The Brackwede Craft Training Centre (German: Handwerksbildungszentrum; HBZ for short) and the nationwide operating training provider inab Ausbildungs- und Beschäftigungsgesellschaft des bfw mbH (inab for short) have been jointly implementing the “MSE-VET Italy” project since April 2021. MSE-VET stands for Micro and Small Enterprises – Vocational Education and Training in Italy. They are supported by the Chamber of Skilled Crafts of Southern Thuringia and thus link skilled crafts and trade union actors in a cooperation project based on social partnership. The project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) within the framework of the guideline for the promotion of implementation projects of organisations of the economic and social partners in the context of international vocational training cooperation (WiSoVET). In the interview, Lena Weber (inab) and Susan Klaus (HBZ) report on the course of the project so far.
MSE-VET Italy: Social partnership live
Vocational training is an effective instrument against unemployment and a shortage of skilled workers and also an important prerequisite for the competitiveness of companies. What is the importance of the craft sector and craft-based vocational training in Italy?
Susan Klaus: Good training that enables young people to later work as skilled workers in the skilled crafts is of great importance for the economic future not only in Germany but in all Italian regions. Even if there are different and sometimes very unique crafts depending on the geographical location and historical development, it can be assumed that small companies can only be competitive in the long run with people who have been trained comprehensively and “beyond their own guild”.
Above all, there is an increasing lack of young, well-trained people. According to a study by Unioncamere and InfoCamere on the development of individual craft enterprises over the last ten years, the craft sector in Italy is in danger of attracting fewer and fewer young people, despite accounting for almost 10% of GDP and around 21% of enterprises. Over the last ten years, around 28,000 businesses run by under-30s have been lost across the country, a drop of almost 42% compared to 2011. On the other hand, the number of sole proprietorships run by those over 30 has increased by 47%, with peaks of over 50% in southern Italy. This difficult generational transition could weigh on the future of craft businesses. In particular, sole proprietorships, which account for over 80 % of the sector, recorded the biggest losses.
Lena Weber: Determining the training content and processes themselves and at the same time imparting them is impossible in most small businesses, which is why they should be able to fall back on external training providers and further assistance, similar to what is guaranteed in Germany by the dual vocational training system with inter-company training. In Italy, too, there have been similar efforts since 2015, but they are not yet being used across the board and especially not by small and micro enterprises. The pandemic has exacerbated the situation, although it has at least advanced digitalisation in training.
In the project, we are working with trade union partners from all three major Italian trade union federations as well as with other VET actors in the four regions of Piedmont, Campania, Veneto and Tuscany. Our online research as well as the research of our partners in each case on site have shown that it is absolutely necessary to promote dual vocational training in such a way that small and micro enterprises, especially in the crafts sector, are enabled to train more – especially young people – in the region in a good and up-to-date way and then also to be able to employ them after the training in order to avoid emigration and thus a progression of the ageing in the regions.
Photo: The colleagues of the newly integrated Campania region
How did the project come about and what is its core objective?
Lena Weber: MSE-VET Italy is embedded in the VET cooperation between Germany and Italy, based on the long-standing work of the Unions4VET project, which is implemented and coordinated by the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) and the bfw Enterprise for Education (bfw). The DGB therefore also supports and accompanies the project very closely.
The project work focuses on the question: “What structures should be set up to support micro and small enterprises in Italy , that are training companies?” There is a wide range of experience in this area in the German skilled crafts sector. However, we, as the involved actors from the German craft sector, the trade unions and the education sector, also hope for new impulses from the international dialogue.
Project presentation at the virtual kick-off conference in May 2021
Some participants of the kick-off conference in May 2021
Susan Klaus: So our focus is on the systematic identification of the support needs of small and micro enterprises with regard to vocational training in Italy and the development of strategic solutions based on this in the regions involved in the project – Campania, Tuscany, Veneto and Piedmont. In addition, the project will develop a supra-regional framework model to support Italian small and micro enterprises in vocational training cooperation.
With this, you have named the major project goals. What are the sub-goals of the project?
Lena Weber: In the course of the project, we have stimulated and deepened the exchange of ideas and experiences, especially among the social partners in the Italian employers’ associations, in the craft sector itself and on the part of the trade unions on site, through various events such as workshops, a study visit to Germany, four regional workshops in the regions and also through various online meetings.
