory.

2.1  The National System of Qualifications and Vocational Training (Sistema Nacional de Cualificaciones y Formación Profesional)

This common reference framework is understood as an “…integrated system of qualification and vocational training… the aim of which is to try to structure a system that is able to obtain a global, coordinated, coherent and optimal treatment of the problems of qualification and vocational training of the different groups of individuals, of the organisations and the companies.” ( CGFP, 2000 – Vocational Training General Council)

The three subsystems of vocational training that exist at the same time in Spain (IVT, CVT, OVT) have developed their management and certification separately. This new law intends to create a mechanism of central management of the three subsystems all over Spain . Such management refers mainly to the definition of the contents and certificates of vocational training courses, which it aims to include in a “National Catalogue of Professional Qualifications” (Catálogo Nacional de Cualificaciones Profesionales) that is to be the common reference for all the different vocational trainings independently of the system that teaches them and of the place (One of the characteristics of the management of IVET and OVT in Spain is their decentralisation and dependence on the Autonomous Communities (Spanish equivalent of German Länder).) in which they are taught. It also aims to establish a system of equivalences between the different types of training by means of a Modular Catalogue of Vocational Training (Catálogo Modular de Formación Profesional).

This law aims at creating a National System of Qualifications and Vocational Training (Sistema Nacional de Cualificaciones y Formación Profesional, SNCFP) to which “…it corresponds to foster and develop the promotion of the vocational training offers with a National Catalogue of Professional Qualifications, as well as to evaluate and accredit the corresponding professional skills.” (Art. 2.2.) To develop these tasks, it counts on the following tools: the National Institute of Qualifications (Instituto Nacional de las Cualificaciones, INCUAL), its observatory, the OBINCUAL, and the Reference Centres (Centros de Referencia).

The aforementioned NSQVET: “…will operate as a guiding and reference framework of every action, especially those regarding training of the different administrations, of the social agents, of other bodies, of the companies and of the individuals, favouring the required cooperation and consensus, in order to allow all the participants to harmonise their aims and interests in the qualification system, in a coherent and structured way” (GQVET, 2000).

For the development of this task, the National Institute of Qualifications (INCUAL) was founded, as a technical tool that has the basic aim to define, elaborate and maintain both the “National Catalogue of Professional Qualifications” and the “Modular Catalogue of Vocational Training”.

In order to carry out its functions, the INCUAL counts, among other instruments, on an observatory, the OBINCUAL , which is conceived as the “network of networks”; within this network it intends to become a meeting point of information and exchange on the requirements of skills and vocational training in relation to the different vocational training subsystems existing in Spain and between the different regions.

One of the aims of the OBINCUAL is the prospect, by means of the analysis of the key areas of the qualification and economic activity in which it is immersed, of determining firstly, the subjects and the variables of the productive process where changes mostly occur, and, secondly, obtaining the information on the trends and future previsions on these subjects.

To develop the activities of definition and updating of the curricula associated to the “National Catalogue of Professional Qualifications”, the National System of Qualifications and Vocational Training must also have a “National Network of Reference Centres” ( Red Nacional de Centros de Referencia ”) (Art. 11.7) available, specialised in the different productive areas, the aim of which is innovation and experimentation in the sphere of vocational training.

2.2  Some pending questions

This management modality poses, among others, three types of questions, which were already put forward in analogous previous experiences developed in other countries: a) How to carry out the integration under a single certification system (National Catalogue of Qualifications) of such different modalities of access to professional skills such as initial training, continuous training and work experience?, b) How is it possible to guarantee the interaction and coherence among recognition systems developed at a supranational, national and regional levels? And, more than anything else, c) How will these certificates end up being recognised in the labour market? The ultimate test derived from the degree of recognition of these qualifications is found in their degree of acceptance in labour market practices. The development is still in its first stage: the National Catalogue of Professional Qualifications was passed in September 2003.

3. Challenges to be faced

The challenges that the vocational training system faces in Spain may be centred around the two subjects that we have dealt with in the previous sections. Firstly, the role of professional training systems within the framework of a new model of skill production that seems to be coming for the Spanish economy and, secondly, how it is possible to structure a management model that will be compatible with the multiplicity of challenges that the globalisation of the economy implies.

3.1 Vocational training in a new model of skill production

Like the other European economies, the Spanish economy has enjoyed in the last decades a large supply of increasingly well trained young people; in the near future, this offer will decrease due to demographic reasons related to the decrease in the size of the population of younger generations. The increasing presence of an immigrant work force in Spain does not substantially alter this fact, and it does not seem that it will do so in the future either (Planas, Sala, Vivas, 2003).

If the demand for skills by the economy increases, as our evolution towards a knowledge society indicates, and if, in addition, it becomes less predictable due to the speed of changes, the companies and the Spanish economy in general will have to rely more and more on continuous training in order to obtain the skills they require (Planas, Sala, Vivas, 2004). In addition, we count on the fact that the general rise in the level of initial studies of most of the working population will favour the access to continuous training and will increase its performance. This implies a new model of skill production in which the greatest development will move towards continuous training and it will be based on a solid initial training, an essential prerequisite for lifelong learning.

What are the challenges that vocational training faces within the framework of this new model?

a) To reduce school failure to make lifelong learning possible:

The main economic challenge, but that which is also a social one, that our education and training systems face today is school failure. At present, the deficit of initial training acquires a new dimension when the individual's training process inevitably becomes a lifelong process. Evidence shows that the capacity to access lifelong learning essentially depends on the initial training on which it is based, as our aforementioned data on the users of continuous training show.

