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Anticipation of Educational Needs of Labour Force - True or Myth?

Olli Poropudas

Department of Education and Science Policy
Ministry of Education, Finland

Paper Presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, Lahti, Finland 22 - 25 September 1999

Introduction

Finland joined the European Union in 1995. With the membership, Finland gained the right to participate in European Social Fund (ESF) programmes. One of the 1995-1999 programmes implements ESF Objective 4, which focuses on adapting staff to structural changes in the economy and to alterations in production systems.

In order to achieve this objective, the programme resources have been directed to four priorities: 1) anticipating changes in the labour market and vocational requirements, 2) vocational training and retraining, guidance and advice, 3) developing competence and innovation structures, and 4) technical assistance. In practice, this has meant funding of about FIM 600 million for research, surveys, development and other projects needed to achieve the objective. Half of this funding is granted by the Social Fund and the other half comes from ministries responsible for the programme at the national level.

Since the programme period is now nearing its end, it is possible to make a tentative evaluation of the results achieved. This article looks at the implementation of the anticipation priority of Objective 4: to what extent the projects financed with an estimated 100 million FIM, which are 150 in all, have met the expectations. This examination is limited to the 50 projects co-financed by the Finnish Ministry of Education.

Evaluation Criteria

Material Under Review

This examination is based on the documents available on the ESF projects co-financed by the Ministry of Education. The core material consists of the project descriptions maintained by the ESF anticipation group on the website of the Ministry of Labour. A final report has been written on some of the projects. Intermediate reports and documents describing other projects are also available.

Single Programming Document

The funding of the 50 anticipation projects reviewed here is based on a recommendation by the Ministry of Labour ESF anticipation group which is composed of representatives of various parties and administrations concerned. The decision on funding is made by the Ministry of Education on the basis of the recommendation. All anticipation projects must follow the guidelines determined in the Single Programming Document 1995-1999: Objective 4.

According to the document, "The general guideline of Objective 4 is anticipation-based development and training organised according to the principles of continuous learning, aimed at workers under threat of unemployment because of restructuring in business and industry and changes in production technology, especially in SMEs and the services."

The aim is to develop the competence of the work force by making sure that they have the knowledge and skills they currently need. Knowledge is created by means of education and development, and needs of working life are ascertained by means of forecasts. The objective of the anticipation priority is to create a new, faster and more reliable system based on continuous processes for anticipating changes in business and industry and in the labour market.

Information is needed to target education and training provision and staff development according to the needs of business and industry. The most important function of the priority is in fact to provide information related to the competence needs of employing organisations. The means to this end is the creation of high-quality methods for analysing labour market requirements and vocational skills which can be used to target action and plan practical workforce and training policies, and a network of research and research-assisted development projects

The Nature of Anticipatory Information

The Single Programming Document requires that the anticipatory information produced by the projects is practical in nature. It should help the education and training provider (company, educational institute) to target its training to meet the future needs of working life. This means that the organisers of education and development (e.g., business enterprises, vocational institutions, polytechnics, universities, and vocational adult education centres) are able to utilise this information in making decisions on their staff development.

This pragmatic orientation also entails that the anticipatory information specifies in a way or another how the competence needs can be met. This can be done through either initial vocational training, for adults and young people, and continuing vocational training. Vocational qualifications may be acquired either in vocational institutions and polytechnics or in apprenticeship training. Continuing education and training includes further training, staff development training, and labour market training. Another way to meet labour needs is to alter the extent or content of education.

To ensure the practical nature of the anticipatory information, forecasting is anchored sufficiently firmly to the sphere of activity of the education organisation in question. It is fairly straightforward to forecast the training needs of one company, since the activity is directed at its own personnel and their development. In contrast, to define the training needs in some geographical region may be very difficult, as the needs are various and there are several training providers.

In addition to forecasting corporate and local needs, anticipation should be done at a regional level, by sectors, and at the national level. The need for regional anticipation derives from the specialisation of educational institutions, on the one hand, and from overlapping activities and the requirement of cost-effectiveness, on the other. There may be several educational institutions in the same municipality and/or region.

The anticipation should also be sector-specific. Most industrial and professional sectors are very homogenous in terms of the qualifications required, which is why it makes sense to examine them and forecast changes in them at the national level. In Finland, the curricular guidelines in vocational training are also nation-wide in scope. In many fields and sectors, expertise is national and interests are looked after nationally. The responsibility for these anticipatory actions is divided between the Ministry of Education, the National Board of Education, sectoral ministries, national organisations, regional authorities, educational institutions and companies.

