KANBrief 4/15

Vocational qualifications are out of place in standards

A trend is emerging for training and qualifications to be described in standards, against which the skills of persons can then be certified. These developments are a source of concern for the trade unions, since they jeopardize Germany's dual vocational training system, its contribution to safety and health, and the occupational safety and health system.

Standards are not the first thing that the subject of training brings to mind. In Germany, vocational training is covered largely by the country's dual vocational training system. The regulations governing this training are passed by the legislature and drawn up with the involvement of the social partners. Occupational safety and health is consistently an element within them, and trainees are also examined on it. The regulation governing training for foundry mechanics, for example, requires the candidate to be capable of performing tasks in consideration of occupational safety (Regulation governing training for foundry mechanics, Section 9 (3) Clause 2, (in German)). In the future, qualifications in the dual system of vocational training will be classifiable within the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning (pdf), which is intended to make vocational qualifications comparable without abandoning national requirements deriving from existing integral systems.

Efforts are being made for qualifications and skills acquired individually to be harmonized and recognized at EU level. In recent years, standardization also appears to have become a vehicle for the achievement of this goal. Knowledge and characteristics of individual persons are to be examined and certified against relevant standards. Qualifications are particularly described in standards in areas not governed by professional associations, and those in the service sector. Draft standards exist for example concerning the qualifications of playground inspectors and rail track layers. The draft of EN 16708, Beauty Salon Services – Requirements and recommendations for the provision of service, formulates precise requirements for valid qualifications of personnel.

Certification and yet more certification?

These developments present a risk of the skills certified comprehensively in training qualifications being split up into individual certificates. Why, though, should certification of individual qualification modules be necessary when these modules are already contained in the training? This development places the vocational training system in doubt in the longer term. Companies must be able to rely upon their customers continuing to regard and accept training qualifications as a quality attribute. The demand for discrete certificates would ultimately lead to bureaucratic duplication of work.

Health and safety of workers at work must remain outside the scope of standardization

Furthermore, standardization is subject to clear limits in Germany with regard to qualifications in the area of occupational safety and health. In accordance with the policy paper on the role of standardization in the safety and health of workers at work (pdf) and the German Consensus Statement, standards may not contain any provisions concerning the health and safety of workers at work. Where a standard comprehensively describes the qualification for a task in which the safety aspects of employees are to be considered, it directly affects the regulations governing the health and safety of workers at work. The same applies when standards governing qualifications address topics such as the content and form of health and safety instruction provided to employees within companies.

Current trends in standardization are also a cause for concern with regard to occupations relating to occupational safety and health. For example, the German Social Accident Insurance Institutions have produced a training concept for OSH professionals that is freely available in the form of a DGUV informative publication (pdf, in german). This qualification has an important function in companies. It, too, must not be governed by standards, since the occupation is closely linked to Germany's body of OSH legislation, and no harmonized European basis for it exists.

Simply put: no one is better equipped than the social partners to formulate the needs of vocational training. The existing system has proved effective, and there is therefore no need in future for additional regulation of qualifications in standards. KAN's role includes supporting the representatives of the OSH lobby on standards committees on this issue.

Heinz Fritsche                           Frank Gerdes                         Daniela Tieves-Sander

Heinz.fritsche@igmetall.de  frank.gerdes@igmetall.de