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Cross Country Comparative Research on Technical Education and Training

  • This is a research project I joined as a research assistant at SPOKE. The objective of the study is to understand how seven different countries develop their technical education workforce to ensure high-quality teaching standards, thus providing a successful educational model for WorldSkills UK to develop their technical programs.

  • My major responsibility in this project was to lead research on the Korean case study and partially support the analysis of the Indian case study. Therefore, I successfully conducted 7 interdisciplinary stakeholder interviews and delivered qualitative data analysis suitable for cross-country analysis. 

︎Background and Goals
With the UK government’s intention to reinvigorate the further education sector, WorldSkills UK wish to better understand how to develop technical excellence at all level, and further manage WorldSkills Competitions (WSC) with the highest standard to impact positively on the UK education and training system, and the economy more broadly.

Some key goals that the research team has:
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of WorldSkills organizations in TVET system
  • Understand the role of the employer in technical excellence
  • Explore the dynamics between policy, people and practices within global TVET system

︎Research Design
Research Phase
  • Phase 1: a desk-based literature review of policy, academic, and grey literature
  • Phase 2: semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders (56 interviews in total)
  • Phase 3: cross-country analysis

Sampling Strategy
Snowball methodology was adopted for the interview. By using our partnership with WorldSkills UK, Edge Foundation and NCFE, public TVET organization in each country helped us recruit the proper participants for the study. 

Country Selection
Seven countries selected for this research were WorldSkills members who entered the team in the biennial WorldSkills Competition (Austria, Brazil, France, Hungary, India, Japan, and South Korea).

︎Research Findings
RQ1. Role of WorldSkills

  1. Benchmarking international standards: WorldSkills played a vital role in bringing world-class standards into national skills systems. However, embedding international standards in the national skills system was seen as a key task.
  2. Linking organizations: Many of case study countries, worked closely with different unions, trade organizations and networks of individual employers. This shows that WorldSkills could be seen as ensuring a close and responsive relationship between skills supply and demand, serving a vital function in the skills economy.
  3. Supporting innovation: Training for WorldSkills Competitions, therefore, was seen as providing crucial educational space to rethink processes in an environment where it was ‘OK to get it wrong’. So that it is important for WS competitions to become a ‘third place’ where trainees could experiment with skills, processes, and pedagogy, while also providing a bridging mechanism to bring work-based innovations and developments into the training process.

RQ2. Employers at the heart of excellence

  1. Curricula relevance and employer influence on the curriculum: training qualified professionals according to the requirements of business could be accomplished through a close relationship between education and the job market. Industry and employer involvement and engagement were seen as fundamental in the new reforms in Hugary and India.
  2. Managing change: the third space where trainees can freely explore their skills is clearly needed in the current curriculum and employer intervention plays a vital role in developing this concept in all countries including the UK, to enhance and drive technical excellence.
  3. Networked skills system: although each of the seven case countries differed in their approaches, findings highlighted the importance of embedding employers in the skills systems to create a broader global network around the TVET context. In the most successful systems, WorldSkills could be seen as an integral part of this network, bridging organizations, strengthening network connections.

RQ3. The complex dynamics between policy, people, and practice

Policy:  In so far as improving the attractiveness of TVET is a policy issue, funding is one of the ways to drive the excellence of this route. However, in a closer look, each country had slightly different problems with TVET policy making.
    1. Austria: Required the involvement of Small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
    2. Brazil: low participation
    3. France: highly regulated and clearly defined pathway of education (bureaucratic model)
    4. Hungary: consistent TVET system but less pronounced
    5. India: a young population in high numbers
    6. Japan: high stakes and fear of failure
    7. South Korea: TVET divided into two government sectors with different funding routes and interests
    1. Importance of teacher qualification
    2. Social and familial influence on student choice
    3. Preference for the intellectual route in most countries
    1. TVET practices have expanded and contracted according to contextual market requirements. This influences teaching excellence, learner assessment styles, and continuing professional development (CPD)

︎Crucial Insights
This research highlights the need for reconfiguring policy language around productivity to emphasise a skills economy. This provides a critical reorientation that moves away from the dominance of knowledge economy thinking and takes into account the relationship between productivity and the shifting dynamics between skills supply and demand, the changing nature of work, spatial dynamics, and local economic variance.

Here are the 4 major areas that UK education can develop:
1. Development of skills economy
2. Art of teaching and innovation
3. System alignment  and high-quality qualification
4. Teachnological change

For additional findings and learnings, please contact shwang06@risd.edu

This research was presented at the WorldSkills Conference 2021 (Seminars on countries approaches to skills excellence and development) to call for action on the improvement of the skills economy in the UK.

Thoughts from the seminar:

1. Flexibility in timeline + Rapid research: Major challenge throughout the research process was time management. Due to covid with different severities between countries, we had to reschedule the interview and analysis process (phase 1&2) with flexibility. For Korea and India, the last group that went through interviews, we had to take a more rapid pace in the research process to secure time for phase 3 (cross-country analysis). It was a very tight schedule for conducting interviews and analyzing the qualitative data but I found myself motivated in the fast-phased research process.

2. Multi-stakeholder group management: Our stakeholders for this research were widespread due to the different cultural, social, political, and educational situations of each country. Therefore, stakeholder titles and experiences were slightly different for each country which was challenging for the research team to bring out a cohesive analysis. Therefore, our team went through an additional sampling process in cross-country analysis to group different stakeholder experiences with similar patterns and roles. This process required a broad understanding of cultural contexts which was challenging but super helpful to manage later research projects with multinational stakeholders.

3. Take more look at each case study: There are certain patterns strongly shown in a few country cases. For example, the industry and employer involvement have shown to be most effective in the new reform in Hungary and India which is important for further research specifically looking at the employer influence. Therefore, if I have more time I would look more into individual case studies which I believe open up more potential to improve the current TVET system in the UK.

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© Sejin Hwang