Growth mindset education in VET: Cometa Work-Based Guidance model

Nowadays, the world of work poses enormous challenges to the world of education. A world in continuous (technological, organizational, cultural …) evolution increasingly requires the personal development of characteristics such as flexibility, ability to adapt to different contexts and, above all, the willingness to learn continuously. To adapt to this condition it is essential to have a set of skills consisting of basic skills, technical and professional skills and transversal skills, which are necessary to learn methodically, solve problems by inventing unusual solutions, collaborate with others, understand and adapt to the context to be able to introduce change. Beyond this, what is needed is an individual who is a protagonist, aware of himself/ herself, able to handle changes. How can we educate and form such an individual?

The value of a Growth Mindset

In an attempt to answer this question, the European Union insists strongly on Work-Based Learning (WBL). Strengthening the connection between school and the world of work through different types of on-the-job learning (school-work alternation, apprenticeship, curricular and extracurricular traineeships) allows to create precious opportunities to reduce missmatches between the supply and the demand of general and professional skills.
However, if from an academic point of view the work-based learning has been indicated as essential for the development of both technical and transversal skills (EU New Skills Agenda, 2016), literature highlights the need of experience mediation tools in function of a greater awareness of oneself and one’s own learning processes (Dimai & Hautz, 2016). This “mediation” would be essential to educate people able to learn constantly and continuously.
Carol Dweck defines this willingness to learn continuously with the expression “Growth Mindset” (GM). The results of the first GM studies have shown that students’ firm belief that failure is permanent can prevent academic success. Furthermore, the results outlined that teaching students how their brains are able to change when confronted with challenges helps them to persevere and to develop a growth mindset (Dweck, 1986; 1988; 1995). The GM would therefore be the main predictor of success in training (more than IQ, motivation, the so-called grit). Even some studies by Aaronson and colleagues show that the very fact of making students aware of the malleability of the human brain favors the predisposition to GM and higher grades.

Work-based Guidance in Cometa

Certainly an attitude of predisposition for learning that makes people flexible and protagonists of their own development path can and must be developed since secondary school.
In this sense, for some years Cometa Formazione has consolidated a structured practice of Work-based Guidance (WBG) aimed at encouraging the employment of their students and alumni through the acquisition of a greater awareness of themselves and the world of work.
Starting from the years of school attendance, this practice allows to deepen the learning processes through the internship experience that is accompanied by a training unit called “UF Stage”.
The training provided within the “UF Stage” is introduced in the classroom by focusing on reflections, experiences and evidences that help students to start planning their own professional future. Students are supported by a tutor who carries out a real coaching function by accompanying them in elaborating awareness of a long-term perspective. During this pathway it is necessary for students not only to be updated and to improve themselves in order to live up to the tasks required by companies, but to become protagonists of their own lives. All “UF Stage” activities are based on the experiences gained during the internship in the company.
The gradual involvement of the students takes place through three steps: Orientation – Specialization – Professionalization. These steps correspond to the transfer of responsibility from the tutor to the student who becomes the protagonist of his path and his choices.
The lessons that make up the “UF Stage” follow a pre-established scheme depending on the corresponding school year. Tutors use “tools” that evolve and are renewed according to the aims that are needed to be reached each year and in relation to the time of the internship: before, during and after the internship.

The results of the model

Trends, averages and comparisons between subsamples have shown that there is certainly a relationship between the various dimensions studied and the variations in the mindset of the students.
In fact, the outcomes highlight a link, although small, between the change of mindset and the internship experience not intended as a mere training period in a company but as an opportunity for personal development as a function of a better and continuous insertion in the world of work, as well as greater personal satisfaction. Above all, it is evident that it is not the internship itself that generates a mindset change: the accompanying activity as developed in the path proposed in “UF Stage” in Cometa Formazione seems in this sense to be decisive. The fundamentals for building an intentional process for the development of GM in professional training seem to coincide with the constitutive elements of the Work-based Guidance in Cometa Formazione:
First of all, the tutoring relationship, a relationship of high educational value that favors reflective practice in the student who needs to act in different contexts (school, company). Real learning cannot be guaranteed without the tutoring relationship.
Secondly, the coaching activities carried out by tutors represent an important support for students towards a greater self-awareness and a willingness to work. The data show not only that coaching is effective but that the type of person who is trained is aligned to the person with a growth mindset: resilient, focused on learning rather than on performance, open to constructive criticism and to take a hard challenge.
Finally, in order to foster a person’s education, it is necessary to plan the internship that intentionally proposes stimulating objectives and tasks relevant to the student’s future. The internship should take place in an on-the-job training context able to accommodate interns not as a mere “work force” but as individuals.
School and company must be characterized more and more as training contexts in which not only transversal competences are at the center: to form soft skills it is essential to reconsider the importance of the centrality of the learner. Furthermore it is important to plan the learners active involvement in all the training dimensions.
The Work-based Guidance model of Cometa Formazione scs aims at this broad and high objective: individuals must increase their self-awareness, the awareness of the needs and of the reality that surround them in order to continue to be inserted in a constructive and positive manner. Only a training which purpose is the “growth of the person towards the full realization of his humanity” can lead to such a result. (Alessandrini 2011, p.72).

Published by Paolo Nardi

Paolo Nardi

International Affairs Officer and Responsible for Research at Cometa. Fellow at PlusValue. Assistant editor of the journal Economics and Policy of Energy and the Environment. I got my degree in Public Administration and International Institutions and my PhD in International Law and Economics at Università Bocconi; I also got a MA in Public Policy at Brunel University London. My research interests shifted from human geography (namely: non profit, social innovation and community development) to education and training.

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