Exchange in a large group at the Study Visit in September 2021, Bonn/Germany
Supra-regional coordination in preparation for the regional framework models at the December 2021 workshop, Turin/Italy.
We also conducted studies in cooperation with our Italian partners. With the help of a survey and the presentations of the regional representatives, we were able to get a picture of the respective situation on the ground and also determine concrete support needs. We then used the results to exchange information about existing models in Germany. There are numerous projects in the areas of vocational orientation and active support in the acquisition and placement of trainees. These are support services funded by the BMBF in Germany, such as “Passgenaue Besetzung” or “Jobstarter”. Particularly noteworthy here are models in Germany for gender equality and softening of stereotyped choices of training occupations, e.g. “Girls and Boys Day”. The federal government also has programmes to improve the integration of immigrants, e.g. “Willkommenslotsen”. It is important to emphasise the good cooperation of the social partners in Germany through chambers, trade unions and state institutions. The good practice examples of the support services were presented in detail during the study visit to Germany and then taken up again at the workshop for the development of the framework model in Turin and examined in depth whether they can be applied in whole or in part to the Italian partners. It is an important basis of our work that we do not assume that good models can be transferred one-to-one to other educational cultures. However, they can provide inspiration for the development of models of their own.
Susan Klaus: We and our local partners have identified sectors in the participating regions in which the solution approaches are to be tested as examples. In doing so, we have also encouraged an exchange on possible social partnership cooperation structures, especially involving the bilateral bodies (ente bilaterale), in these sectors.
Another important goal is increased capacity building of Italian trade unions and employers’ associations, especially in the crafts sector, for VET policy engagement and social partnership cooperation on the basis of an Italian-German exchange between the economic and social partners.
In addition to the regions already involved in the Unions4VET project, we have also been able to win over the Campania region in the south of Italy and integrate it into existing structures.
What are the most important results of the project so far?
Susan Klaus: Relevant Italian organisations, especially the social partners in the craft sector of the participating regions have been identified and involved in the project. The trade union federations CGIL, CISL and UIL, the employers’ association CNA as well as the Ente Bilaterale EBRET and EBAC and other vocational training organisations such as Ecipa and the UnionCamere from the craft sector are worth mentioning. Appropriate actors were approached at national and regional level and won to participate in the project.
German organisations such as the Goethe-Institut, the German-Italian Chamber of Commerce (AHK) and the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) with the German Office for International Cooperation in Vocational Education and Training (GOVET), which are active in Italy within Italian-German VET cooperation, were involved. A large number of commonalities were identified with regard to a possible follow-up project. Some projects, such as QUALIT, are directly related in terms of content to the planned development of a support model for micro and small enterprises in VET.
In parallel to all other activities, as Lena already mentioned, continuous research has taken place in the last months to record the status quo in the regions and to identify concrete support needs, which is our main focus. For this purpose, work assignments were given to the Italian partner organisations to ensure that the data could be collected regionally and was as up-to-date as possible.
Lena Weber: In order to promote Italian-German exchange, especially under the conditions of the Corona pandemic, an internet platform was designed and set up as part of the project. Already during the kick-off conference, the form, functions and contents of the platform were coordinated with the Italian partners according to their needs. Central documents of the project as well as additional information are stored and shared on the platform. In addition, the platform promotes direct exchange between the project partners and the individual regions in different formats. Simultaneous work on documents and German and Italian language output make bilateral work much easier for all participants. The trial phase is currently running very successfully and could serve as the basis for a learning platform as part of a follow-up project.
In MSE-VET Italy, crafts and trade unions work together both in Germany and in Italy. What distinguishes the cooperation in practice and do you have any tips for future projects with similar constellations?
Lena Weber: The cooperation between the skilled crafts sector and the trade union federations is very fruitful, because the respective areas of focus and tasks come together in the best possible way. In this constellation, economic processes, technical expertise in the crafts sector and socio-economic regulatory strategies at the individual and company level can be developed and implemented in a balanced way. Precise agreements on the respective tasks in the project help to keep the overview.