Evaluation Criteria

The evaluation of the projects was based on the following criteria. The first criterion is that the project is in keeping with Objective 4, which means that the project in some way deals with labour, the labour market, training or other forms of staff development. One project geared to develop the Delphi method without any links to Objective 4 was excluded.

Another criterion is that the project was somehow related to anticipation. Anticipation again is seen to mean activities which forecast future developments. This criterion was applied very loosely. Projects which did not include any forecasts of future labour needs were included if the approach could be seen to have a potential use as a basis for forecasts.

The projects were divided into two categories in terms of the anticipation criterion. Firstly, all projects and their plans were studied for an anticipatory part. This gave an overview of the anticipatory orientation of all the 50 projects. In the second phase, the project reports, where available, were scrutinised to see if they had implemented the anticipation objective outlined in the plan. This was done because a preliminary review had revealed that that quite a few projects had given up the anticipation objectives.

The third criterion used was the extent to which the objectives in the project plan had been realised. The aim here was to gain an overall picture of the degree in which the projects had been able to adhere to their original commitments. The projects were scored on a scale of 1 to 3, where 1 means that the objectives had been fully achieved, 2 partly, and 3 not at all. The last one also included discontinued projects.

The fourth criterion is the applicability of the results obtained, that is, to what extent the outcome provided anticipatory information needed in the development of know-how and competencies. One particularly important aspect is the direct applicability of the results in decision-making on training and staff development. The scale used was from 1 to 4, where 1 stands for high applicability, 2 for average applicability, 3 for low applicability, and 4 for no applicability at all.

The fifth criterion is the novelty or innovativeness of results, meaning that the methods, models or classifications are new in comparison with existing anticipatory practices. The scale ranged from 1 to 4, where 1 stands for high, 2 for average, and 3 for low, and 4 for no novelty value.

The sixth criterion is the quality of the report. This means clearly defined objectives, familiarity with discussion on the subject, a well-justified choice of method, and well-argued results and conclusions. The scale was from 1 = high quality, 2 = average, and 3 = low.

The fourth, fifth and sixth criteria were also applied to reported projects which did not include anticipation. The aim was to compare these other projects with the projects which included anticipation.

Projects

In the course of the evaluation, I gave up the first criterion (conformity with Objective 4) and therefore the project developing the Delphi method is included in the anticipation projects. Both groups are further divided into two on the basis of whether or not they included anticipation. The reported anticipation projects are grouped on the basis of the applicability of the results. The projects thus grouped are listed in Appendix 1.

There is a more detailed evaluation of each report with explanations. These are based on the report on Ministry of Education anticipation projects (University of Helsinki 1999).

Results

The total number of projects under review was 50; 27 of them had produced a report on which a conclusive or provisional evaluation can be based. According to the project plan, anticipation was pursued in 39 cases, and other objectives in 11 cases.

Table 1

ESF anticipation projects according to content

Total

Anticipation 1)

Yes

No

Report

27

24

3

No report

23

15

8

Total

50

39

11

According to the reports, 15 of 27 projects pursued anticipation and 12 other objectives. This means that all in all there are 30 projects which implement anticipation, provided that the ongoing projects will implement anticipation according to plans.

Out of the 15 reported projects which implemented anticipation, the applicability of the results obtained in can be estimated to be high in two and average in four (useful anticipation projects). The results in nine projects had little or no applicability. Eight projects had come up with some results which could be considered new, whereas seven yielded hardly any new results. Report quality was high in two projects and fair in ten. The set objectives were fully achieved in eight projects and partly in seven.

Table 2

Reported ESF anticipation projects according to quality of results

Reported total

Anticipation implemented 1)

Anticipation not-implemented 1)

n=27

n=15

n=12

Applicability

1 = high

3

2

1

2 = average

4

4

0

3 = low

15

8

7

4 = none

5

1

4

Innovativeness

1 = high

5

3

2

2 = average

9

5

4

3 = low

9

7

2

4 = none

4

0

4

Report quality

1 = high

9

2

7

2 = average

10

10

0

3 = low

8

3

5

Objectives achieved

1 = fully

9

8

1

2 = partly

14

7

7

3 = not

4

0

4

1) The applicability and innovativeness of results were measured differently in projects which implemented anticipation and projects which did not, see text.

Table 2 also includes reported projects which did not implement anticipation. Only one of these 12 projects had produced very useful results, while the outcome in others was of little or no use. Half of these projects had come up with several or some new findings. The report quality was high in seven cases, while the quality was modest in the rest. The objectives were fully or partly achieved in eight cases.

Productive Anticipation Projects

Table 3.

