An overview of European VET-teacher qualifications and VET-teacher education

One of the priority areas for European cooperation in education and training during recent years has been the professional development of teachers and trainers. The focus has been on the quality of initial education, early career support for new teachers as well as on raising the quality of continuing professional development opportunities.

The European Union has described general competence areas for teachers for the whole EU area. According to them, teachers must have the capabilities 1) to work with information, technology and knowledge, 2) to cooperate with others – students, colleagues and other cooperation partners and 3) to act on the local, regional, national, European and global levels.

European commission have also published Common European Principles for Teacher Competences and Qualifications. The four main principles are:

  • a well-qualified profession
  • a profession placed within the context of lifelong learning
  • a mobile profession
  • a profession based on partnerships.
Harri Keurulainen, Principal Lecturer, Teacher Education College
Harri Keurulainen.

From the VET-teachers point of view the principle of well-qualified profession means, for instance, that all teachers are graduates from higher education institutions and those working in the field of initial vocational education should be highly qualified in their professional area and have a suitable pedagogical qualification. Teacher education should be multidisciplinary. This ensures that teachers have extensive subject knowledge, a good knowledge of pedagogy, the skills and competences required to guide and support learners, and an understanding of the social and cultural dimension of education.

Teacher profession should also be placed within the context of lifelong learning. Thus, teachers should be encouraged to review evidence of effective practice and engage with current innovation and research in order to keep pace with the evolving knowledge society. They should be encouraged to participate actively in professional development, which can include periods of time spent outside the education sector, and this should be recognized and rewarded within their own systems.

Mobility should be a central component of initial and continuing teacher education programmes. Teachers should be encouraged to participate in European projects and spend time working or studying in other European countries for professional development purposes.

Institutions providing teacher education should organize their work collaboratively in partnership with schools, local work environments, work-based training providers and other stakeholders. Teacher education partnerships, which have an emphasis on practical skills and an academic and scientific basis, should provide teachers with the competence and confidence to reflect on their own and others’ practice. Teacher education, in itself, should be supported and be an object of study and research.

For example VET-system is divided in many countries so, that the term IVET (Initial Vocational Education and Training) is used to describe the education which is primarily targeted at young people (16+) and CVET (Continuing Vocational Education and Training) is education or training after initial education and training – or after entry into working life. But, as CEDEFOP’s comparative presentation of VET teachers and trainers in Europe points out, in the UK, IVET refers to ’meeting pre‑entry requirements’, and CVET to ’providing the recognised vocational qualification for practice within a particular trade or profession’; this implies that what is defined as CVET in the UK would be defined as IVET in other countries. In France where there is simply no concept of CVET teacher – here all learning facilitators are called trainers. In Portugal, the term teacher is used for people working in the general education system and trainer for people working in the vocational training system.

This short overview of vet-teacher qualifications and vet-teacher education is mainly made according to CEDEFOP’s reports. Main reference has been CEDEFOP’s Comparative presentation of VET teachers and trainers, their qualifications and VET teacher education. More detailed information of the situations in certain EU countries can be found in CEDEFP’s country reports.

Types of teachers

Regarding IVET two kinds of teachers can be found:

  • general subject teachers, who usually have a university degree/a degree at tertiary level and a teaching qualification, and
  • vocational subject teachers, who have a vocational qualification, work experience and a teaching qualification. The teaching qualification is in many countries often acquired, i.e. at the beginning of the teaching career as in‑service training. In other of countries the teaching qualification is a pre‑service qualification.

The employment and status of IVET teachers vary across countries. In general there are three models – sometimes overlapping:

  • IVET teachers are civil servants, employed by the State. To be employed, they have to pass a State exam/concours (Belgium, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Luxembourg);
  • IVET teachers are employees, employed directly by the IVET provider (Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, the UK);
  • many IVET teachers are freelancers or part‑timers (Italy, Austria, Portugal).

