PRACTICAL ON-THE-JOB LEARNING – Critical reflection, opinion and suggestions for improvement

When study visit took place in Slovenia in April 2015 (Skills 4 work) I met with various companies (business) of technical expertise, I usually do not get to meet through my regular work activities. For the study visit the following companies were selected: Lotrič Metrology Ltd, Printed circuits, Luznar Ltd., VSŠ GT, Hotel Astoria, etc. I was impressed by their enthusiasm and ambitious stance towards development and education, as well as care for the development of its staff and students.

We have to be aware of the shift in modern, development-oriented companies from the traditional mindset where students passively followed mentor, fulfilling orders and saying “yes boss” to a collaborative learning and asking “why, boss”. Mentor and student are working alongside each other, co-creating, sharing and reflecting on their experiences. The company’s purpose is to support and maximumly equip the student for independent and responsible work. Ability to work in close cooperation with others in a team and also in a working group has also become more and more necessary.

Companies are looking for potential in students and want to discover their strengths, interests and objectives, so that they can assign them appropriate tasksin the field that they are comfortable with and are also interested in. Expectations are discussed at the first meeting, which is why they like to see that students arrange learning places themselves.

In Slovenia it is still not a regular practice that the students themselves are obliged to actively seek out learning places with an employer, although we are more and more encouraging this on all levels. According to legislation, the schools are obliged to provide students with learning places and with minor corrections we could change this and task the students with responsibility for their own education.


Employers thought that it is important for students to know or at least consider what and in what area they would like to work before the start of on-the-job-learning. In practice this is usually not the case.

A solution would be that in the preparation phase for the practical on-the-job-learning, the schools organize workshops for students, where they could think about themselves and more systematically develop key competencies that are relevant for inclusion in the work process. The themes of the workshops could be different, primarily development of communication skills, self-confidence, entrepreneurial mindset, enthusiasm and passion for work, professional vocational and business knowledge, personal organization, ability to create and disseminate professional network, ability of professional ethics, problem solving, team work, etc.

Learning places at employers

There is an unwritten rule that the school can only enroll as many students in the first year as is the number of guaranteed learning places at employers. Organizers of practical on-the-job training (school) go to great efforts to secure sufficient training places for all enrolled students in order to assure the implementation of the education programme.

The gap in the system of practical on-the-job training in Slovenia can be primarily noticed in the fact that the school is obligated to provide each student with a learning place , but on the other hand employers (i are not in any way obliged to take on the students and implement their part of the education program.

The School signs a collective learning contract with an employer for one or more students Individual learning contract is signed by students (or their legal guardian/parents) directly with the employer.

Students in Vocational upper secondary education that sign individual learning contract can spend up to 53 weeks in 3 years at on-the-job learning, as opposed to students with collective learning contract who spend 24 weeks at on-the-job learning. There is no other significant differences between individual and collective learning contract.

Employers decide to offer learning places according to their needs, interests, or request from the school or the student. The interest of employers and the number of actual offers of learning places for practical on-the-job learning with individual learning contract varies in regards to professional field, but there is not much interest for any professional field (up to one class in a school year). According to the Chamber of Craft and Small Business of Slovenia register there are some offers for individual learning contracts for traditional occupations such as hairdresser, mechatronics technician, carpenter, cook, waiter, while for other programs offers are rare or non-existent

Nevertheless the employers claim that they want to extend the time for student’s practical on-the-job-learning, but only a few of them decide to sign an individual learning contracts They claim that they cannot see any benefits for themselves by signing individual learning contracts The students (with the support of their parents) also prefer staying in a safe school environment with their peers and leave it tothe school to provide collective learning contract at an employer. Because of their human and material resources the schools are interested in providing for the larger part of the students’ education themselves, sending them to the employers only for a minimum period of time as prescribed by legislation..

