2.9 Skills recognition
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At national level, the LLL 2020 – Strategy for Lifelong Learning in Austria (Strategie zum lebensbegleitenden Lernen in Österreich) has laid the foundation for recognizing non-formal and informal competences. Thus, in recent years, policy frameworks have been developed to promote recognition of such skills.
In 2016, the Federal Council passed the 'Federal Act on the National Qualifications Framework' (NQR – Gesetz 2016). The Act regulates the assignment of Austrian qualifications, either acquired through formal, non-formal and informal learning, on the basis of learning outcomes to one of the eight qualification levels of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) (Nationaler Qualifikationsrahmen). In this way, it contributes to the transparency and comparability of qualifications in Austria and Europe and to the promotion of lifelong learning in Austria.
To further enhance the recognition of non-formally and informally acquired competences, the national ‘Strategy for the validation of non-formal and informal learning in Austria’ (Strategie zur Validierung nichtformalen und informellen Lernens in Österreich) was adopted in 2017. It provides a strategic framework for validation initiatives and ensures their development, coordination, and quality assurance (Luomi-Messerer 2019).
As volunteering contributes greatly to the acquisition of a wide range of skills that are important not only for the community and private life, but also for professional careers, the Austrian government has made efforts to formally recognise the skills acquired through voluntary activities. In this context, the Volunteering Act 2012 (FreiwG 2012) recognizes skills acquried through voluntary activities. Volunteer organisations must issue a Volunteer Certificate (Freiwilligennachweis/Freiwilligenpass) to receive funding from the Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection. The certificate specifies the duration, type of activity, and acquired competence.
For specific programs like the Voluntary Social Year, the Voluntary Environmental Year and the Memorial, Peace, and Social Service Abroad, certificates are issued by recognised institutions in collaboration with the assignment location, indicating the recognition decision, duration, and acquired skills.
Volunteer Certificate - Volunteer Passport (Freiwilligennachweis)
In the last decade there has been a revaluation of non-formal and informal learning across Europe, including Austria. As part of this effort, Austria, in cooperation with the Austrian Council of Volunteers (Österreichischer Freiwilligenrat) and the Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care, and Consumer Protection, has developed a system called "Verification of Voluntary Activities". Its purpose is to confirm and document skills and abilities gained through volunteer work, with a special focus on social skills. The process involves a dialogue between volunteers and representatives of volunteer organisations, who together prepare the Volunteer Activity Certificate. This certificate serves as a record of the skills and competences acquired through volunteering.
The preparation of the certificate is a step-by-step process in which volunteers receive support and guidance from the representatives of the volunteer organizations. To ensure that the responsible individuals in these organizations and volunteer coordinators are equipped to assist volunteers in documenting their skills, regular training courses are provided.
In 2017, Austria introduced the 'Volunteer Passport' as a means to document competences acquired through volunteering and track personal development. This passport serves as an inventory of the individual's skills and serves as a record of their growth and achievements.
In 2019, the 'Digital Volunteer Passport' (Digitaler Freiwilligenpass) was introduced, enabling the electronic issuance of activity certificates. Registered organizations receive a 'verified' seal, which assures authenticity and transparency of the certificates. The digital passport is accessible online and can be accessed using electronic identification (e-ID) or a cell phone signature. This digitalization of the verification process makes it easier for volunteers to obtain and manage their certificates, as well as for organizations to verify their authenticity.
Service Learning (in German)
Through Service Learning, students have the opportunity to combine studying and volunteering. This teaching and learning method thus enables the commitment to society (social) with the training of professional, methodological and social competences (learning). While in ‘classic’ seminars or lectures knowledge is often only conveyed theoretically, service learning makes teaching content practically tangible. In this way, students do something meaningful by doing something for others. At the same time, they acquire professional and social skills. Service Learning Projects usually involve close cooperation with associations or organisations from the social, educational, environmental, cultural, human rights or rescue sectors. The method thus contributes to personal development, to the further development of social competences and also to the students’ possibility to advance their own projects in a goal-oriented way and under professional guidance. Their commitment is confirmed by means of ECTS.
Europass is a free online tool from the European Union that enables young people to identify their skills and plan their learning and career paths in Europe. In this context, skills and competences acquired through volunteering can be easily stored in one place and accessed at any time. The qualifications acquired can also be included in a free and tailor-made letter of application. In addition, prospective young volunteers have the opportunity to easily share their personal Europass profile with volunteer organisations across Europe, giving them a direct insight into their personal skills and interests.
Since May 28th 2019, the Youthpass is available for all participants of all ESC project formats. It helps participants to be more aware of and present the wide range of social and personal competences they have acquired during their ESC placement. By using the Youthpass, organisations can make the quality and value of their work more visible and help to give more recognition to non-formal and informal learning at European level.