In the EU, there are two types of IVET trainers: the in‑company trainer (primarily in dual systems) and the school‑based trainer providing practical training at labour market training centres or VET schools.

Definitions of teachers are more concise than those of trainers. Not all countries under examination have specific trainer categories (Germany, Portugal) but in most countries the term teacher is used in the formal sector, whereas trainer is used especially in connection to apprenticeship or in‑company training. In addition to teacher categories, other kinds of education facilitators are defined and applied in an IVET context in most of the EU such as counsellors (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden), tutors (the Netherlands, Portugal), instructors (France, the Netherlands, Finland) and classroom assistants and learning support workers (the UK).

Teachers especially are further divided into more specific categories. In general, distinctions are made regarding the subject taught, for instance: general subjects versus (craft-) specific subjects and theoretical subjects versus practical subjects. However, in many cases there are further and different categorisations such as in Germany distinguishing also according to kind of school and kind/status of staff. Ireland does not distinguish type of teachers but three positions: principals, deputy principals and teachers.

There is a trend for less distinction between IVET and CVET in most of Eastern Europe, especially in the newer Member States who joined the EU in 2004. IVET and CVET are provided by the same VET institutions and teachers teach both tracks. This is the case in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary and Poland.

Regarding CVET, the picture is more diverse. In countries where CVET is provided by public education and training institutions, there are in general national requirements for the recruitment and qualifications of CVET teachers. These are often identical to the requirements imposed on IVET teachers (Austria, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, Norway, the UK). However, as to trainers, the picture is generally of a fragmented sector/market with many provisions, which are outside the formal education system and of which there is only little knowledge.

Example 1: Hungary
In general, types of IVET teachers and trainers can be divided into two categories: IVET teachers in higher education institutions, and IVET teachers and trainers in formal VET. The first group comprises: teaching assistant, assistant professor, associate professor and professor.

In formal VET, there is a clear distinction on the basis of a theory/practice dimension. Teachers are responsible for theory, and trainers for practical training. There are training programmes for vocational trainers in agriculture, technology, economy and medicine. However, it is possible to employ practitioners who have the relevant professional qualification but no pedagogical qualification.

Example 2: Netherlands
It is difficult to provide a clear division between the notion of teachers and trainers and to differentiate between IVET and CVET teachers/trainers in the education system. The term trainer is not clearly defined as it is used in very different contexts and thus based on different concepts. New occupational functions for teaching staff introduced in 2003 add to the complexity of the issue. However, in general IVET teachers are involved with the education of young people in the school system and CVET teachers with the education of adolescents and adults (people over 18) also outside the school setting. Trainers are more related to specific themes in continuing development or postgraduate courses or employed in a company helping people to master and apply specific skills and respective knowledge.

Example 3: Poland
There is no general distinction between IVET and CVET teachers. Teachers work in IVET or CVET or both, depending on the institution employing them. The different types of VET teachers in VET schools (IVET) are general subject teachers, theoretical vocational subject teachers or practical vocational training teachers. In addition, four categories of teachers working in VET schools as advisory teaching staff or learning facilitators are: teachers-pedagogues providing, for example, educational support to students and support to teachers and parents; teachers-psychologists mainly involved in guidance and psychological support to learners, teachers and parents; teachers-methodological advisers and teachers-consultants both performing the role of teacher trainers in addition to regular teaching activities. The first two categories work in secondary schools and are thus involved only in IVET. The last two categories work in both secondary and post-secondary schools and schools for adults and are involved in IVET or CVET according to their place of work. Trainers are not distinguished as an occupational category and thus not defined in the legislation. However, two categories of trainers are connected to practical training within VET schools and in companies: the practical vocational training instructor providing training mainly in privately owned companies and the trainer-specialist working mainly in VET schools within CVET.

VET-teacher qualifications

Although the situation in EU-member states is different, when talking about teacher and trainer qualifications, there is a trend towards formal qualification requirements for all types of VET-teachers.