 Organizer of practical on-the-job learning

Under such unfavorable conditions the role of the organizer of on-the-job learning in the schools is in very demanding. It is primarily based on the organization and linking the school sphere and the work sphere and less on professional contents. In many schools organizers   stand alone in their efforts to formally carry out all stages of the process, including evaluation of practical on-the-job-learning, taking care of students (who they may not know personally in the larger schools) and communicate with employers which they have never met in person.

In these circumstances it is nearly impossible to expect efficiency, success and quality in practical on-the-job-learning in upper secondary education programs.

 The purpose and objectives of practical on-the-job-learning

From a national perspective the ultimate aim of practical training is easier integration into the working process and its responsibilities of the participants who completed education.

Acquiring new knowledge and skills should be based on gradual approach (from less demanding and simple tasks to more demanding and more complex tasks). Everyday work at the company strengthens student self-esteem, develops individual responsibility towards tasks (that should be done on time and with quality), prepares student for increased workload, etc.

By working alongside the mentor in a company as well as by monitoring superiors, students increase their chances for further employment. With positive work attitude they have an opportunity to continue a career in the same company. Knowing the working conditions of the company a student is more flexible, able to look for better solutions and take on more responsible work.

 The following goals should be emphasized as most important goals of practical on-the-job training,

  • upgrading skills and integrating theory and practical work in the work environment,
  • developing personal and occupational competences that are needed for independent integration to the working process,
  • get to know the importance of good work organization,
  • learning to work in a team,
  • acquiring new professionals skills,
  • learning the rationality and economy of work,
  • developing communication skills,
  • mastering professional terminology in foreign languages,
  • getting to know specific technological tools, equipment, resources,
  • learning about occupational safety regulations,
  • learn to take more and more responsibility,
  • developing ecological awareness and positive attitude towards a healthy lifestyle.

 The dual form of education

Concerning practical education, Slovenia has tested several models over a longer period (for example apprenticeship system, dual system, model for joint implementation of the programs, individual andcollective learning contracts, etc.). For various reasons, these systems (models) have not worked or have been changed too quickly to have a longer tradition. Re-introduction of dual system has once more become an important topic i Through various EU projects (Leonardo da Vinci and Erasmus+) we became acquainted with some successful systems in other countries, we actively cooperate with partner countries and develop effective tools to improve the quality of practical on-the-job training.

For dual system to work in our country, it would be necessary to thoroughly review past experience and consider advantages and disadvantages of different forms and conditions of dual system in other countries and take into account the conditions and interests of various s national stakeholders to see in what circumstances they would be willing to cooperate From the traditional and highly successful form of dual system, in place in Austria and Germany, we could summarize those elements that could work in our environment.

Introduction of system changes in practical on-the-job-learning includes complex coordination and cooperation with the stakeholders. This ensures that their interest will be taken into account and also that they will find opportunities and benefits in the new system Without coordination and support of the stakeholders, attempts to introduce dual system will not be successful.

In political and academic circles a form of dual systemis currently being considered, where students would be regularly employed at an employer and the education would be a part of regular scope of obligations.

Students should have all rights and duties of regular employee. Schools would have to adapt curriculum in order for student to graduate in expected time. After completed training,   they could remain in the work position, be promoted or remain at same company in some other way. All in agreement with the employer of course.

On the other hand possibility of formal school education would still remain. For entering school form of education, students should ensure a learning place for the practical on-the-job-learning by themselves. At practical on-the-job-learning they would gain practical knowledge, skills and competencies according to the program and in accordance with their motivation at work. For their work they would not receive bonuses or any other remuneration.

Employers would have free assistance at work, in return they would enable students to gain work experience and then with mentor’s aid include them in the work process. They would monitor apprentice’s job, evaluate progress and feedback, which would be a condition for advancement in the school program.

In the process where stakeholders see more benefits it is easier for them to carry out their duties, placed in front of them

Anica Justinek

Ljubljana, julij 2015

Vir: Study visit v Sloveniji, april 2015, (projekt WBL),

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