Sustainable Economic Growth through Vocational Training
The Catalonia region of Spain is known for its good weather, a beautiful coast, and the artist Antoni Gaudi. But according to Josep Francí, the region's Director General for Vocational, Artistic, and Specialized Studies, the most important aspect of Catalonia is that the region is working hard to institute a new model for sustainable economic growth.
In 2000, Catalonia had plenty of university graduates. What they needed were more qualified workers. "That meant we needed a better vocational and training system," says Francí. That's when the Catalonia Ministry of Education made the decision to partner with Cisco and local businesses to bring hands-on, up-to-date vocational training to the region.
No stranger to teaching, training, and the needs of business, Francí has taught vocational training, coordinated several European and international training projects, and served as the Director of Business Training at the Chamber of Commerce in Barcelona. His work at the Chamber of Commerce made him especially aware of the skills local businesses need in their employees.
Keeping Students in School
Clearly, students must remain in school in order to become qualified workers. To that end, the Catalonia Ministry of Education's goal is for 70 percent of the students who begin school to ultimately graduate. (The dropout rate was previously 45 percent.) "We are currently at 62 to 63 percent of our students finishing school," says Francí, "so we are on the way to reaching our goal."
Recruiting Adult Learners
To grow a qualified workforce requires not only keeping students in school, but also attracting adult learners into the vocational training system. Catalonia had in place a well-established education and training system, but it did not accommodate the needs of adult learners.
Francí and his colleagues at the Ministry of Education knew they had to make it easier for adult learners to return to school; for most adults, it is difficult to commit to two years of full-time training. "We made the system much more flexible. We implemented the option of part-time training and distance learning," Francí explains. "This was very well received by adult learners. It enabled them to be students wherever they were—even in the mountains or other remote areas." Created in 2006 to meet those learning needs, the Open Institute of Catalonia now has 20,000 students in addition to 8000 vocational training students.
Credibility and Accessibility of Networking Academy
In order to attract more learners and generate more graduates, teachers needed the right tools. Francí says, "That is how Cisco Networking Academy has helped us. Cisco provides tools that teachers find very useful. With these tools, they are able to provide their students with better, more relevant training than before."
The fact that Cisco developed Networking Academy was an initial selling point for the Ministry of Education, students, and teachers. As Francí puts it, "I think in the very beginning the fact that a company like Cisco was supporting the Networking Academy was very attractive for teachers and students. After a while we began seeing learning results— a much higher number of students and lower dropout rates— so the earlier attraction has proved to be right."
The director general makes a point of visiting the various vocational training centers to take the pulse of the students. "Many students tell me the Networking Academy is very accessible and well-suited to their specific needs and their specific training," Francí notes.
Higher Teacher Confidence and Satisfaction
Francí also hears positive reviews from teachers, who express increased confidence and satisfaction in their teaching. With the training the teachers receive, they feel better prepared and more in touch with the changes in technology. And as Francí notes, "That makes them better teachers for their students." The teachers report finding it very beneficial to have access to the Networking Academy materials and tools with which they can provide practical, up-to-date training to their students.
Perhaps most importantly, according to Francí, Networking Academy curriculum is not merely an add-on to the Catalonian training center courses; the teachers have incorporated it as a critical component of the training they deliver. "We have had some projects in the past, which were not really integrated into the curricula, and that just doesn't work," Francí commented.
Teachers Motivate Students, Students Motivate Teachers
The fact that students have access to preparation for the more demanding professional qualifications in the networking industry increases their motivation to learn. Francí says, "When you are able to motivate your students, they are also able to motivate you."
This also fosters the development of 21st century skills. Teachers and students work as a team, collaborating with each other on specific projects, communicating, and solving problems. "Teachers and students work in a much more satisfying way than in the old-fashioned classroom where the teacher is explaining and the students are listening— or not," Francí says.
Vocational Training Gets Students Jobs
A recent survey revealed that 88 percent of the graduates of the Catalonian vocational training found employment within six months after getting their degree. This stands in contrast to the unemployment rate for young people without vocational training —in Catalonia, that rate is now 60 percent. Francí says, "Vocational training degrees these days are a better way to find a job than even university degrees. I think Networking Academy has contributed significantly to these results."