Second National Vocational Training Programme (1998-2002) approved

Spain's Second National Vocational Training Programme was approved on 16 February 1998. It will regulate vocational training over the period 1998-2002. The social partners were actively involved in drawing up this programme, which introduces important changes.

As a consequence of the commitments reached between the Government and the social partners in the Economic and Social Agreement of 1984, the tripartite General Vocational Training Council (Consejo General de Formación Profesional) was created at the beginning of 1986. One of its main functions was to draw up the first National Vocational Training Programme (Programa Nacional de Formación Profesional, PNFP), which covered the period 1993-6. Amongst the main novelties for the vocational education and training (VET) system in Spain were the integrated approach to the three subsystems of VET (initial-youth, occupational-unemployed and continuing-employed) and the introduction of a continuing training subsystem for workers in employment in the framework of intersectoral and sectoral collective bargaining.

The second PNFP

A "agreement on the bases for vocational training policy" was signed in December 1996 by the Government (Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and Ministry of Education and Culture), the employers' organisations - CEOE and CEPYME- and the trade union confederations - UGT and CC.OO- coinciding with the expiry of the first PNFP. This tripartite agreement laid the groundwork for drawing up the second PNFP which, after debate and consultation with the regional communities, was approved in the plenary session of the General Vocational Training Council in February 1998.

Although the second PNFP maintains the structure and coherence of the first PNFP, it incorporates new qualitative and political elements that will undoubtedly help to consolidate the Spanish model of vocational training on the basis of social dialogue and the joint responsibility of the central and regional governments for its implementation and development. The principal new features of the second PNFP are set out below.

Creation of the National Qualifications System

A "national qualifications system" (Sistema Nacional de Cualificaciones) is created to serve as a reference point for designing the content and vocational competences of the three subsystems of vocational and educational training (initial VET, occupational VET and continuing VET have been integrated and will now be complementary. It is also planned to set up a National Qualifications Institute (Instituto Nacional de las Cualificaciones) to carry out the initial methodological work before the end of 1998.

Implementation of initial VET

Initial VET consists of the intermediate level (Level II in EU terms) and higher level (Level III), as designated in the Law on the General Regulation of the Education System of 1990. A "map of new vocational qualifications" will be offered in this area, which is intended, according to the Government, as an alternative to university.

Integration of young people into employment

The integration of young people into employment is promoted in several ways. "Social guarantee programmes" (Programas de Garantía Social) seek to deal with the problem of academic failure, while the generalisation of work experience (placements in companies) for all initial VET students is intended to achieve a qualitative improvement in the links between companies and schools. An attempt is also being made to eliminate the insecurity of training and work-experience contracts and to develop an integrated system of information on careers guidance by involving the labour and education authorities both at national and regional level.

Greater employment orientation of occupational VET

Occupational VET (for unemployed people) will be linked to "employability" through improvements in the quality of training courses, information and careers guidance. Its administration will be decentralised through city councils, non-governmental organisations, the social partners and other organisations.

Institutionalisation of continuing training

The second PNFP includes the content of the recent continuing training agreements between the social partners and between the latter and the Government of December 1996 (ES9702101F), which is in force until 2000. Furthermore, through the recognition of work experience and the certification of continuing training, the programme will set up vocational pathways (linked to the sectoral occupational classification systems - ES9706110F) and training pathways integrated within the general VET system, by offering access to new occupational certifications and qualifications.

The position of the social partners

Both the employers' organisations (CEOE-CEPYME) and the trade unions (UGT and CC.OO) support this second PNFP, which they negotiated with the Government and the regional communities in 1997 in the framework of the General Vocational Training Council, which is now quadripartite (ie it includes regional authorities). The trade unions have, however, criticised the lack of economic resources to cover all the objectives and measures contained in the second PNFP during its whole period in force, because only the measures for 1998 are quantified.

Commentary

The second PNFP, which will remain in force until December 2002, is a "second version" of the major VET reforms and agreements of 1990, and is aimed at increasing the quality and coherence of the VET system by creating new instruments (such as the National Qualifications System). It is therefore well placed to create a vocational training system in Spain which will promote sustainable economic growth that is compatible with an increase in the quantity and quality of employment.

The incorporation of the regional communities into the objectives and development of the second PNFP through the decentralisation of responsibility for VET to the regions will be one of the key elements in maintaining the general coherence of the VET system within "a transparent labour market" at a national and community level (involving the free movement of workers). Only continuing training will still be controlled at a national level and will be associated with sectoral collective agreements.

Finally, it should be pointed out that however correct the framework of the second PNFP is, it gives great responsibility to the social partners and to the central and regional governments to develop it and provide it with real content. It is therefore of great importance to specify the economic commitments for the programme and to link it to the European Community guidelines on employment and training that were approved at the Luxembourg Employment Summit in November 1997 (EU9711168F). (José Manzanares, CIREM)

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