In 2020, 64.8% of those employed with university studies in Spain were overqualified for their position and 84.8% of higher-level Vocational Training graduates were equally overqualified. There is a descending chain that worries employers and administrations a lot: university students occupy intermediate positions designed for Higher Vocational Training graduates and these are left with positions that require less preparation than they have. This dynamic, which is not repeated in Europe, “ends up expelling the population with the lowest level of qualification from the market,” warns the study Changes in professional profiles and FP needs. Outlook 2030, of the CaixaBank Dualiza Foundation in collaboration with the foundation of the Spanish Confederation of Business Organizations (CEOE). It is the glass ceiling of the middle grade.
The study was presented this Monday in the presence of the Minister of Education and Vocational Training, Pilar Alegría, and the CEOE President, Antonio Garamendi. José Ignacio Goirigolzarri, president of CaixaBank, has acted as host, satisfied that this year there have been more than a million FP students and that there are no more “prejudices” about these studies. Although he recalled that twice as many FP graduates are needed to reach the Central European average.
Graduates in medium FP should have been the majority in the level of qualified jobs and, nevertheless, they only represent between 10% and 15% of the total. Part of these positions, between 15% and 20%, are held by high school graduates without professional specialization. While in the category of technicians and support professionals and administrative employees, higher vocational training graduates are barely a quarter, because university students have taken over many positions. “This process generates contradictory tensions,” the study argues. Faced with this situation, “the educational system and families invest in improving training” and this “generates greater overqualification” if the company does not demand more from its workers, recalls the document.
Until the 1980s, workers learned the trade through on-the-job experience, but then companies began to hire staff with specialized qualifications, both from vocational training and from universities. A model that was consolidated in the 90s, with increasingly versatile and specialized employees. But at the end of the 20th century, at the same time that the number of university students increased, waves of automation arrived, the Internet expanded and companies began to demand new skills, soft calls: leadership, time management, communication or teamwork. . And now, a speed of change has been reached such that, in the opinion of the CaixaBank report, “the education system has not adapted to the new qualification needs, by prioritizing the quantitative growth of qualifications over adaptation to the new productive demands”.
“There are so many technically prepared people that technicians are chosen for their abilities. soft. The more training we have, the faster we learn, with which companies are contracting learning capacities to adapt well to changes”, has reasoned Oriol Homs, director of the study. “And in the FP in Spain we were specialists in teaching how to do things, but not so much in training the skills soft”.
And although these soft skills are worked on transversally in VT classrooms, there is still a long way to go. “Today the machines obey the programs and the workers need to make decisions from below with autonomy, responsibility, to solve the thousand incidents of the process, because if it is done from above, efficiency is lost. But for that we need a protocol, especially in the chemical and pharmaceutical sectors”, explained the sociologist Homs, an employment specialist. “But, have we prepared FP graduates to understand these protocols? In general, employers are very happy with the technical knowledge in VET but not with the autonomy. They prefer university students who have better reading comprehension. Another barrier is English, which leads to hiring university students who speak it better or write a report better”, Homs has defended. Another obstacle for the middle grade, some companies stated in the study, is that the best students in practices or in dual training want to continue studying, not employ, because they look too young.
Some sectors are correcting this trend by leaving a space for graduates in the medium level of FP, such as the paper industry or repairs in the automotive sector. In aeronautics, where engineers dominated, many graduates from different FPs are entering as technical support personnel.
On the contrary, in the pharmaceutical field, between 2008 and 2008 there has been an authentic revolution: the number of high school graduates and high school graduates has been reduced by half, while there are 3.5 university students for each higher education graduate and 12 for each middle grade. How are these percentages explained? To date there is no specific intermediate level vocational training cycle for the pharmaceutical sector. For laboratory and manufacturing tasks, two degrees from the chemical field—laboratory operations technician and chemical plant technician—can be used, but companies prefer to hire college or career graduates.
Bad news also in the ICT services sector (Information and Communication Technologies). In computer programming and consultancy there are hardly any workers with an average degree of FP. The companies, in the interviews for this study, have remarked that the “high volatility of changes” forces workers to constantly readapt and for this reason they cannot ensure that these professional profiles are consolidated.
The challenge of accrediting the qualification of 11 million workers
The president of the CEOE, Antonio Garamendi, regretted that the pact and the FP law -with the only vote against the PP- have gone “unnoticed like all good news” by public opinion, despite its importance “for win the future.” Garamendi recalled that 11 million workers do not have their qualifications accredited -although they later do it well after years of experience- and that the challenge is that only three million remain without validating their skills.
The Vocational Training Modernization Plan started in 2020 has 393 million euros this year (30% more than in 2021) to, among other things, create 88,000 new FP places (55,000 ordinary and another 33,000 bilingual) They will add to the 130,000 created in the last two school years (with which the goal of reaching 200,000 by 2024 will be achieved) and accredit the skills of 785,000 workers who do not even have any qualifications.
Minister Pilar Alegría has shown herself optimistic about the “window of opportunity”: “It has taken us 20 years to double the number of students, for the first time more than a million. The effort has been important, we have increased more than 20% in four years”. The challenge now is that they do not abandon before starting.
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