Lessons from EU Countries

EU Policy and Practice in Education

The changing nature of work raises many questions for the US education system. As the pace of innovation accelerates, technicians will need to acquire many new skills. Because this phenomenon is global, there is great value in looking at how other countries are responding to these realities. The EU, with its highly developed economies and multiple approaches to what they refer to as vocational education and training (VET), offers potential lessons for the US CTE system. This paper broadly discusses VET policies across six countries in Europe—Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, and Spain—along with the lessons they offer the US CTE system and potential policy and practice implications.

EU Study Tour

Project Overview

Preparing Technicians for the Future of Work is a US National Science Foundation project facilitating regional collaboration between community college educators and their industry partners to determine the impacts of emerging technologies on the need for highly skilled workers. The project is led by the Center for Occupational Research and Development (CORD), a national nonprofit organization with a 45-year history of helping educators and workforce development professionals prepare learners for success in college and careers.

Through a series of meetings, the project has identified three broad skill areas that are increasingly important for graduates of community college advanced technology programs. These are:

  • Advanced Digital Literacy
  • Data Knowledge and Analysis
  • Business Knowledge and Processes

Skills within these three foundational areas apply across industry sectors and play a role in the invention and adoption of new technologies. With this in mind, the project solicited competitive applications for an EU Study Tour visiting Spain and Germany. The selected participants wish to learn about how the adoption of new technologies affects technician training, educational program design, and school relationships with companies that hire program graduates. During the visit, they will observe practices that could be implemented at their home campuses and will report their findings to a national audience of their peers in July.

Faculty Participants

Chuck Bales

Program Coordinator / Professor, Automation & Engineering Technology
Moraine Valley Community College

Chuck has taught and developed curriculum for mechanical design, CAD, automation, and engineering technology for 29 years. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Florida and a bachelor’s degree in industrial technology from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. As a program coordinator, full-time faculty member, and academic researcher, he has developed and taught numerous engineering and technology courses and created several new degree and certificate programs at the college. Chuck has been actively involved in grants as a co-principal investigator, researcher, and developer for the Department of Education, National Science Foundation, National Security Agency, and US Department of Labor since 1994. He also holds numerous professional certifications in the fields of information technology and networking, manufacturing and robotics, and computer-aided design.

Chris Blaisdell

Mechatronics Instructor
South Central College

Chris holds a degree in Manufacturing Engineering Technology from Minnesota State University, Mankato. He has been teaching at SCC for three years. His educational interests include PLCs, sensors and controls, Industry 4.0, industrial mechanics, and electricity. His program prepares graduates for careers in industrial maintenance and industrial automation. He is always eager to learn new things and expand his horizons. That's why he is thrilled to participate in an upcoming tour of Manufacturing and Education in Spain and Germany with NSF/CORD. This tour will allow Chris to visit some of the leading industries and educational institutions in Europe and learn from their best practices. Chris hopes to gain valuable insights and inspiration that he can bring back to his school and industry in greater southern MN. He looks forward to sharing his experiences and knowledge with colleagues and students and fostering international collaboration and exchange.

Kristine Christensen

Professor of Computer Information Systems
Moraine Valley Community College

Kristine has taught and developed curriculum in website development, user interface design, programming, networking, robotics, and engineering technology for the past twenty years. She also serves as Moraine Valley’s Director of Faculty Development and is responsible for designing, developing, and evaluating professional development programs for faculty and staff. She has been actively involved in research and curriculum development for grants awarded by the National Science Foundation, National Security Agency, and National Centers of Academic Excellence. Kristine earned degrees in business and industrial psychology, an MBA, and master's degrees in management information systems and teaching and learning. She also holds a PhD in community college leadership and is pursuing master's studies in mass communications and cybersecurity. Joining the EU Study Tour, she seeks to broaden her pedagogical strategies and foster international educational collaborations. Her goal is to enhance her students’ learning experiences by incorporating global insights and strengthening industry-education partnerships.

Marci Gale

Mechatronics Faculty and Program Head
Central Virginia Community College

Marci has ten years of engineering experience in the telecom industry, including three patents, and ten years of experience as a faculty member, teaching traditional, adult, dual-enrolled, and workforce solution students. She has won several college- and state-level teaching awards, including Outstanding Faculty in 2021 and the 2022 Faculty Community Impact Award. Marci is PI for her second NSF ATE grant, Improving Advanced Manufacturing Technician Education Using Industry Partnerships, and is involved in improving access to higher education programs for underserved populations through several community poverty-fighting organizations. She holds a BS in electrical engineering, with a minor in computer science, from the University of Virginia, and an MS in occupational and technical studies with a concentration in career and technical education from Old Dominion University.