In terms of requirements for teachers and trainers and national standards for teacher/trainer qualifications, the picture is rather uniform. Across the EU, the IVET teacher profession is regulated via the national legislation on IVET or through a national standard or qualifications framework. For trainers in IVET and teachers and trainers in CVET, there are no national requirements. Some countries, however, make an exception to this rule. In Austria, Germany, Iceland and Luxembourg there are formal training requirements for IVET trainers, reflecting that in these countries, the IVET system is based on the dual training principle. However, not all countries having IVET systems based on this principle have formal requirements for their trainers. This is, for example, the case in Denmark and Norway. In other countries, there are formal requirements for CVET teachers, namely in the countries where part of CVET is provided via the public sector (Denmark, Italy, Austria, Finland).

In most of the Member States the trend is towards formal requirements for all types of teachers and trainers as the countries are establishing national qualification frameworks, national teacher standards and stipulating qualification requirements as part of reforming their VET systems.

Example 1: Finland
All teachers at VET institutions and polytechnics have a pedagogical qualification. General subject teachers have a degree at university level whereas vocational subject teachers are professionals in their vocational field. The trainer function is not officially recognised. Colleges and adult education centres only have teacher posts, and the teacher is responsible for all training including student supervision during periods of on-the-job learning in enterprises. In vocational upper secondary education and training, the term workplace instructor is more commonly used.

Example 2: Germany
There are significant differences between teachers and trainers regarding formal qualifications, legislation, type of work contract, salary, etc. However, a basic distinction can be made: a) teachers are subjects of a non-profit ”educational world” with a lifelong job guarantee and with salaries not based on achievement; b) trainers are subjects of the ”industrial world” governed by economic considerations and profit-making objectives and vulnerable to economic developments and dismissal.

Example 3: Portugal
The main criterion to distinguish between teachers and trainers is the former work in the education system while the latter work in the occupational training system. There are different requirements and demands regarding recruitment. Teachers in secondary education must be graduates from a university in the same disciplinary area while no specific pedagogical training is required. The only legal requirement to become a trainer is to hold a vocational aptitude certificate (CAP) for which it is necessary to attend a pedagogical training course lasting 90 hours.

Role and autonomy of VET-teacher

In general, the role of teachers and trainers in the VET system has become more complex in recent years. Guidance, counselling, teamworking, cooperation with enterprises and communication with stakeholders have become increasingly important. This development is evident in all countries but is especially clear in countries undergoing heavy reforms trying to encompass the new realities of the VET system especially in the context of the developing knowledge society (Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia). However, the responsibilities laid down in legislation and regulations are not always easy to implement in practice. Lack of funding and the inability to keep up with the latest technological developments may impede the actual engagement of teachers in the different settings (Slovakia).

The key skills of VET teachers (teaching their subject, ensuring progression in learning, participating in assessments and evaluations and supporting their learners) and the importance of bridging vocational and teaching skills are being emphasised across the EU. The identity of the vocational subject teachers very often lies in their profession, trade or craft, and it is important to build a teacher identity alongside this vocational identity.

The role of VET teachers and their autonomy differs a lot across the countries. In some of the most decentralised systems such as the Danish, Norwegian, Dutch, Finnish and in some of newer Member States (Latvia, Hungary, Poland), VET teachers have a remarkable influence at institutional level. In other more centralised systems, such as the Greek, Spanish, French, Luxembourgish and Maltese systems, the teachers have to adhere to a fixed national curriculum and have relatively little autonomy.

In parts of the EU, the role of teachers varies from IVET to CVET. In France, for example, IVET teachers have little influence on curricula, whereas CVET teachers are able to influence curricula and methods to a high degree. This reflects the fact that in France, IVET is highly centralised and supply‑led, whereas CVET has been decentralised and is more demand‑led.

In general, teachers are consulted via their unions and professional associations, which are represented in national councils and committees. However, in some cases, teachers are directly involved in drawing up the national curriculum via councils or working groups (Austria, Finland).

