Profession: Solar Energy Systems Installer

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Guest author: Ralf Grötker, Journalistenbüro Schnittstelle

As part of a project team cooperation, German and Israeli technology didactics experts are developing new learning content for vocational training in the field of renewable energies.

University courses in Germany offer nearly 250 different courses, seminars and modules on solar energy and energy efficiency – according to the results of a recent survey. However, skilled workers who are practically involved in the installation of solar and environmental technology benefit little from this. Most of them do not attend university, but complete an apprenticeship. Vocational training for professions that specialise in ‘green energy’ is hard to come by – despite the immense demand. A project cooperation between Israeli and German vocational training experts tackled this challenge. The title of their project: “Competence-based education and training in the field of solar energy and energy efficiency”.

Cooperation in Vocational Training: The Programme

German-Israeli project team cooperation has been part of the German-Israeli Programme for Cooperation in Vocational Education and Training since 1999. Founded in 1969, the programme is jointly run by the Israeli Ministry of Economy and Industry and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). It celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019. The National Agency “Education for Europe” at the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (NA-BIBB) has been the implementing institution in Germany since 2013. The activities within the programme are diverse. In addition to project team cooperation, there is also funding for study trips, seminars, conferences, and trainee exchange programmes. VET stakeholders and trainees can get to know the country-specific systems and realities in the host countries and test innovative approaches in VET.

The Didactic Approach

The team, led on the German side by Waldemar Bauer, Professor of Didactics of Technology at the University of Erfurt, aimed to jointly develop learning units that are up to date in terms of didactic standards and that fit into the European standards for quality assurance in vocational education and training. European standards: These are, for example, the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) or the European Credit System for Vocational Education and Training (ECVET). The guiding principle for the development of learning content in the project was competence-based learning. This is more than just a buzzword or, as critics like to criticise, a content-less concept for teaching technical fitness. What competence-based learning actually departs from is the traditional curriculum with its hierarchy of knowledge, which starts with basic research at the top and then descends first to applied science and then to technical know-how at the execution level.

Competency-based learning takes exactly the opposite path: it starts with a meticulous analysis of the actual requirements at the execution level.

It started with field studies: observations in concrete professional situations to find out what challenges actually arise in the everyday work of various ‘green professions’. These were conducted in parallel in Israel and in Germany. The next two steps were first the development of coherent learning units (modules), tailored to the fields of competence identified in the field studies, followed by the concrete elaboration of the modules in the form of arranged learning situations.

Example: Solar Energy Systems Installer

An example: One of more than twelve occupational situations that the project teams in Germany and Israel looked at more closely was that of installing solar energy systems. In relation to the concrete situation, about a dozen different individual tasks were identified – starting with the determination of requirements, through construction planning to the various steps of installation and maintenance. Next, the individual tasks were analysed for necessary competences. For the “needs assessment” task, for example, these included communication skills in dialogue with the client; know-how to analyse the household’s energy consumption; knowledge of local climatic conditions; consideration of special features of the roof construction; and the selection of suitable makes, taking into account the configuration of the system. So much for the fields of competence.

“To develop first modules and then learning situations that correspond to the identified competences, we brought together workers and entrepreneurs in addition to vocational training experts,” explains Eli Eisenberg, who as Head of Administration for R&D and Training at the ORT Schools Network in Tel-Aviv was in charge of the project on the Israeli side.

Communication skills, for example, were broken down into requirements for technical knowledge (for example, on the function and components of solar energy systems or on basic principles in customer communication), skills (such as: conducting professional site visits; operating software for calculations and simulations), and competences (among others: decision-making based on the information obtained; active listening in dialogue with the client). All this, in turn, had to be translated into concrete learning situations – that is, into a well-structured sequence of training tasks in different action and interaction formats.

Designed to be evaluated

“A special feature of our approach is that we thought about how the learning units could be evaluated at the end very early on,” Eli Eisenberg reports. Normally, evaluation comes last – with the well-known difficulty that much of what is intended with a learning programme cannot be properly evaluated in the end. Eisenberg: “In our case, we already thought about the parameters by which we could measure the success or failure of our new materials during the development of the learning units. We tried to define the demands in terms of specialised knowledge, skills and competences not only with a view to the requirements in everyday working life, but also very specifically with a view to later evaluability.”

In Practice

As impressive as the project “Competence-based education and training in the field of solar energy and energy efficiency” may be in bringing state of the art didactics to bear on vocational training – there is still a long way to go before the results are actually implemented. In Israel, learning content was adopted from the ORT Ormat Vocational School in Yavne, Eisenberg reports. In Germany, some selected learning situations were tested at a vocational school.

What impressed the participants most about the cooperation? “I was impressed by the German dual system in vocational education,” says Eli Eisenberg. “And then the city of Freiburg, where one of our workshops took place. How the whole city is being redesigned according to the green energy model. I think that’s also a matter of culture, not just technology.” Eisenberg is travelling to Freiburg again these days – privately. The contacts he made during the project are lasting.