Training Europe’s technicians


“Our common objective lies in the training of expert technicians who can travel all over Europe with their skills recognized anywhere.”

The mid-term meeting of the project that sees European countries working on the mapping of teaching activities for the paper industry has just finished. Its aim was to lay the foundations for policy actions aimed at supporting this training area, which is still little known. Italy too is the front line.

On 21tst February 2016, Vienna was the venue of the mid-term meeting of the European project sponsored by Cepi and IndustriAll and aimed at mapping the specialist training system of the European paper industry. The meeting was attended by representatives of all the social partners in the sector with over sixty participants from eight different countries to discuss the first results of a survey carried out on education and training systems and programmes specific to the paper world.

The Italian delegation of Assocarta saw the participation, among others, of Paolo Zaninelli, who is the teaching manager of training activities for the paper sector at the Salesian Institute of San Zeno, Verona (Italy).

«The project is a good starting point for training in the paper sector in Europe to be organised as a single system», explains Paolo Zaninelli, Paolo Zaninelli, teaching manager of training activities for the paper sector at the Salesian Institute of San Zeno (Verona, Italy).
«The project is a good starting point for training in the paper sector in Europe to be organised as a single system», explains Paolo Zaninelli, Paolo Zaninelli, teaching manager of training activities for the paper sector at the Salesian Institute of San Zeno (Verona, Italy).

Between school and enterprise

This was a first meeting to assess the results of the surveys carried out so far in various nations, yet some data are already indicative. First of all, «almost all countries have shown less interest in the sector, both in numerical terms and schooling», as explained by Zaninelli. The sector still appears to be scarcely attractive for the young people, maybe because it is little known. Furthermore, training takes on different traits in the various countries, which partly reflect the structure of the local production supply chain. «Sweden, for example, has changed direction shifting its focus to bio-polymeric compounds that are more in line with its industrial structure, mainly based on forestry, cellulose and paper production; in Italy, instead, paper is associated to the graphical, printing and paper converting sectors. That is why training is structured around this twofold direction». Zaninelli stresses that the training activities offered are particularly interesting and appealing, as they provide for good employment possibilities in the fields of paper, printing, packaging and paper converting and make it possible for trainees to develop skills that are highly requested in the labour market.

The first surveys also highlighted another element, i.e. the excessive schooling especially characterizing North-European countries, with this being a really striking piece of information. «Some of these countries complain about the excessive number of graduates on the labour market that are unable to find a job. In other words, what is missing is a category of workers with an intermediate professional profile, and this is a training area where also Italy is working on». The marked alternation between school and work is definitely positive. This is to be found in Northern and Central European schools and «is a form of apprenticeship making it possible for students to access the firms and, at the same time, carry on with their high-level specialised training programs. This enables them to learn about all the aspects related to business life, e.g. concerning business management or structure and working roles and responsibilities, which do not normally belong to the skills provided by the school environment, although schools should increasingly start looking at them».

What to do after obtaining the certificate

Differences between the various countries are necessary to share views and understand how we can train future skilled technicians, capable of moving inside Europe without any difficulty and with skills that are recognized anywhere. And while the training offered in some countries is still evolving, e.g. as in Italy, where all paper-related training programs have just recently been introduced in secondary schools, other countries already boast a deeply rooted post-certificate training in the paper sector.

Commenting on this aspect, Zaninelli explains that «in several European countries, after getting one’s secondary school certificate it is possible to access non-university training programs, which are nonetheless high-level and targeted to the training of precise professional profiles. To this end, in Italy there are secondary technical schools, also known with the Italian acronym ITS, which so far have not been unfortunately as successful as they should have deserved to be». This is a real specialization, which is highly focussed on technical specialization subjects and opens up opportunities to all those who are already in possession of a technical secondary school certificate, although not necessarily related to the paper sector. These training opportunities furthermore involve a close relationship with companies thanks to this mixture between school and enterprise, which is one of the most important pre-requisites of the sector. «These post-certificate courses normally last two years, with different formulas depending on the country. In Germany, for example, courses feature a first full-time year and a second part-time year to provide for the possibility to be introduced in the enterprise world at the same time».

European ISCED standards

At a European level, the Isced (i.e. International standard classification of education) levels have long been defined. The survey has shown that they are quite similar among the various countries, although different training pathways exist in each of them. «The Isced standards are guidelines, which serve as useful reference points within which the schools and training pathways of the various European countries can be placed, in order to define a single training level». As Zaninelli explains, we attempt to create a single scale of parameters that can facilitate the movement and exchange of students within the EU. «Though maintaining each individual nation’s freedom, the aim is exactly this and I think that sooner or later we are going to have a uniform school system throughout Europe. Attempts of exchange activities have already taken place between schools, but they certainly have to be improved and enhanced»

The goal of the mapping activity is therefore to make stock of the situation related to Europe’s training offer and find a common way to give visibility and support to the options offered by these professional pathways in each country. «The aim of this project of analysis is to provide the various governments with indications on the state of the paper sector needing and asking for personnel, as well as to highlight the presence of schools, which coexist with the same sector, which however should be supported and kept alive. Ours is a driving sector: it is very solid and because of this it should be relaunched. This project gives us the opportunity to exchange views and create a network of all the European schools, where the various teaching experiences can be shared», concludes Zaninelli.

Now we just have to go on with our work and see what the project’s results will be. Our next public meeting, which will be held in November 2016, will provide all the public recommendations supporting European training in the paper sector.

«The analysis from key experts demonstrate that we have to urgently adapt to the technological developments and prepare for the transformation within our sector by providing the relevant skills» Peter Schuld, vice-chairman of the Paper sector social dialogue committee.