Susan Klaus: On the organisational level, we have had good experiences with creating an organisational chart that names individuals to represent the respective association. These coordinators bundle and structure results from negotiations or other information within the region and then forward them to the supra-regionally appointed coordinator, who in turn forwards the contents to the German project team. Our internet platform, which Lena has just mentioned, also helps to ensure that all participants have an equal say and that a good communication structure is still maintained. Successful cooperation between the skilled crafts sector and the trade unions is possible when there is a continuous, professionally moderated exchange through which information and resources ultimately reach where they are needed.
Planning meeting of the German steering team in August 2021, Bielefeld
What experiences did you have with the SCIVET coordination unit and the SCIVET tools during the project?
Susan Klaus: Thanks to Sophia Grunert from SCIVET, we were able to repeatedly obtain expertise on the topic of international cooperation in vocational education and training throughout the entire project period. Since the ZDH represents the interests of the skilled crafts at the political level with SCIVET, we can always ask questions or exchange strategies for the implementation of our project goals. SCIVET’s publications have also given us a very good overview of quality standards in dual vocational education and training, but also an insight into the implementation of other projects in international VET cooperation, so that we do not have to constantly reinvent the wheel. SCIVET was also very helpful with regard to possible cooperation partners, which I have already mentioned.
Presentation by Sophia Grunert (SCIVET, ZDH) at the Study Visit as an introduction to the special features of the craft sector
What hurdles have you already overcome in the project work, also with regard to the pandemic, and what challenges do you still face?
Lena Weber: Due to the pandemic situation, work packages of the project plan had to be restructured in terms of time as well as carried out in alternative formats. These include, above all, the conferences and workshops planned in presence. The kick-off event already had to take place online, as well as all coordination meetings and the conference on the integration of the new Campania region. The field research could not take place on site in the individual regions in presence as planned. As an alternative, we developed a comprehensive survey together with all Italian project participants in order to obtain the required results. The coordination for this took place during the online conferences and during the study visit.
Susan Klaus: The challenges with video conferences were the technical implementation in image and sound and the communication between the participants. Especially since we all had to get to know each other first and speak two different languages – as is the case in bilateral projects. Working in small groups was only partially possible and an individual exchange beyond the official speeches was hardly possible. This made the exchange of content much more difficult. Interpreting was also more difficult digitally than, for example, during the study visit, which fortunately could take place in Germany.
Environmental protection and social and economic sustainability are important topics for the craft sector. What role do they play in the project?
Lena Weber: The entire course of the project takes place with the greatest possible consideration for economic and social sustainability principles. In doing so, we adhere to the sustainability goals of the EU. On the subject of environmental protection, we try to find the most CO²-neutral ways to get from A to B on our trips. For example, we plan our trips to Italy by night train instead of flying. On the Study Visit, we also replaced domestic flights with bus journeys.
Susan Klaus: Also, with regard to the development of a support model for small and micro enterprises, we try not only to think about the issues of environmental protection and sustainability, but also to integrate them as absolutely necessary in the development of solutions. We will make our project results available to the follow-up project and, if requested, also provide advice and support. We will make our newly established contacts in Italy sustainable, for example, through Erasmus+ projects.
Who are your key supporters in the project?
Susan Klaus: The cooperation partners on the German side are the German Trade Union Federation (DGB), the German Confederation of Skilled Crafts and Small Businesses (ZDH) with the SCIVET project and the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB). These have flanked and advised our project very successfully from the beginning. The basis for the social partnership structures is the Unions4VET project. The project receives further support from advisors and coordinators on both sides. We are also supported by the Goethe-Institut and the AHK Italy.
Input by Katrin Helber (Dual.Concept/AHK), Turin/Italy
How could the current project develop further and how could the cooperation be shaped in the future?
Lena Weber: As things stand, all participating partners are ready for a follow-up project based on social partnership. This would allow the goals achieved so far to be further manifested and tested. In addition, the project consortium wants to take the opportunity to solve the difficulties that have been identified. The framework model, which is still to be developed, is to enter a trial phase lasting several years and support the Italian small and micro enterprises in realising measurably successful vocational training in their region.
Participants at a workshop, Turin/Italy
Project Management MSE-VET Italy