Productive anticipation Projects

Project name Responsible organisation
Training demand barometer of Satakunta region The Entrepreuneur of Satakunta region
Quantitative anticipation of vocational training needs National Board of Education
Need for vocational development in cleaning companies University of Helsinki, Department of Agricultural Engineering and Household Technology
Education and training needs in the new media industry LTT Research LTD/New Media Group
Personnel and training needs in manufacturing industry Confederation of Finnish Industry and Employers
Occupational requirements sounder for industry

Confederation of Finnish Industry and Employers

The only project which received full marks for both applicability and innovativeness was the Training demand barometer of Satakunta region. Its applicability comes from the method, which makes it possible to monitor the level of and the need for competence in companies. It provides a foundation which can be further developed to produce information for decision-making. The new feature in it is the classification of competence contents which differs from classifications devised in Finland so far.

The project Quantitative anticipation of vocational training needs carried out by the National Board of Education evaluated the need for vocational and higher education at the national level up to 2010. The benefit of the results is in its up-to-date material and in the system for updating forecasts made on its basis, and the results are directly applicable to decision-making. Its innovation value is, however, non-existent in Finland, because such forecasts based on classical labour force methods have been made for almost thirty years.

The project Need for vocational development in cleaning companies conducted by the Department of Agricultural Engineering and Household Technology of the University of Helsinki produced a report on the vocational competence needs of in the cleaning service. The project aimed at results which could be used in practical decision-making, but they are only indicative. The innovation in the project was that it outlined the qualifications needed in the cleaning sector.

The project Education and training needs in the new media industry by the Business Research Institute studied what kind of labour force is needed in the field of the new media, where the labour force is available, and what kind of vocational/professional education it should have. The project produced information which, when further developed, can be used in decision-making. The novelty value came from the fact that there is little information available on the subject in Finland and that professional duties relating to the new media were grouped into well-founded entities.

The Confederation of Finnish Industry and Employers publishes Occupational requirements sounder for industry which provide information about industrial staff development, labour needs, bottlenecks, etc. They are useful in that they give an overall picture of educational needs in industry. However, the information is only indicative and as such cannot be used in decision-making. Moreover, the methodological weaknesses in the forecasting of educational needs make the results unreliable. The novelty value of the sounders is insignificant, since the projects in fact only repeat on a larger scale the surveys earlier conducted by the same organisation at their own expense. The novelty value does not naturally grow with the repetition of roughly the same project.

However, it can be noted that the two projects of the Confederation of Finnish Industry and Employers and the National Board's project Quantitative anticipation of vocational training needs produced information which was useful as such, but nonetheless only repeated (either slightly changed or on a larger scale) their former surveys. Need for vocational development in cleaning companies and Education and training needs in the new media industry produced new results, but were tentative in their approach and represented only a small part of the entity of labour force qualifications. The Training demand barometer of Satakunta region produced useful new results, but on such a small scale that it has little impact, and there is no certainty about the continuity of the barometers.

Other projects include parts which can be considered useful or innovative, but these parts only represent a fraction of the entity of the projects and therefore do not change the overall evaluation.

Conclusion and Discussion

Overall Evaluation

The purpose of the ESF anticipation is to forecast future qualification needs in the changing labour market with a view to the development of education and training provision and work force. It is justified to ask how well this ESF priority has achieved its objectives. The answer is that little new and useful information has surfaced.

In only 30 of the 50 ongoing or completed projects anticipation is stated as an objective in the planning phase. Only 15 of the 27 projects which have produced reports had implemented anticipation. Of these, six projects (one in three) have produced information which is useful or innovative in terms of work force development. The applicability of even these six projects is relatively small compared to the whole field of anticipation and to former researched data in the field.

Discussion

Why is this? The most important reasons for the failure to implement anticipation in the projects are the unanalysed objectives for the anticipation priority, together with the bottom-up principle in the implementation of the ESF anticipation projects. The concept of anticipation has been discussed only after the programmes have been implemented, and little progress has been made in that regard. This means that the applicants of the anticipation projects have defined themselves what they mean by anticipation. For this same reason, it has not been possible for those who process project applications and make the relevant decisions to advise applicants appropriately, and in a sense they too have had to rely on the applicants and applications.

The bottom-up principle in turn has led to a situation in which everyone has drawn up the application from their own, relatively narrow or sectoral viewpoint without any understanding of the anticipation entity or the sub-entity. As a result, the same subject matters recur in different projects, albeit in different contexts. Each project starts by defining the same set of problems from the beginning instead of building on results gained by others. A good example of this is the anticipation of regional or local labour force needs, which is a theme in many projects. Even networking, about which the ESF anticipation group has given strict guidelines, has not helped.

