Case study: Aligning skills development with market needs

The ILO and the JPMorgan Chase Foundation are working together to improve the delivery of demand-led training in the formal technical and vocational education and training (TVET) system in partnership with the private sector. This case study from the Netherlands illustrates in practical terms what is required to achieve enterprise-TVET collaboration.

Article | 12 January 2018
Photos courtesy of Ymere

An important aim of skills development policies is to align technical and vocational education and training (TVET) with the skills demand in the labour market. These policies promote enterprise-TVET collaboration as a means of achieving this goal. But what does this actually mean in practical terms?

The case of a Dutch social housing association and a vocational training centre, described here-below, illustrate what is required to achieve enterprise-TVET collaboration: understanding market needs; developing a joint training programme between the association and the school; and improving the programme on the basis of lessons learned through implementation. It also needs soft skills: passion and dedication towards developing a training programme; skills to engage stakeholders (e.g. teachers, school/enterprise management); and endurance and willpower to overcome difficulties - to name just a few. Many efforts and much time are required, but the implementation of a new programme benefits trainees, enterprises and society as a whole.

1. Capturing labour market demand

In most countries, health systems differentiate between two categories of doctors: general practitioners (GPs) and medical specialists. GPs deal with minor health complaints and refer patients to specialist doctors if necessary. It goes without saying that the qualifications and required training for the two types of doctors are different. Some health insurance systems penalize patients for seeing medical specialists without their GP’s referral, because the specialists’ time is reserved for patients who need them the most.

For the maintenance of residential buildings (e.g. houses, apartments and hotels), house owners/tenants and hotel managers have to call in different specialists – such as electricians, plumbers and painters - for various maintenance problems, although some problems might not require a specialist’s attention. Furthermore, calling in a specialist for maintenance and minor repair works is costly, and people are obliged to be at home for the repair work during normal working hours, which is inconvenient if all adult family members work outside the home.

In the Netherlands, there was no occupation equivalent to that of a “GP” in housing maintenance, and no training programme for general service engineers. Ymere, a social housing association, therefore felt the need to develop an adequate training programme for general service engineers for house maintenance, in order to enhance the efficiency of its operations and cut costs. It rents about 75,000 social housing units to people with a modest income in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area and carries out maintenance work in the units – ranging from fixing blocked pipes to minor electricity problems. Sending an “all-rounder” service engineer, rather than multiple specialists, cuts the enterprise’s cost and saves the time of tenants who would otherwise have had to stay at home for the specialists’ visits.

According to the social housing association and the vocational training school, there has long been a consumer demand for a “one-stop service” for minor housing maintenance. This increased considerably after the global financial crisis of 2007/08, because people became more cost-sensitive. Generalist engineers for house maintenance are much in demand.

2. Joint training programme development with a vocational training school (ROC)

In response to this demand, Ymere came up with the idea of a new training programme for generalist service engineers, with a view to teaching skills in a wide range of technical areas related to housing maintenance (e.g. for carpenters, electricians, plumbers); however, the courses would not be as in-depth as the standard specialized vocational training courses for these occupations. In 2007, Ymere suggested this new training concept to ROC Amsterdam, a nearby vocational training school. A teacher who used to work for a small housing company, who had received training in multiple skills areas, understood the market needs for this new occupation and a dedicated training programme to accompany it. He started collaborating with the social housing association.

Ymere and the teacher put considerable energy into translating the concept of this new occupation into a training programme, which included the development of competency standards, a curriculum and assessment tools. At the same time, they had to convince existing teachers and the school management of the training programme’s relevance, without which it could not be implemented. Initially teachers were reluctant to change the way they were used to teaching their subjects – partly because housing-related technical fields corresponded to occupations with distinct qualifications. Ymere stepped up its interaction with the teachers, inviting them to the association on various occasions, and gradually built up trust and understanding for the new training programme.

Guaranteeing a financially viable class size was key in convincing the school management. Ymere spoke with, and brought in, other housing corporations to secure a sufficient number of students for the new programme. After the new programme received accreditation from the training authority, the training was finally launched in 2009.

3. Trial and error, constant improvement of the programme

Obviously, the launch of the new training programme was not the end of the story. The social housing association and the school constantly improved the training based on lessons learned. For instance, the initial programme focused on theoretical teaching at school, because the students participated in practical training at partner enterprises. But the teachers quickly realized that practical experience had to be integrated into the classroom teaching in order to be effective. The programme now combines theoretical learning based on textbooks and practical courses at school. Practical training at school accounts for higher costs because of the training materials required - but Ymere covers a large share of this cost.

With the programme’s successful completion rate of over 90 per cent, and the smooth transition of its trainees to employment after graduation, the school management decided to invest in a large space devoted to practical training. The practical training facility in Amsterdam East houses equipment and material for those wishing to train as carpenters, electricians, plasterers and plumbers.

Training coordinators consolidate the collaboration between the association and the school. The social housing association hires graduates of the training programme and assigns some of them as coordinators. One of their key roles is to communicate with the school and schedule practical training at the association, as well as to monitor the learning progress of apprentices. A former student of the programme, who is now a service engineer at Ymere, says: “as a coordinator, I make sure that the students do their homework”. The support of mentors appears to be helpful in helping trainees learn a trade.

Ymere was selected as the best training company in the North Holland province of the Netherlands in 2017 for its training excellence and dedication to skilling youth from disadvantaged communities.

Written by Kazutoshi Chatani

About the association
Name of association: Ymere, social housing association
Brief description: Ymere provides social housing for people with a modest income in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area (AMA). It rents about 75,000 social housing units. Ymere Service is a department that oversees the housing conditions with 170 employees, including service engineers and six teachers for apprentices.
Company website:

About the school
Name of school: ROC Amsterdam, regional training centre
Brief description: The ROC of Amsterdam provides more than 350 courses for various professions. More than 35,000 pupils are trained each year. The school has more than 50 training centres in the AMA.
Company website:

The author would like to thank Mr Ron Scholte (Ymere) and Mr Joost Boot (ROC-Amsterdam) for providing information and photos. The interviews with them were arranged thanks to Mr Rob Koordes and Ms Sabine van Lingen (the Cooperation Organisation for Vocational Education, Training and the Labour Market, SBB)