The Economic and Social Council held consultations on issues related to the normative regulation of dual education or work-based learning. The consultation was requested by the Minister of Education Krasimir Valchev who, in a special letter to ESC, referred to the ESC Act and justified the need for a broad dialogue between stakeholders and institutions, in order to find the best solutions to the problems encountered in the process of establishing the new form of education - dual education. Minister Valchev stressed in the letter that the growing shortage of qualified workers with suitable professional training on the labour market requires the Ministry of Education and Science and other institutions to develop a regulatory framework that would create adequate conditions for the development of the new form of work-based learning. In response to this letter, ESC members met and discussed the topic with the teams of the three ministries led by the respective deputy ministers. The Ministry of Education and Science was represented by Deputy Minister Tanya Mihailova, The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy by Deputy Minister Lazar Lazarov, and the Ministry of Economy by Deputy Minister Lachezar Borisov.
After Deputy Minister Mihailova outlined the problems faced by the Ministry of Education and Science in connection with the increasing interest in applying the new form of work-based learning, the discussion addressed different possibilities for finding normative solutions for the encountered problems. The specific form of vocational training raises a number of questions about the type of legislation needed to regulate such training. There were mainly two options discussed - the relationship between the student, the school and the enterprise to become part of the Labour Code, or to be included in the special Vocational Education and Training Act.
Relationships between the student and the enterprise in which the former acquires a profession raises many questions. One of them is whether students who go to enterprises to acquire professional skills and knowledge must sign contracts with these businesses and what kind of contracts can be signed between a student and an employer. Another question is whether students should receive remuneration for their work and what kind of remuneration should this be? What kind of risks should be covered in case of a working student and who is responsible for such risks? Must a student be first instructed on safety and health at work and must he or she be insured against the risks involved?
ESC members, including representatives of employers' organizations, trade unions, and other non-governmental organizations, argued their positions that a student who is acquiring practical skills in a work environment is essentially learning and not being employed as an employee. Therefore, the relationship between it, the school and the enterprise must be regulated by the Vocational Education and Training Act, not the Labour Code. The opinion was also stressed that the interest demonstrated by employers to train students in a work environment should be stimulated. Excessive regulation and especially requirements at the expense of employers connected with demands on mentors and compensation for the work of students may have a negative effect.
The Ministry of the Economy made a commitment to create, as a public service, a database of enterprises participating in dual education and of mentors who can train students through work, as well as to update this database annually. The discussion highlighted the need to stimulate students financially, so that they would remain in the enterprise after completing their education if they choose not to continue their education.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy has expressed the view that new regulatory changes related to arrangements between students, schools and enterprises should be addressed in the special Vocational Education and Training Act. The motivation of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy is that students receive work-based training and this means they are should not be considered as hired workers.
Professor Dr. Lalko Dulevski, President of the Economic and Social Council, recalled in his closing remarks that many years ago, in Bulgaria, the model for apprentice-craftsman training was also an example for other countries, and in more recent past, vocational schools were preparing staff for enterprises. This experience deserves to be studied and used, Prof. Dr. Dulevski indicated. On behalf of ESC, its President thanked Minister Valchev for the initiative to consult with organized civil society and undertook that ESC will engage further in a discussion that would precede the legislative changes themselves for dual learning.