Vocational training and SMEs: the challenge of innovation in Catalonia

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This project aims to explore the relationship between the system of vocational and educational training (VET) and the innovation processes developed by SMEs in Catalonia. The purpose of this project is to analyse the training on innovation carried out by VET centres, what are the innovation skills demanded by companies and what is the role of technical workers in the innovation processes of SMEs in Catalonia.

In the current context of financial and economic crises, the analysis and debate on the process of institution-building and social economic model is very necessary. This debate about the economic model that Catalonia wants to develop should also include what model of professional training we want. In fact, different policy bodies point out the relevance of promoting education and innovation, especially in the context of relationships between firms and universities. But this debate often forgets to consider two important elements of our model. The first one is the predominance of SMEs in the industrial and service sectors. The second element concerns to the limited capacities that these firms have to innovate with their own resources and to collaborate with technologically advanced agents, such as R&D agents and universities. However, in a recent study (CEDEFOP, 2010), it is confirmed the centrality of VET to support economic development, stimulating business innovation and improving productivity.

The objective of this project is to explore  what adjustment we can find between innovation trained by VET centres and innovation demanded by companies. Therefore, this project wonders about the impact of VET centres and technical workers on innovation processes of SMEs in Catalonia.

This proposal assumes a qualitative perspective through the case study methodology. To do so, we will combine the  use of observation and semi-structured interviews in VET centres and SMEs. These techniques will be supplemented by focus groups. For the case study, we will select a number of cases defined by a VET centre and companies that collaborate with it. Focus groups will be held with a number of key stakeholders on the relationship between innovation, vocational training and companies. The qualitative analysis will study the correlation between innovation trained by VET centres and the skills and demands on innovation of firms. This approach will seek to study what is the role of technical workers in innovation processes in SMEs and to identify possible obstacles to their contribution. Throughout the research process, it is expected the active collaboration of different stakeholders, especially VET centres linked to the innovation and knowledge transfer Program (InnovaFP), conducting several workshops.

The team involved is relevant and appropriate  for two questions: 1) a multidisciplinary team that includes sociologists and economists from different universities, and 2) the experience in previous research linked to this project (innovation and training), allowing a considerable background in knowledge and contacts in the territory (for more details read the scientific report). Some members of the team have worked on projects addressed to the relationship between companies and vocational training, an issue in which we can have a considerable background in terms of contacts and knowledge (Olazarán and Brunet, 2013; Brunet and Rodriguez, 2013).

The possible contributions of the project are mainly concentrated in two elements: 1) to deepen in a largely unexplored object but crucial for the development of the economic and social model of Catalonia, and 2) to boost the relationships between actors involved in this project. In other words, this project seeks to go beyond the traditional model of basic research, with the aim of approaching to the problem in a more direct and collaborative way with its key stakeholders.

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