Vocational Maturity – the six dimensions

6 dimensions were identified as the crucial parameters for vocational maturity: Motivation |  Setting goals  |  Flexibility  |  Resilience  |  Social settings  |  Professional skills

The following explanations reflect the joint understanding of the experts, who have co-created the tool for self-assessment of Vocational Maturity. The explanations refer to research and other authorised sources, but do not claim to be exclusive definitions. As a joint approach, the concept of action-oriented competences (CEDEFOP, 2006) specifies the 6 dimensions with indicators, created to match the local contexts in each of the 3 country versions. The concept of action-oriented competences is necessary to cope with the transition to VET and “the world of work”.

In addition, it can enrich the dialogue with the NEETs to relate to other approaches beyond the above mentioned concept, see bottom.

All in all, the reader and user of the tool is free to interprete and further develop his/her own understanding.

Motivation

In the context of counseling, teaching or other pedagogical initiatives framing young peoples’ pathways towards a youth education or a job, motivation is typically recognised as presence or absence of a young person´s concrete actions.

Nevertheless, motivation is often described from the individual’s point of view, typically identified as inner (intrinsic) or as external (extrinsic) motivation. Inner motivation is stated when a person undertakes an activity for its own sake, without any sort of external reward. External motivation arises from outside of the individual (money, fame, grades, praise etc.). But the toolboxes of counselors, teachers and pedagogues are limited, regarding methods or ressources to meet these concepts of motivation.

However, their toolboxes can advantagegously contain approaches and methods for scaffolding  (Vygotsky, 1978) young people on their pathways. The method “5 Motivational Orientations” (Katznelson, 2017) is directed towards disadvantaged young peoples´ way towards and through an education. This is one of those methods, where professionals can actively shape a learning environment and practically promote concrete personal efforts and responsibilities, depending on the young persons´ individual needs and preferences.

This approach to motivation works with sense-making learning activities for the young people, encouraging them to exploit scopes of action and making them feel socially embedded (Ryan/Deci, 2000).

Setting goals

Goals are core elements for personal pathways towards “a more satisfying life”. But goal-setting can be experienced as very difficult and provocative from young people with complex problems (NEETs). The reasons for that are multifold, and various techniques can be used to promote goal-setting. In any cases, it is crucial that goals are identified by the NEETs themselves and that NEETs learn to set both meaningful and realistic goals. Their counselor’s role is to support this learning process of each individual NEET via a coaching approach.

Goal-setting depends on an individual’s situation, his/her abilities and aspirations. These prerequsites are often not yet conscious for the young persons themselves and should be clarified together with the professionals. Naturally, NEETs must be fully informed of their possibilities and rights during the entire process.

Setting goals can be the result of a long process during which goals may have changed several times . This should be seen as a normal part of the process.

Reaching goals is the result of many small intermediate actions that are continually assessed with regard to how they actually help the individual to reach the ultimate goal.

Concepts such as the → SMART criteria can be supportive and effective for this purpose. But also pragmatic approaches may lead to success in the work with NEETs. Thus, as a starting point, non-realistic goals can be valuable experiences for motivational reasons. And, setting an unrealistic goal can lead to the experience of ‘a small victory’, as a stepstone to more self-confidence and finally to realistic goal-setting. Goals can also clarify, what one does not want.

All in all, goal-setting can be supported by principles and methods from career learning, such as working with the SeSiFU taxonomy : “Sensing – Sifting – Focusing – Understanding” (Law, 2010).

Flexibility

Flexibility can be understood as a capacity that describes the extent to which a person can cope with changes in their surroundings and circumstances, and thinks about problems and tasks in novel, creative ways (→ Balance careers). Flexibility shows up, when stressors or unexpected events occur, requiring a person to change their stance, outlook or commitment (Thurston et al, 1999).

Flexibility on the job includes the willingness and ability to readily respond to changing circumstances and expectations. Employers appreciate flexibille employees (Doyle), but employees also need to identify and set their limits to flexibility for the sake of their own work-life balance (Sennett).

Flexibility before education and even in education includes mental and geographical mobility regarding the choice of educational program. It can be necessary to redirect goals, if reality sets barriers or opens new possibilities in other directions than the intended one.