In general, CVET is not regulated by national regulations and therefore the influence of CVET teachers and trainers on training contents and methods depends on the organisation/enterprise in which they work. As to CVET teachers’/trainers’ ability to influence national policy‑making, this depends on whether or not they are organised in professional associations or unions.

Example 1: Austria
VET programmes are provided in a framework curriculum leaving VET teachers room for deciding on the exact contents of teaching and the pedagogical-didactical approach. In connection with reforms of curricula, teacher representatives are involved in the working group (the curriculum commission). IVET trainers are autonomous in their training approach as long as they abide by the legally set Ausbildungsordnungen (training regulations).

Example 2: France
Teachers in IVET have only limited influence on IVET. There is a fixed national curriculum, which they have to abide by. CVET is more flexible and leaves trainers greater autonomy in adapting their provision (content and method) to the needs of learners.

Example 3: Latvia
The VET system is decentralised and the teachers have a relative autonomy in their daily practice. They are involved in developing curricula and teaching materials. Teachers are regarded as central agents in implementing VET reforms and therefore assume a role in organisational development, cooperation between schools and enterprises, and introducing new teaching methods.

VET-teacher education

According to CEDEFOP’s comparative analysis there are in general two traditions in teacher education, which have dominated in Europe: the ’normal school tradition’, where teacher training takes place in designated teacher training institutions and the ’academic tradition’, where teacher training takes place at universities. Parallel to these traditions, three main traditions dominate the training of teachers for IVET. These traditions do not have any generally used names, but in CEDEFOP’s analysis they are called the ’general subject teacher’ tradition, the ’craftsman‑turned‑teacher’ tradition and the ’professional VET teacher’ tradition.

The ’general subject teacher’ tradition is similar to the tradition found in general teacher education: a teacher is educated as a subject teacher. To be a teacher in VET is not a prominent part of their identity; they view themselves as subject teachers who just happen to teach in VET.

Teachers from the ’craftsman-turned-teacher’ tradition view themselves as skilled craftsmen and as representatives of the craft in VET. To be a teacher is only a secondary and often lately acquired part of their professional identity. These teachers often teach the ’practical’ or ’technical’ subjects in VET. In most cases some kind of professional teacher training is required along with craft qualification and working experience, but in some countries, the requirement of professional teacher training has been introduced only recently (UK).

The ’professional VET teacher’ tradition. Only a few of the countries have special professional educational courses aiming at becoming a VET teacher – the Concurrent model (Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden). Students choose VET teaching as their career at the beginning of higher education, and to be a VET teacher is the primary and maybe the only aspect of these teachers’ professional identity.

In general, EU countries have two of these traditions; usually the two first mentioned, and some countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden) have all three traditions. Teaching staff in VET is less homogenous than in most other parts of the educational system.

Usually, two or three different types of pre‑service training are offered in each country. An exception is Denmark, where only a postgraduate training programme is offered, and Belgium, where four different pathways are available for teachers in secondary education. The training available depends on school level (secondary school, further education) or professional sector (for example, a school for agriculture) and subject taught (general subjects, core subjects, vocational or practical subjects). In general, teachers of practical subjects need less pre‑service education than teachers of theoretical or general subjects. In most of the southern European countries (Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Cyprus, Portugal), a State selection exam (concours) is the decisive point for becoming a teacher. Courses available are structured as specific preparation for this exam.

In general, admission requirements seem to consist of either a higher education or vocational qualifications and several years of working experience. However, in some cases (Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal) a degree within the subjects to be taught is requested. In Denmark and Norway, to access pre‑service training for IVET teachers, candidates are assessed against their formal professional qualifications and work experience according to the subject taught. Due to lack of teachers in the Netherlands, adults with degrees in other subjects can be admitted through an admission interview. In some countries, the candidates are tested as part of the admission requirements. The objective is to test their suitability for the teaching profession (Czech Republic, Estonia, Luxembourg).

