Optimal is a Strategic Partnership for Vocational Schools. The partnership is made up of 2 Vocational Education and Training (VET) schools, 2 SMEs with industry experience from the blue farming and production sector, one teachers association and one European industry member association under the leadership of the Blue Competence Centre of Norway. Optimal stands for Optimized Training, Innovative Methods and tools for Acceptance of prior Learning in qualifications and workplace training.
The consortium brings together professionals from vocational education and training, industry experience though companies representing the blue production sector, social partners representing one teacher union organization and the Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP). The partnership is going to investigate how delivery of VET to work based learners through the application of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) methodologies and tools, allow teachers and instructors to optimize their training towards the most challenging topics and concepts with individuals or groups of learners.
The project is part financed by the European Commission under the Erasmus+ funding program.
The Optimal partner countries have set ambitious fish farming production growth targets, increasing the demand from fish production and supply companies for job-seekers with proven expertise and competence. The current generation of farm operatives must develop the skills to operate increasingly sophisticated fish farming equipment and ICT systems, according to specifications, as a matter of urgency.
The lack of job applicants with evidence of the competence and skills potential employers are looking for is a shared concern. Many do have relevant knowledge and skills, which have been gained during fish farm employment informally or within a technically related sector, that go unrecognized, compounding the problem. Sophisticated systems for the recognition of prior learning (RPL) are needed, so as learners with some experience can ‘fast track’ the completion of fish farming qualifications that employers respect and trust.
The partner countries VET providers and employers will work in partnership to develop and pilot learning technologies and methods that can improve the delivery of VET to work based learners through the application of RPL methods and technologies. All learners involved in the pilots will have gained some relevant and/or transferable knowledge and skills, informally, during their employment, but will also have significant knowledge and skills gaps to address. Such gaps in knowledge and skills result in heterogeneous Vocational Education and Training (VET) classes, which are a serious challenge many VET teachers are faced with when they try to optimize learning outcome for work based learners in distance learning solutions consisting of a combination of e-learning and face to face training.
The introduction of RPL will leads to individualized learning, allowing teachers and instructors to focus on the most challenging topics and concepts with individuals or groups of learners. The RPL tools and methods can be applied to synchronous distance learning, overcoming the geographic barriers that often prohibit them from travelling to join conventional face to face classes and training sessions.
The ultimate goal of Optimal is to develop RPL methodologies that enable an individual’s informal competences and skills to become recognized and accepted, within fish farming qualifications and built on through individualized learning.
This will be achieved by:
- Evaluating alternative RPL processes and technology being applied within innovative VET delivery systems within the partner countries, identifying best practice for sharing.
- Piloting new, cost effective and user friendly RPL methods and ICT tools that can determine and document evidence of a learners’ existing knowledge and skills, for acceptance as formal competences within respected fish farming qualifications.
- Evaluating the learners’ experiences of the RPL process and the subsequent delivery of their individualized learning plan, to inform the development of improved RPL systems.
- Developing new specifications for improved RPL methodologies and tools, informed by learner and employer feedback during the piloting and evaluation phase.
Methods and technology supporting ICT, RPL and individualized learning will be developed and improved, fully involving VET providers, industry and learners within the process, addressing industry’s skill needs priorities for key occupations, such as the cage farming operative.
More VET teachers will be enabled to apply improved and proven RPL methods and technology to the delivery of their VET courses, to make them more flexible. Consequently, VET will become driven by individual learning plans and supported by flexible and accessible learning resources, including e-learning.
A considerable reduction of face to face teaching is anticipated, improving the accessibility of VET qualification based courses by work based learners, gaining time efficiencies and reducing costs without reducing quality in comparison to conventional face to face delivery.
By focusing on individual knowledge and skill gaps, the quality and effectiveness of learning support and VET provision as a whole will be raised. It is expected that access to workplace training in fish farming industry is increased, while training costs are reduced without reducing the quality of the training.
The fish farming industry in Europe employs approximately 85,000 staff and a further 120,000 work in the support services. The EU seafood market sources 10% of its fish from EU fish farming, 25% from fisheries and 65% from imports (SEC 2011, p 883). Norway, our largest producer, provides 36 million salmon meals daily.
Fish represent 50% of all consumed protein and levels are anticipated to rise to 65% by 2030, reflecting a growth rate globally of 6.6% per annum. Conversely, despite ambitious national growth targets the industry is stagnant. The lack of personnel with the correct skills and qualifications is becoming widely recognized as one of the main obstacles to sustainable growth in production. The industry is becoming increasingly sophisticated leading to specialization within the workforce. However, the lack of accessible specialist training in operating the more advanced equipment and technologies has led to inefficiency and fish losses.
