Dual education is a sustainable investment in the future of business

Automation & RoboticsInterviewSouth-East European INDUSTRIAL Мarket - issue 2/2015

Maximilian Erhard, manager of the Cluster „Vocational Education and Training”
with the German-Bulgarian Chamber of Industry and Commerce

Dear Mr. Erhard, would you please present yourself to the readers of South-East European Industrial Market? What are the highlights of your career development so far?
I work here in Bulgaria at the German-Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry since January 2015. Before that I was employed in Berlin at the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry and worked there in the field of vocational education and training.

My career in the structure of the chambers’ network began with a one-year traineeship in Germany and abroad.
Regarding my academic background - I studied political science and international relations at the University in Munich, as well as energy economics in Leipzig and Moscow.

What are the main purpose, structure and functions of the Dual-Education Cluster with the German-Bulgarian Chamber of Industry and Commerce? On what basis was the decision for its creation taken?
Here at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Bulgaria (AHK Bulgarien) the subject of vocational education was already a topic discussed for a long time. But it was not until 2014 a decision was finally made to create the cluster. However, we are not the only chamber setting up a project in this field.

The German Chambers of Commerce and Industry abroad have been developing for a long time and quite successfully such projects and initiatives in other countries such as Spain, Italy, Portugal, the US, China, etc. Last year AHK Bulgarien joined this group of chambers working in the field of vocational education.

Many German companies in Bulgaria report that they need more qualified workforce. Therefore the main objective of the creation of the cluster was to try to resolve this issue. The main function of the structure is to connect business with educational institutions. The cluster is aimed at young people in the country who want to start their career in a company immediately after graduation.

We try to provide them a clearer picture of the career opportunities. This will help not only the industry, business and professional development of young people, but will become also an instrument for fighting (youth-)unemployment.

In addition, we monitor carefully the process of drafting the ordinance for implementing vocational education and training in Bulgaria. We will consult enterprises in the implementation of on-the-job training after the regulation enters into force.

What companies is the project aimed at and what kinds of educational activities are to be performed? What kinds of enterprises and organizations and from which branches show the greatest interest?
The cluster has a cross-sectoral focus. We see interest from companies from different branches and they can all join - for example textile industry, services, hotels, mining industry and so on. So it is open for every organization and every industrial sector. Nevertheless, manufacturing and producing companies show the greatest interest. They need trained and qualified workers who are able to operate machinery and production equipment.

The theoretical part of the training within the cluster will be part of the curriculum in schools. There will be teachers from schools who will train the young people. The practical part will be provided by the companies that will choose trainers among their employees. They will take care of the apprentices during their training in the companies.

Young people behave differently in comparison to adults with working experience so they will need a special treatment. That is why we are preparing a special ”train-the-trainer”-program that will prepare trainers for their work with the young people. They will have to pass the program before being able to train apprentices.

We are already in touch with the HR departments of many companies in Bulgaria. The Cluster has also established connections with some schools in the country. Most of them are open to the idea of dual education. However there were few schools which didn’t actually know what the dual system of education is. So we have to explain a lot - what is behind the idea of the cluster and the dual education itself.

What is the significance of dual education for the success of the industrial enterprises? What are the expected results from its implementation in Bulgaria through the Cluster?
The project funding comes mainly from the companies. It is no EU-project. It is business-to-business orientated. Of course, we will look for benefits from the operational programs, for example „Innovation and competitiveness”, ”Human resources”, etc. But the sustainable goal of our projects is to create a basis here, established in the companies in the country. We try to show business that dual education is a sustainable long-term investment not only in the company’s workforce but also in its general future.

The traditional survey of AHK ”The business environment in Bulgaria” in 2015 shows that the qualification level and labor costs in the country are low. Therefore, such an investment is needed to improve the productivity of businesses, economic development and the living standard in Bulgaria. It is a process. The results also show that other improvements need to be made - in the legal framework and further on.

Vocational education is therefore an excellent model in this direction, as it offers more opportunities for business and for young people. The cluster in its way acts as a sustainable platform that will bring together the educational system, industry and society.

Which are the most important forthcoming events, initiatives and activities in the calendar of the Cluster for this year?
We are preparing multiple marketing and information events as well as materials, including brochures describing the specifics of the various professions to inform young people of the opportunities offered by vocational education and training.
In April, for example, the German embassy in Bulgaria organized a special career forum within which we presented the cluster.

We try to explain the essence of the dual system and its advantages to the business, the institutions and the society. We visit schools and work on various opportunities for career development of your people in the companies. We also seek the support of state institutions. We are happy that we have many partners. The cluster is still in a development phase. But we plan the first training courses within the cluster to begin this fall.

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