Though the models are different from country to country, in general the pre‑service training contains both theoretical subject/pedagogical studies and practical teacher training. The four models applied to different countries across EU are the following:

  • the concurrent model with subject and pedagogical studies in parallel courses, for instance in Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Norway, Slovenia and Spain;
  • the consecutive model where subject studies are followed by pedagogical practice studies. In Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovenia, this practice is preparatory training for candidate teachers after entrance exams;
  • the co-existence of both the concurrent and the consecutive model. In Poland for example, most prospective VET teachers can choose between the two models;
  • the sequential, dual or integrated model, where training practice is integrated as modules during the study. For instance, in the Netherlands there is teaching practice at the end of each academic year. There are similar sequential structures in Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark and Italy. In Norway and the UK alternative models are provided for teachers with professional education and work experience. In Denmark the training is organised entirely as a postgraduate course structured by a dual principle with periods of practice at the workplace.

Models 1‑3 are completely school‑based whereas model 4 combines school and practice in a dual structure.

Throughout the EU, a substantial part of the studies is on the subjects teachers are going to teach, either as a professional education before teacher training or as part of the studies. Pedagogical studies sometimes consist of specific subjects as pedagogy and psychology, evaluation and assessments or ICT, whereas in others, broader themes are included, such as developing competences for teaching in different environments and fulfilling different roles (Greece), developing and using teaching and learning techniques (the UK), building professional knowledge (Netherlands) or developing skills of participants in order to disseminate knowledge of their own trade on a professional basis (Denmark). In the Netherlands, focus in curricula has shifted from subject knowledge towards application of theory, which is probably an implicit trend in several countries.

Example 1: Belgium
There is a clear distinction between teachers in secondary education and teachers in higher education. In higher education teachers hold at least a higher education degree. For teachers at secondary level, different training exists according to the subject taught: qualification to teach two or three general subjects and qualification to teach technical subjects both in an integrated model with training practice and provided by teacher training departments of colleges of higher education, certificate of teaching competence (all practical and some technical subject teachers) and an additional diploma to teach in upper secondary education provided by universities both in a sequential model. Duration: two-three years.

Example 2: Ireland
There are three kinds of education: (1) for teachers in all secondary schools the colleges of education provide a full degree course in a specialised subject. To obtain a degree takes four years of study, but teachers of vocational subjects are not required to hold a degree; (2) for teachers in all secondary schools universities provide a primary degree together with a higher diploma in education. To obtain the diploma takes one year of study. The training model combines study with practical application; (3) the University of Limerick provides undergraduate and postgraduate diploma or degree courses. The training model contains a minimum of 100 hours of practical teaching experience.

Example 3: Sweden
Since 2001, teacher education consists of 120-220 credit points, equivalent to three to five years of study, comprising three integrated educational areas: (1) common basis of knowledge common for all teachers – 60 credits, (2) directional studies providing each teacher with one (or a few) profiles of their education – minimum 40 credits, (3) specialisation studies – minimum 20 credits. Vocational teachers need a minimum of 120 credits and directional and specialisation studies are replaced by working experience and relevant higher education. For core/general subject teachers, a minimum of 180 credits including one or two specialisations is required.


In Europe the structures of vocational education and the position of VET teachers is like mosaic. This is because in European countries the vocational education systems have their own historically developed characteristics. Thus, as we have pointed out, professionals working in vocational education can have different titles in different countries. In some countries there can be groups of teachers with different titles but holding the same status. In some countries teacher can be a trainer. Accordingly, qualification requirements and training for VET professionals vary considerably from country to country.


CEDEFOP. Comparative presentation of VET teachers and trainers, their qualifications and VET teacher education. (referred 3.11.2014)

CEDEFOP. Country reports. (Referred 3.11.2014)


Harri Keurulainen

Principal Lecturer

School of Professional Teacher Education, Jamk