Dual Vocational Training for SMEs in the BSR

Already now, there is a growing lack of junior entrepreneurs, managers and skilled crafts in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), mainly due to demographic reasons. This shortage will strongly increase in the future. The situation has been well analysed for Germany, e.g. by the Zukunftswerkstatt e.V. and the Hamburg Chamber of Skilled Crafts and Small Businesses for and on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Appropriate analyses are available for countries of the Baltic Sea Region as well. The shortage situation is to a large extent similar in the countries of the Baltic Sea Region – now particularly serious in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland. In Poland and in other three Baltic countries, the situation has noticeably got worse due to intense migrations; thus also these countries show increasing deficits. The chambers of the Baltic Sea Region that cooperate within the Hanseatic Parliament (initiator and coordinator) altogether represent round 400,000 SMEs. The surveys and workshops conducted by the Hanseatic Parliament show that in the subsequent 10 years at least 40% of SMEs will face the problem of corporate succession. As for now, 160,000 new entrepreneurs will be required. Even though, the actual demand is much higher, since not all SMEs are associated with members of the Hanseatic Parliament.

The Hanseatic Parliament in collaboration with the individual partners have analysed different aspects of the demand with reference to the concerned regions/countries. The results of a corporate survey carried out in Lithuania are, for example, as follows:
- 70% of SMEs require additional specialist staff
- 100% of SMEs cannot or face serious difficulties in recruiting the required specialist staff
- In the medium-term perspective, 78% of SMEs will require additional managerial staff and 48% - a corporate successor.
The results for Northern Germany, Pomerania/Poland and Finland are largely identical.

The qualitative aspects make the problem even worse. Whereas the qualification demands of enterprises are high and still increasing, SMEs (e.g. the craft) are now more and more often being left to the lower qualification levels. There is a high and increasing demand for persons with vocational training and practical experience, and also with thorough technical and/or business knowledge. Furthermore, SMEs show a growing demand mainly for employees with good international skills and experience.
In view of the above challenges, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research has initiated and supported, as part of the “Learning Regions” programme, the development of dual Bachelor degree courses in Northern Germany as well as the establishment of the Hamburg University of Cooperative Education. The results were evaluated and published. The Hamburg University of Cooperative Education and the University 21 (Buxtehude) developed dual Bachelor degree courses that combine an initial vocational training in SMEs with business or technical studies, and end with the title of journeyman/skilled worker [Geselle/Facharbeiter] and a Bachelor degree. These study courses have well proven their worth and should be transferred to other Baltic Sea states. For this purpose, there are available dual study courses that comprise vocational and technical trainings and the courses on
- Business Economics
- Construction Engineering
- Architecture
- Facility Management
- Physiotherapy
They are officially recognised and certified to the Bologna Process standards. The certification refers to the combination involving vocational training and pedagogical concepts. The part “vocational training” ends with a state-controlled journeyman or skilled worker examination. The competences that are formally and informally acquired during the entire dual training are transparent and mutually recognised in accordance with the Baltic Sea Region – Qualification Framework (BSR-QF).

The introduction of dual study courses is planned in Lithuania and Finland; in Poland and Estonia, there is a need for an analysis of possibilities of introducing such courses. Other Baltic Sea states have already expressed their interest in the same. At the same time, the contents of courses shall be modified in the manner that the course participants receive, during their three or four-year study period, a part of their training in a SME of another Baltic Sea state so that they acquire international skills and experience, establish cross-border relations between their local and foreign SME company providing training and develop the concepts produced in the course of working on one (out of six required) research projects for the purpose of international operations of SMEs.

The interest of SMEs in the organisation of dual study courses has also been analysed in different aspects with reference to the concerned regions/countries. The below results for Lithuania are representative also for other participating regions:
- 96% of SMEs wish for better practical and 74% - for better theoretical vocational training.
- 74% of SMEs wish dual study courses to be organised, 57% wished to participate in it as a training company.
Following the transfer and implementation of dual Bachelor degree courses, the vocational education should, in general, experience further development and quality growth.

In Poland, Lithuania and Estonia, the vocational training takes place mainly in academic form. It is regressive, has a bad reputation, and its quality is strongly criticised. In Finland, the vocational training takes place in school form, its reputation and quality are rather positive, however it is criticised for lacking practical skills among the graduates of the vocational training system and universities as well.
In these countries, the introduction of elements of the dual vocational training system should achieve particularly good results. Therefore, as part of this project, the systems, knowledge, experience, etc., gathered in Germany with respect to the dual vocational training, should be transferred and implemented in Pomerania/Poland, Lithuania and Finland.

At the end of the project, the realised systems and the acquired experience will be transferred to 32 chambers (members of the Hanseatic Parliament) and 10-12 universities (members of the Baltic Sea Academy established in the course of the project) from eight EU-Baltic Sea states and Norway so that, aside from 32 directly participating regions from nine countries, it has a widespread impact on the entire Baltic Sea Region.