What exactly is a vocational ‘Master’ and should we have them in Wales?
A look at Master Craftsperson Qualifications in Europe
As Wales’ National Contact Point for the European Qualifications Framework, I was invited to a seminar in Berlin at the end of last year (30 Nov – 1 Dec 2015) in order to look at the European-wide question of how to formally recognise masters of crafts, trades and professions.
The seminar was a Peer Learning Activity organised through the European Commission that was tasked with examining the status and different educational levels attributed to Master Craftsperson qualifications in different European countries.
What is a Master Craftsperson?
Master Craftsperson qualifications are the highest level vocational qualifications available in a particular craft or profession. The best known of these is the Meister qualification in Germany.
This type of qualification has historic roots. Traditionally, it was a precondition for setting up a business in a particular field of regulated profession/occupation.
It confirms a range of skills, competencies and knowledge in a relevant craft or occupation as well as:
- management skills and competencies: economic and human
- entrepreneurial attitude
- cross sector knowledge and skills
- training and mentoring skills in order to motivate and maintain a skilled workforce.
The Master Craftsperson Qualification’s European patchwork
Master Craftsperson is a qualification in 12 European countries. Other countries have similar qualifications at similar levels. In some countries, the Master Craftsperson title is not part of the national qualifications system. There is not a similar overall qualification in the UK.
It exists mainly in traditional occupational areas such as engineering, construction, and artisanal crafts. It is stronger where coverage is broader.
In some countries, the position of Master Craftsperson is resurgent, such as in Iceland, Norway and Sweden, indicating that the work-based learning concept inherent in the title is becoming increasingly valued, not least for promoting advanced vocational education and training.
It some other countries it has disappeared, and has been replaced by new qualifications emerging from school-based education and training. The decline reflects a general weakening in the take-up of higher level work-based vocational education and training in many countries.
The decline may also reflect the fact that Master Craftsperson qualifications in many countries have not developed to incorporate new, emerging sectors such as ICT and service industries. There is engagement with these new sectors in Germany.
At what level does the Master Craftsperson appear on European Qualification Frameworks?
Across Europe, the most common level for the qualification centres around 5/6 but there is a range from Levels 4 to 7.
- There are many qualifications which share some of the characteristics of Master Craftsperson qualifications. In the UK, these are typically NVQs and HNC/HND at Levels 4-5 and above.
- In Germany, the Master Craftsperson qualification is set at Level 6 (bachelor degree level). There is agreement that the learning outcomes are in line with the Level 6 qualification descriptors. The qualification includes a large theoretical element, in learning hours this element is twice the input time required for professional practice.
- In France the Master Craftsperson qualification used to be at Level 4 but is now at Level 5. The level is in line with increasing demands of the various professions (and keeps France in line with Germany).
- In Slovenia, the Master Craftsperson qualification was at Level 4 for knowledge, skills at Levels 4-5, and competencies at Level 5. There is variation between crafts.
The consensus at the seminar was that the Master Craftsperson should be classified overall at Level 5.
For some occupations, the competencies demanded by trades differ across European countries, for example in bakery. For other occupations such as hairdressing, outcomes are very similar. Comparisons across countries also show variations in hours required for study programmes and in quality assurance and assessment.
Typical characteristics of the qualifications include:
- Close links with the labour market
- Based on occupational profiles
- Focus on demanding tasks in a specific field
- Based on examination/test
- May be licence to practice
- Underpinned by a learning model that includes strong research trend and awareness of the importance of this level of qualification and expertise.
The most significant conclusion of the seminar was that different levels are not dependent only on learning outcomes, but also on the context in the country where the qualification is based.
Tensions between the academic and vocational route
Vocational education and training (VET) systems depend on the willingness of companies to take apprentices. When a profession is deregulated there is a fall in the willingness to take apprentices.
In many countries, the vocational training pathway is becoming less popular as more students enter university to study for a degree. To date, the Master Craftsperson qualifications have received limited attention in the expanding higher education sector. Where they do exist, they play a critical role in the link between VET and the labour market.
Where does the Master Craftsperson fit in Wales?
The UK’s qualifications systems lack a recognised title for a highly qualified professional in a craft or vocational area who also has the managerial, entrepreneurial and educational skills necessary for the development of a business and its workforce.
Not only that, but along with a number of European countries, Wales is affected by a decline in the take-up of higher level vocational qualifications.
The Master Craftsperson could be seen as a valuable title, one that would be grounded in a group of qualifications e.g. higher level NVQs and HNC/Ds alongside other relevant skills and experience.
It is not only a question for Wales to consider alone: we must consider it in the round. Industries and the workforce often work across borders. They need qualifications that are portable, allowing for the mobility of skilled persons across Europe to fill skills gaps and to develop expert (or ‘Master’) practitioners in specific industry areas.
It is therefore important for us to share expertise, practice, educational values and mutual recognition across European nations.
The issues raised here need to be taken into account when reviewing how apprenticeships, particularly higher apprenticeships, are developed, promoted and supported.
In nutshell, the question for Wales is: should we look at giving formal recognition to practitioners who are masters of their trades or professions? Those who have the ability to apply these skills in business and to pass on expertise?
It’s a question we are applying ourselves to. Do join us in our journey. We’re all ears.