Resilience

Resilience can be considered as ‘the immune system of the mind’. This encompasses the ability to tolerate pressure and to meet changes by seeing them as an opportunity for growth.

There are different theoretical approaches to understanding the term resilience. In the work with NEETs, we refer to a sociological approach (German Resilience Center DRZ), where resilience is considered as a result of personal development and social influence plays in an important role. Hence, anyone can learn and develop resilience.

The development of resilience depends on the personality and personal circumstances. However, resilience can be promoted actively in different ways, among those the feeling of support from significant others. Thus, the ability to reach out for relevant help from others is crucial. In this context, resistance and stress are considered as catalysts for developing resilience.

Other aspects of resilience include ‘self-efficacy’, practical intelligence in daily life and an inner sovereignty.

Social setting

The social environment, social context, sociocultural context or milieu refer to the immediate physical and social setting, in which people live or in which something happens or develops. It includes the culture that the individual was educated or lives in, and the people and institutions with whom they interact (Barnett et al, 2001). The interaction may be in person or through communication media, even anonymous or one-way, and may not imply equality of social status. Therefore, the social environment is a broader concept than that of social class or social circle. When NEETs stemming from disadvantaged social background, they can tend to delimit their potentials to the scope of the social settings of the origin and to overlook promising perspectives (Gottfredson, 1981).

Social settings with all their spoken and unspoken rules appear in all contexts – private, professional, in public places and also learning environments at schools. Young people cannot avoid to relate to others, whose norms and behaviour differ from their own. In general, these meetings and new relationships have the potential of enriching the personal and professional development.

But social settings, such as at a new workplace, may also clash with a young person’s expectations or conviction, especially as the young person typically will be ‘lowest’ in the company’s hierarchy. Modern workplaces work consciously with this well-known phenomenon, and VET institutions can prepare young people for this step. NEETs nned to reflect the social settings they are in and relate them to their own prerequisites and goals.

Professional skills

The term ‘professional skills’ refers to all the knowledge, skills and comepetences, that are needed to perform the relevant work tasks in a given job or trade. Professional skills can also comprise the knowledge, skills and competences that the young people already have gained in various prior contexts and learning processes. Many of these competences can be useful in the “world of work” and in VET.

When self-assessing the professional skills, it should be taken into account, at which stage the young person is at the given moment: in an orientation phase, on the pathway to an educational program, or in an educational program, or relating to a specific job profile.

In a vocational program, the required professional skills can be outlined as in-company learning outcomes (CEDEFOP, 2012).  These in-company learning outcomes are part of the entire targeted set of competences for the educational program. Often these learning outcomes need a “translation” by a professional (such as VET teacher, instructor, trainer), such as the young person is able to relate to them practically and personally.

Accordingly, job profiles will typically present an optimal set of knowledge, skills, attitudes and competences. Typically, it is hardly expected that a 100 % match is conditioned.

A self-assessment can clarify, whether, how and to which degree a young person’s professional skills already match the professional expectations of a workplace or a training company in VET. This clarification can lead to an identification of, how the young person can finally develop the professional skills.


Other aspects

Furthermore, it can enrich the dialogue with the NEEts to relate to the following approach beyond the above mentioned parameters that address action-oriented competences. OECD states in their so called position paper: ”The future of education and skills” in Education 2030:

Reconciling tensions and dilemmas in a world characterised by inequities, the imperative to reconcile diverse perspectives and interests, in local settings with sometimes global implications, will require young people to become adept at handling tensions, dilemmas and trade-offs, for example, balancing equity and freedom, autonomy and community, innovation and continuity, and efficiency and the democratic process.

Striking a balance between competing demands will rarely lead to an either/or choice or even a single solution. Individuals will need to think in a more integrated way that avoids premature conclusions and recognises interconnections.

In a world of interdependency and conflict, people will successfully secure their own well-being and that of their families and their communities only by developing the capacity to understand the needs and desires of others. To be prepared for the future, individuals have to learn to think and act in a more integrated way, taking into account the interconnections and inter-relations between contradictory or incompatible ideas, logics and positions, from both short- and long-term perspectives. In other words, they have to learn to be systems thinkers.


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