Message to @VPLBiennale: Take the next steps to make validation of prior learning more up to date and practical

Ladies and gentlemen, honoured guests from Korea, Switserland, France, Finland, Slovenia, UK , Belgium and Romania. It is an honour to address the issue of validation of prior learning in your company. I would like to start with some general remarks coming from the needs of a world city, share with you some key approaches practiced in Rotterdam and will finish with a very concrete for everybody possible example.

Let me start with the statement that has always been true: A school education alone is never enough or sufficient at the day you start your career at te workplace. But today this is more true than ever, given the high dynamics of the labour market. Throughout your career the key-word is to ‘keep learning’ and that is necessary to at least keep up to date with, as well as to advance, your professional development and even so important your personal development. You may have started working without first completing an education and would now like to obtain your degree or diploma. Or you may be looking to advance your career or are considering making the ‘switch’ to a new profession.  But it is not only diplomas and qualifications that count. The competences and skills you have developed throughout your life and made your own are also important, whether they were obtained in the workplace or in your private life.

We recognise the importance of lifelong learning for the working population. For workers and job seekers, young and old alike… it is important to continuously develop in order to be flexible and recognisable in the labour market. This benefits both economic development and the employment opportunities of individual workers and job seekers. But how many of you practice what you preach? When was the last time you checked your own employability rate? Where will you be the day after tomorrow when you lose your job today?

With this in mind, the Validation of Prior Learning certificate, also known by its Dutch acronym ‘EVC’, was developed and the city of Rotterdam launched a pilot on this subject in 2008. It is one of the ways in which competences can be utilised in participation schemes. The acquired competences recorded in the EVC are recognised and accredited at a certain level (expressed as an educational level). The certificate indicates the development potential of the person concerned.

Gaining insight into the competences of someone who is looking for work or is ready for a new challenge is invaluable. With a good overview of competences, job seekers can be provided with a customised reintegration scheme. That way, there is a greater chance of finding a match for a job vacancy.

The city of Rotterdam, via the Learning and Working project office, collaborated with Rotterdam-based mbo and hbo institutions (senior secondary vocational education and higher professional education institutions) to stimulate both work placements as part of vmbo education (preparatory secondary vocational education) and the EVC. Meanwhile, through experience, we came to understand that the EVC as a tool was not good enough. The certificate itself can be timeconsuming and expensive and, partly because of this, it was also abandoned by educational institutions in the city.

However, the question remains of what government, employers and educators can do to provide career opportunities to Rotterdam citizens. The city of Rotterdam is fully committed to talent development. It is with good reason that the motto of the present Municipal Executive is ‘room for talent and entrepreneurship’. The city’s policy perpetuates the philosophy of lifelong learning.

Thus, there are two offices available to help Rotterdam citizens. 1) The Central Youth Office in particular helps youth who have fallen between the cracks by providing counselling for everything from education to work. These Rotterdam youth receive advice about school, work and business, the very things they are facing. But also taking the holistic approach to identify personal challenges and opportunities. The Central Youth Office helps them look for educational and employment opportunities or with any requests for help. Beginning with their competences and talents, together we discuss what they themselves can do to work on their own bright future.

2) The Learning and Working office is for job seekers; it dispenses advice and guidance and starts conversations with this group from Rotterdam to see what they can do, and what they need to do, to take the next step in their career. The group process is key, because the moment they talk to eachother, the learning starts, p.e. sharing networks, sharing application tips etc. The longer you continue learning, the more opportunities present themselves. We want to have a highly-personalised discussion with the client about how this can best be achieved and which scheme to utilise.

There are also digital applications based on the EVC that are less expensive such as e-portfolio in which employees can check out what your talents and motivations are and how they can increase their craftsmanship. They discover it by reflection exercises and questionnaires. They determine their position relative to the professional standard. The way forward is to invest in using the digital highways and explore the possibilities of e-learning. And one of my personal pleas add to it the investment in gamification. The combination of learning and fun has proven itself overtime!

The adage ‘lifelong learning’ is also a premise of the ‘Taaloffensief’ programme in which we want to help Rotterdam citizens of all ages to improve their language proficiency. This is done in various ways: through volunteers and language teachers, in the workplace or with reading sessions in the neighbourhood. In this way, the language proficiency is central. A wonderful example provides Bij Corrie: a center with the mixture of non formal, informal and formal learning.

In addition, the philosophy of lifelong learning helps Rotterdam citizens to make the best possible use of their talents so they can participate more fully in society. As promised, the very concrete example you can practive yourself.

The Cleo-Patria Foundation has been developing multicultural studios for women since 2001 in a number of submunicipalities and/or areas. The aim of these studios is to promote the participation, emancipation and integration of women in the neighbourhood. The majority of the women visiting the studios either have not followed, or have hardly followed, an education and a considerable number of them are illiterate. Although they have resided in the Netherlands for years, they have scarcely any knowledge of Dutch language or Dutch society. Women can work on their development in these studios in complete safety and security. The work being done in the Cleo-Patria Foundation is very demand oriented, it is for the women. Together with the female host, the women discuss their individual needs. Focusing on possibilities a group found out that they all loved to cook and were good at it. Cleopatria hired a porfesional trainer-chefcook from Albeda College. The trainer was flexible enough to give his lessons in the studio and by doing so saving expenses. The women could earn their fee back with catering services. They all passed the exam and have now a formal diploma catering services. But the best is the 58 years old woman, illiterate, that was the best and most experienced cook in the group. She was very important to get the catering assignments. She has been in the Netherlands for decades without speaking or writing dutch. She passed only the practical part, but that and the enhtousiastic reponse from her grandchildren was enough to subscribe to a language course. We are not there yet, but she shows us we are getting there!

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