Bryan Kasun

Instructor of Advanced Manufacturing
Gateway Technical College

Bryan's experience at Gateway comes from 12+ years of in-the-field engineering experience; which he is able to apply to his career every day. Bryan's expansive knowledge of 3D Printing, manufacturing, PLC's, programming, robotics, controls, electrical and mechanical engineering, allow him to work in many areas while on campus. Bryan also instructs customized Business Workforce Solutions classes for company training and apprenticeship programs. Bryan has a side business doing 3D printing and prototyping; and regularly brings back some of the skills and intel learned from starting a small business and incorporates it into the classroom when working with students. Bryan is looking forward to attending this trip with other cohorts from around the nation, and is proud to have been selected for this unique opportunity. Through the engagement, he looks forward to bringing back valuable knowledge that he can incorporate into the classroom and into other programs college wide.

Justin Starr

Endowed Professor of Advanced Technology, Mechatronics Program Coordinator
Community College of Allegheny County

Justin works to integrate advanced technology into CCAC's course offerings such as augmented reality, electron microscopy, and collaborative robots and serves as PI or Co-PI on 14 federal and state grants supporting research into effective credit-noncredit collaboration. Previously, Justin served as CTO of RedZone Robotics, a manufacturer of water and wastewater inspection robots, and a fractional COO for a number of private equity–backed firms in the high-tech space. Justin holds 14 U.S. patents for inventions in robotics, artificial intelligence, and automation and was named an Engineering Unleashed Fellow and HI-TEC Fellow for his work with high-impact technologies. Justin earned an AS in general studies from CCAC, a BS in engineering science from the University of Virginia, and MS and PhD degrees in materials engineering from the University of Florida. He is the author of Water and Wastewater Pipeline Assessment Technologies, a leading text on underground inspection.

Rick Vaughn

Faculty Chair, STEM Initiatives
Rio Salado College (one of the Maricopa Community Colleges)

Rick leads in-person, hybrid, and online technology programs in cybersecurity, programming, semiconductor manufacturing, precision optics, and blockchain at Rio Salado College. While his primary role is to hire, train, supervise, and schedule adjunct faculty in these areas, he has taught courses in computer science, micro and nanotechnology, and computer information systems for the past two years. He is the PI on a NSF ATE grant for hybrid technology training for MNT and a Co-PI on a national microelectronics and nanomanufacturing certificate program grant out of Penn State, which provides 12 weeks of with non-credit semiconductor training for veterans. Recent work has centered on the launch of microcredential pathway and certificate of completion in precision optics in January 2024. His study will focus on the EU perspective on OT and IT convergence and particular models of workforce preparation that might be translatable to the United States and Maricopa County in particular.

Project Leaders

Jennifer Jirous Rapp

Lead for EU Study Tour
Vice President, Pathways & Partnerships
Center for Occupational Research and Development (CORD)

As CORD's Vice President of Pathways & Partnerships, Jennifer supports initiatives related to Career Pathways, Career and Technical Education, and Adult Education. Prior to joining CORD, Jennifer worked at the American Institutes of Research (AIR) as a Technical Assistance Consultant for national projects focused on education and workforce development, including DOL-funded Registered Apprenticeship expansion and OCTAE-funded Integrated Education and Training (IET) toolkit and design camps. Jennifer also worked for ten years in state-level administration in Colorado, where she provided leadership for the implementation of the state’s State Apprenticeship Expansion grant at the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment and the implementation of Adult Career Pathways funding for the Colorado Department of Education. She was also the state director of STEM and Arts secondary and postsecondary Career and Technical Education programs at the Colorado Community College System for over six years and has over a decade of experience as faculty and Department Chair at Pikes Peak Community College. Jennifer has a PhD in Leadership, Research and Policy from the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, an MBA from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, and a BS in Computer Information Systems from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point.

Liz Ahlers

Project Manager
Center for Occupational Research and Development (CORD)

Liz serves as the Director of Communications and Outreach for CORD in addition to her role as project manager for Preparing Technicians for the Future of Work. She has worked in the non-profit and education industries for over twenty years, serving as Executive Director for Communities in Schools and the Texas Ranger Association Foundation. She also worked in Institutional Advancement for Texas Tech University. Her commitment to building pathways to success through education has given her the opportunity to serve on numerous boards and taskforces geared towards workforce and economic development, including an appointment by Laura Bush to serve on the White House initiative Helping America's Youth.