At the farm level, throughout Europe, workforce development challenges are exacerbated by the remote rural location of many facilities. Consequently, the reliance on local recruits is growing, many of whom have knowledge and skills gaps and remain unqualified following a significant period of initial employment. This is typified by Norway, where only 50% of their salmon husbandry staff has completed any relevant education leading to qualifications. In some countries, such as Scotland and Norway, where migrant labor is prevalent, the language and culture barriers to learning are intensifying, necessitating a more individualized approach to learning
Initially, alternative RPL definitions and approaches and their application within national qualification delivery systems will be explored by partners to identify any existing good practice to be shared. Subsequently, the methods will be demonstrated to VET teachers in partner countries, ultimately training some to apply RPL to the delivery of their courses. The RPL apply feedback loops to determine each individual learners existing knowledge, skills and understanding and identify the topics and concepts that they find most challenging. Subsequently, this allows teachers to precisely target their teaching to satisfy each individual learner’s learning needs. Ultimately, the methods and tools can accept and document evidence of a learner’s prior learning for recognition within a qualification or certificate that is respected within the labor market.
Following initial demonstration, small-scale pilots and the training of VET practitioners, the RPL methodology will be incorporated within workplace learning and courses that address high priority occupations, such as the ‘cage farming operative’. Feedback gathered from learners and the industry to evaluate demand will help to refine and improve the system after the ‘proof of concept’ and before ‘scaling up’. Consequently, the industry’s appetite for innovative ICT enabled learning that can enhance learning and digital skills through the use of modern ICT tools, will be gauged, recognized and nurtured. The general enhancement of digital skills resulting from their involvement with Optimal will also benefit the workforce as they can be transferred to aquaculture applications, such as surveillance, feeding systems and environmental management.
In summary, through its engagement, piloting and evaluation activities, Optimal aims to catalyze a concerted effort, between industry and VET providers, to equip the workforce with the knowledge and skills required to ‘do their job’ competently. This will be evidenced by the achievement of relevant and trusted qualifications built on the acceptance of prior learning and the recognition and documentation of skills developed informally. Consequently, the fish farming industry will be professionalized, raising its profile within the ‘blue economy’, in response to Blue Growth (European Union, 2012).
However, once in employment, most recruits cannot access a relevant skills development programs and suitable qualifications. A flexible provision is required that recognizes their prior learning gained on the job, informing an individual learning plan. However, there is a general lack of flexible and accessible work based VET and to date the industry has been catering for their workforce development needs, relatively unassisted. Company based training schemes, which are not quality assured or certificated and generally do not recognize prior learning, have proliferated. This is both ineffective and inefficient.
Therefore, Optimal proposes to test the application of ICT driven systems and other tools to the recognition of prior learning (RPL) and work based training delivery system, to determine and demonstrate the benefits. It is envisaged that this will lead to wider adoption of the technology and RPL approaches by both the fish farming industry and VET sector.
Optimal will mobilize partners from industry and the education sectors in the northern European countries marine cage farming fish. FEAP will use the results to engage their member associations in Iceland and the Faroe Islands that also cage farm fish in cold water. Both the industry and education sectors will have an important role to play in sustaining activities. Full and associated partners will have a sufficient vested interest to commit resources in support of the continuation of project forums and communication networks, proven to be effective and consistent with the achievement of their organization’s mission and objectives.
The project will culminate in a proposed and validated action plan for recognition of prior learning (RPL) in qualifications and workplace training. The findings, outputs and conclusions will be presented to partners and stakeholders gaining support for continuation activities and providing specific direction within the following three work streams:
- Leadership of workforce development in industry
- Development of the VET sector
- Support to teachers and learners
In addition there will be specific impacts on the participating organizations.
- The Blue Competence Centre , www.bksnorge.no, links players in education, industry and research within the marine area, to the mutual benefit of all the aquaculture cluster.
Guri Kunna VET school at Hitra and Frøya, http://gurikunna.vgs.no, is a leading provider of VET training to fish farming production and processing industry in Norway.
- Polaris Learning Ltd, Scotland, http://www.polaris-learning.com, a provider of work based learning by use of online and blended learning methodologies, to fish farming production and processing industry in Scotland
- Pisces Learning Innovations Ltd, Scotland, http://www.pisceslearning.com, a consultancy service established to help developing and implementing effective learning strategies.
- Teachers Union of Ireland, Ireland, www.tui.ie, representing over 16,000 teachers and lecturers in Ireland engaged in Post-Primary, Higher and Further Education. The Union is made up of 62 branches in 19 areas.
- FEAP, Belgium and France, http://www.feap.info, the Federation of European Aquaculture Producers, is the united voice of the European aquaculture production industry, being the Federation of National aquaculture associations in Europe that represent professional fish farming. With 26 members in 22 States across the European continent, the FEAP represents more than 2 million tons of production, an ex-farm value of more than € 8 billion and ca 100,000 direct jobs in coastal and rural areas
The project starts up with a series of survey activities; to complete an evidence base for recognition of prior learning in workplace based learning within VET in the marine cage based fish-farming sector. The specific methodology addresses the following phases:
- Initial industry and VET sector engagement activities
- Preparing implementation in VET suppliers
- Instructor training of VET personnel
- Adaptation and implementation of learning material
- Pilot testing in several countries
Optimal public events
- Demonstration workshops in 4 countries
- RPL methods workshop in 3 countries
- Industry and VET national workshops in 4 countries
- Industry and VET international workshops in 3 countries
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use, which may be made of the information contained therein.