Education of Water Management Specialists is on the Agenda of the Latvian Education Policy

In close cooperation with representatives of education and industry, Latvia has succeeded in updating the issue of improving and strengthening the vocational training in the water management sector during a year – this will facilitate the excellence approach in this sector and an influx of new specialists into the industry.

The water management or water supply and sewerage sector has been ageing rapidly in Latvia. According to the statistics, the average age of this sector workers was 49.6 in 2018 and already 51.9 in 2019. It is the highest indicator in Latvia in comparison with other sectors. This is an evidence of the need to inject knowledgeable and interested new specialists into the sector.

“In the course of the year, we have succeeded in reaching an agreement on cooperation between the Ministry of Education and Science, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development, the Employers’ Confederation of Latvia, Riga Technical University (RTU), RTU Technology College of Olaine, Vidzeme Technology and Design Vocational School and Daugavpils Construction Technical School. These colleges and vocational schools ensure professional education in the water sector, while the RTU provides the higher education,” says Jānis Rubulis, Senior Researcher of RTU Water Systems and Biotechnology Institute. This year, a memorandum of cooperation is scheduled to be signed, setting out the objectives of all stakeholders, defining the goals to be achieved and evaluating the progress in achieving these goals.

Currently, there are ongoing negotiations with the Ministry of Education and Science on how to improve and modernise vocational training programmes for chemical, pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors in 2021-2027, in order to improve the quality of education, meet current and future labour market requirements, as well as to be attractive to potential students and increase their interest in acquiring such education (figure 1).

The Latvian Water and Wastewater Works Association (LŪKA), the clean technology cluster Cleantech Latvia and the Employers’ Confederation of Latvia (LDDK) are also actively involved in this process that emphasizes the value of education based on the work environment. In 2020 J. Rubulis, CEO of LŪKA and RTU scientist Sandis Dejus and Cleantech Latvia Chairman of the Board Jānis Zviedris became LDDK experts in the chemical, pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors. The goal of sectoral experts is to promote the relevance of vocational training to labour market requirements, as well as to increase its efficiency and quality, in order to ensure the high-quality training of specialists needed for sectoral development.

In order to move more rapidly towards excellence in vocational education, various sectoral expert discussions have been organised highlighting the main challenges – the lack of new specialists, the necessity to raise the knowledge and expertise of existing specialists by regularly organising courses and by offering lifelong learning programmes, the need for high-quality on-the-job training (figure 2). Experts also discuss the introduction of modular training and the need to adjust the standard of occupations.

Currently, vocational education institutions and college teachers are being surveyed in Latvia. A survey of industry scientists has already been carried out, but the plan also includes surveying the teaching staff of higher education institutions. The survey shows that there are eight scientific organisations operating in Latvia in the research of water related processes. Industry players have also been evaluated: the sector is dominated by public sector companies and organisations, but there are also more than 60 commercial enterprises. In order to help companies and organisations attract new and high-quality specialists, RTU organised a seminar “Pedagogy ABC for the Implementation of the Work Environment Based Training” in 2020, in cooperation with the National Education Content Centre and the Baltic Bright Training and Consultation Centre (figure 3). According to J. Rubulis, one of the ways of attracting young professionals is to provide high-quality and attractive internship places for vocational education students. “The knowledge of young professionals depends directly on the experience and knowledge transferred by experienced specialists,” he emphasised. The training was held with the participation of staff from both water companies and educational establishments.

Various activities have also been implemented to raise awareness among the academic staff and the industry representatives about benefits of promoting cooperation and vocational education excellence. The international conference “Towards high quality work-based learning in the Baltics and beyond”, organised by the Ministry of Education and Science in 2020, is a notable event as well (figure 4, © TTT4WBL 2019). J. Rubulis participated in it with a presentation and shared his vision of good practice for cooperation in vocational education and on-the-job training.

Whereas, the seminar “Regional Cooperation in Support of Training Based on the Work Environment”, organised by the Ministry of Education and Science in cooperation with Smiltene Technical School and the Latvian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LTRK) at the end of 2019, provided an excellent opportunity to address representatives of both companies and educational institutions at the same time. J. Rubulis gave a presentation on the challenges of vocational training in the water sector. He also informed the seminar participants on the competence and interest of RTU Department of Water Engineering and Technology in improving vocational education in Latvia.

The water management sector is interdisciplinary and therefore the recruitment of new qualified specialists is essential for the full-fledged functioning of all sectors of the national economy.

Figure 1 – Proposition of water (environmental) sector value, activities and partners in vocational education using Business Model Canvas for representatives of Ministry of Education and Science of Latvia

Figure 2 – One of the several face to face meetings in beginning of 2020 with water sector stakeholders and representatives from the National Centre for Education of Latvia

Figure 3 – The training workshop in 2020 for VET and Workplace Tutors for Work Based Learning organized by Riga Technical University, the National Education Content Centre and the company Baltic Bright for members of The Latvian Water and Wastewater Works Association

Figure 4 – Participants of international conference dedicated for Vocational Education Development in Riga in 2020 where Jānis Rubulis from Riga Technical University presented Platform of Vocational Excellence – Water.

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