The third reason is a lack of know-how required for anticipation. While some projects do not master the R&D methodology, there are a number of projects which were carried out by experienced research and project professionals, who however are not familiar with the decision-making relating to education and training provision and its targeting.

The former group includes projects launched for instance by education providers, and the latter those carried out by universities or research institutes. The first group does not necessarily master the methods needed to achieve substantive results (concept analysis, definition of objectives, knowledge of research findings, familiarity with different methods, acquisition and management of material, reporting, etc). The latter group in turn is able to achieve the project objectives and produce good and clear reports but, unfamiliar with the subject matter, they stray into general social or education policy discussion, which, however, is irrelevant in terms of promoting anticipation in practice.

Literature

University of Helsinki 1999. OPM-ESR ennakointihankkeet. hakemusasiakirjoihin ja loppuraportteihin perustuva analyysi. 31.4.1999. University of Helsinki, Department of Teacher Education.

EC Structural Funds. FINLAND Single Programming Document 1995-1999. Objective 4. European Commission. 1998.

APPENDIX 1

1 = yes

1 = yes

1 = high

1 = high

1 = high

1 = fully

ESF ANTICIPATION PROJECTS EXAMINED

2 = no

2 = no

2 = average

2 =average

2 = average

2 = partly

3 = low

3 = low

3 = low

3 = not

4 = none

4 = none

             

A REPORTED PROJECTS

Anticip.

Anticip.

Applicability

Innovativ-

Report

Objectives

A1 Anticipation projects

planned

implem.

eness

quality

achieved

Training demand barometer of Satakunta region

1

1

1

1

2

1

Quantitative anticipation of vocational training needs

1

1

1

3

2

2

Need for professional changes in cleaning companies

1

1

2

2

1

1

Education and training needs in the new media industry

1

1

2

1

2

1

Personnel and training needs in manufacturing industry

1

1

2

2

2

1

Occupational requirements sounder for industry

1

1

2

3

2

1

HENKOOSTA, Personnel education and training needs in SMEs in Central Finland

1

1

3

2

2

1

Anticipation of future growing fields

1

1

3

2

2

1

Rural professions in information society

1

1

3

2

1

2

Qualitative and quantitative anticipation project of engineers

1

1

3

3

2

2

Operations model of training needs for administrators and educational institutions

1

1

3

3

2

2

Need for labour force; quality/quantity in the Kuorevesi-Mänttä-Vilppula-Keuruu region

1

1

3

3

3

2

Qualitative anticipation of competence needs

1

1

3

3

3

2

Professional Delphi Scan expert system

1

1

3

1

2

1

Future paths of upper secondary school students

1

1

4

3

3

2

             

A REPORTED PROJECTS

A2 Non-anticipation projects

Doctors and SMEs

1

2

3

1

1

2

Future makers of culture

1

2

3

2

1

2

Academic professions and job descriptions

1

2

3

2

1

2

Qualifications of internationalisation

1

2

3

2

1

2

Common future with SMEs and polytechnics

1

2

3

3

1

2

Professional skills requirements of REMU funding field in EMU environment

1

2

4

4

3

2

Qualifications of lifelong learning, especially among metal industry workers

1

2

3

3

3

3

Creation of anticipation systems in province of Vaasa, esp. in environment field

1

2

4

4

3

3

Developing anticipation system of education needs of companies

1

2

4

4

3

3

Flow of labour force 1987-1994 and company flexibility

2

2

1

1

1

1

Locally anticipatory education need analysis to join work and education

2

2

3

2

1

2

Need analysis of IT and network competence in SMEs in Loviisa region

2

2

4

4

3

3

B NON-REPORTED PROJECTS

B1 Anticipation projects

Operational environment of new communications technology

Mapping quantitative and qualitative VET needs in Helsinki region

Cultural travelling in information society

Initial and continuing education of teachers

VARTTI - Veteran know-how professionals

Anticipation of vocational education needs in Keski-Pohjanmaa

Developing competence and training of workers in Russian trade SMEs

Creation of anticipation and analysis systems in building

TAITAVA 1 (SKILLFUL 1)

Developing competence in Häme

TEOS - Framework for competence in working life

Anticipation of design services and developing service network

Visually impaired in future work and study environment

KULTTUURIFORUM - Culture production as trade and employer

New growth paths of SMEs in Päijät-Häme

B NON-REPORTED PROJECTS

B2 Non-anticipation projects

International qualifications - anticipation and training

Engineer management 2002

Mapping education needs and implementing research

Music industry's many possibilities

FORMA - Developing international business of designing SMEs by training

Sata Ennakoijaa

Analysis of virtual school's possibilities

Networking research supporting anticipation

 

This document was added to the Education-line database 24 September 1999