The risk of the polarisation of the training processes by means of CVT is clear: the individuals that have more possibilities for undertaking continuous training are those that in turn have a higher level of initial training; this increases the risk of exclusion from training courses and the work force for those who have not attained the minimum levels considered compulsory. In Spain and in regard to the most recent generations, school failure affects 25% of the students.

The reality of Social Guarantee Programmes has shown their great limitations: for the students that have failed in school after 10 years of unsatisfactory schooling, to return to school by means of actions that are external to the school system and after their failure in it is a very difficult task. These programmes have only been able to attract a small number of the students who failed in school with an evcen smaller number actually returning to school.

b) To avoid “early retirement” in lifelong learning:

As we have seen in section 1.2, continuous training is preferentially for workers under 35 years of age; this is a kind of “early retirement” from continuous training for the population between 35 and 65 years old.

We will have to put into practice some measures that favour the incorporation of the 35-65 age range in continuous training.

c) To increase the integration of general training and vocational training:

In fact, as we have indicated in the first section, in the skill production process for the economy there is no vocational training system apart from the general training one; the training itineraries of young people -and of some of the not so young ones as well- have broken this rule and experience entry and exit trajectories from vocational training, going through the different modalities of vocational training and employment.

The structuring of bridges between general training and vocational training within a common framework has favoured the rise in the level of studies of the population (Béduwè and Germe, 2004).

This fact is not reflected enough in the model of the National System of Qualifications and Vocational Training, as for instance in the National Catalogue of Qualifications and the Modular Catalogue of Vocational Training, which focus their task on the organisation of the certification of vocational training graduate students.

d) Promoting lifelong access to general or basic training:

Presently, the access to these types of training is very limited to the initial training period. We will have to broaden the concept of continuous training to the access of cycles that traditionally have been only of initial training such as vocational training or university cycles. We will have to invent new organisational modalities, probably a greater flexibility of duration periods and methods, for the basic training that favour these types of access. Some experiences of this kind already exist, but they are not enough.

3.2 The management of vocational training systems and of the mechanisms for skill recognition

The effects of economic globalisation and the technological change with regard to the labour markets and their skill requirements, as well as the multiplying of skill production modalities imply new information requirements for the labour market (Descy and Tessaring, 2001). The development of mechanisms that make the signs regarding the skills in the market more flexible and transparent is one of the challenges faced by the management of vocational training systems. Among these challenges, the ones that imply more difficulties are those that legitimate information systems and ones regarding the interaction of the different territorial levels within the framework of a globalised economy.

a) To obtain the recognition of the certifications corresponding to the NSQVET (SNCFP) in the labour market. School legitimisation versus legitimisation through the market.

Transparency in the recognition of skills has a previous requirement, that of legitimacy (Björnavold, 1998a and b).

The structuring axis of the Spanish system of skill recognition within the framework of the National Catalogue of Qualifications includes the cycles and the diplomas of IVET. This conditions the fact that they are fundamentally based on the logics and the legitimisation mechanisms that correspond to education and training systems. The development of “equivalence” ( “convalidación ”) mechanisms between diplomas or certificates requires more than those of recognition in the labour market.

The main challenge that a true system of skill recognition faces is the recognition by the market.

To some extent, it is “normal” for an approach on a national level to be based on the education and training systems, with their diplomas and certificates, which play a leading role in the recognition and comparability of training. To the contrary, on a local level and on a company level, the mechanisms corresponding to the labour market become predominant as regards the recognition and legitimisation of skills.

Were it true, the structuring between the mechanisms and the sources of legitimisation corresponding to education systems and those of the labour market becomes a strategic need for a system that wishes to both provide the tools for national or international recognition, and to be recognised by the companies and the employees.

b) Articulating national developments with GLOCAL development.

Today, the national level is an intermediate level -that is difficult to manage- to identify skills needs and the mechanisms to recognise them. This is due to the fact that it finds itself between two extremes, the global and the local ones (GLOCAL), which are increasingly acquiring greater power.

The technological and commercial process of globalisation to which most companies in Spain are subject has effects that surpass, “at the top” and “at the bottom”, the territorial area of the state. On the one hand, the greater tendencies towards a change in the production of goods and services are defined as spaces that surpass the nations; on the other hand, in the production and the recognition of human resources, regional aspects and even local ones, which, as many authors observe (for instance, Castells, 1996), may be an element of fundamental competitiveness for companies in a globalised economy. Really, the question could be posed on the role of national dimensions: What is the space corresponding to the nation state in the prospective management of skills?

Taking into account the essential role that nation states play today in the making of rules for the management of skills in our labour markets, it seems reasonable that they should integrate the two other dimensions, the global and the regional ones, in their “national” mechanisms in order to guarantee their efficiency. For instance, the needs of skills, and mostly of training, of the industries in the microelectronic sector (even belonging to only one company) are not the same in Helsinki as in Barcelona .

To develop systems of skill recognition and certification that are able to express local specificities and be recognised by companies is one of the challenges that the National System of Qualifications and Vocational Training will have to face. To incorporate recognition and legitimisation mechanisms corresponding to the labour market in the general systems would help in this task.

This is the reason why the incorporation of the GLOCAL dimension, which articulates the relation between what is global and what is local, is fundamental for the efficiency of the national mechanisms.



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