Reform of professional qualifications system
Estonian professional qualifications system will be reformed to adopt skills-based approach, which enables to link the worlds of education and labour more smoothly. Estonian Qualifications Authority, in cooperation with the ministry of education, is developing a comprehensive system for describing, forecasting and recognizing skills. Education and labour market stakeholders are closely involved in the process.
The professional qualifications system based on professional standards has been implemented for 20 years. However, in today´s fast-changing world employers often look for certain set of skills instead of a representative of a specific profession. The process of amending professional qualifications has become too rigid and does not permit sufficiently rapid and efficient responses to the changes in the labour market and society.
Digital solutions and environments will be created for people to make informed work and study choices. In the future, the digital skills environment will enable to document all types of education (initial or in-service training, micro-credentials), help the user to match his/her skills for different fields of activities and gather information about learning opportunities.
Digital solutions of the skills system include the skills register, a services and analysis environment, a system for the granting of professional qualifications, an environment for assessing skills, a database of partial occupational qualifications and skills certificates, big data mining and analysis capacities, and the online visualisation and publication of jobs and skills forecasting data.
The skills description environment will be completed by the end of 2023, the skills-related services environment by 2024, and the analysis environment by the end of 2025. From 2024, the evaluation and recognition of qualification will be skills-based.
Micro-qualifications encourage rapid competence acquisition and wider participation in lifelong learning
Amendments to the Adult Education Act have been prepared to provide the definition of micro-qualifications, establish the volume of study programmes leading to micro-credentials, principles of provision and quality assurance mechanism. The amendments to the law are intended to provide for the following:
- Training leading to a micro-qualification can be carried out on the basis of a study programme that meets the requirements set out in the continuing training standard (including conditions for enrolment and completion, learning outcomes and volume of studies).
- The learning outcomes of the program correspond to the level of the micro-qualification, programme or professional standard in the Estonian Qualifications Framework.
- The volume of studies required to obtain a micro-qualification is lower than for formal education and the acquisition of learning outcomes or competences is assessed according to appropriate and transparent assessment principles described in programmes or professional qualification standards.
- Training leading to micro-qualifications for the acquisition of specific work-related knowledge, skills or competences can be provided by higher education and vocational education institutions and other training providers (i.e. private in-service training institutions) recognised through the national quality assessment mechanism. Higher education institutions may award micro-qualifications in cases where these are part of a degree programme;
- Micro-qualifications may be obtained as part of a formal education programme, through in-service training, by taking a professional examination or by studying/working independently, and by proving the acquired knowledge, skills and competences to the competent authority using VNIL. However, not all micro-qualifications need to be part of a full qualification; higher and vocational training institutions may use VNIL for micro-qualifications, whereas in-service training institutions may not;
- Acquisition of a micro-qualification shall be certified by a microdegree, a partial qualification obtained via formal training in a VET school or a partial profession awarded by employers, a certificate or license awarded by the competent authority. Validators of micro-qualifications can be bodies awarding professional qualifications (also partial qualifications that may be equated with micro-qualifications in the future). Such a solution would work if the validation by an awarding body is sufficient for employers, so that they do not have to re-validate the compliance with the requirements of the micro-qualification (i.e. introduction of VNIL into the professional qualifications system);
- To ensure the uniqueness of the micro-qualification programmes, it will be required that a private in-service training institution can only offer a part of a formal training programme as a programme leading to a micro-qualification if it is agreed with HE institution. Without such agreement, the programme will be considered as a continuing training that complies with the quality rules, being validated (VNIL), but cannot be accumulated to build up to a full qualification.
The draft will be completed in 2022 and is scheduled for adoption in autumn 2022. Beyond legal regulation, it is planned to intervene in the provision of micro-qualifications through funding using the Recovery and Resilience Facility.
State-funded free training courses help people to cope with the COVID-19 crisis
This year, nearly 10,000 people will be provided the opportunity to participate in vocational training funded by the state and provided free of charge. These include 403 courses for 5,053 learners held at vocational training institutions and 102 courses for 4,817 learners held at higher education institutions. Most of the courses are ICT-related: this is partly based on the necessity of supporting people in coping with the COVID-19 crisis, but also on the recommendations from the OSKA labour market monitoring and future skills forecasting system.
Compared to past periods, significantly more courses take place online; in many cases, however, the provision of the courses can still depend on the spread of the virus in Estonia and the restrictions currently in force. Starting from 2020, in addition to vocational schools and professional higher education providers, the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research also funds courses provided by universities. Courses provided by vocational schools and professional higher education institutions support the acquisition of field-specific ICT skills and the development of digital skills required for distance working. The courses provided by universities and professional higher education institutions are intended to support the adoption of new technologies in different economic sectors, facilitate raising the awareness of technology users and contracting parties as well as development leaders, and support businesses and organisations in digitising their products, services, and business processes.
The share of workers without professional training is still high in Estonia, and the skills of many older workers have become obsolete. Free training courses provide people the opportunity to expand and update their professional skills regardless of their economic situation or education.