Home Education Higher Education Dutch vocational education in a nutshell
Last update on November 14, 2019

In vocational education in the Netherlands, students can acquire competency in specialised job fields through a combination of theory and work experience.

The European and international labour markets demand highly educated workers who are prepared for the future. The Netherlands Association of Vocational Education and Training Colleges aims to deliver.

Meet the MBO Raad

The MBO Raad is the Netherlands Association of Vocational Education and Training (VET) Colleges, and represents all government-funded colleges for secondary VET and adult education in the Netherlands. As well as promoting the collective interests of the sector and acting as an employers’ organisation, the association plays a major role in remodelling Dutch vocational education to be competency-based.

Dutch vocational education and training (MBO)

MBO (Middelbaar Beroeps Onderwijs) is the abbreviation for secondary VET in the Netherlands. VET is the main supplier to the labour market, often regarded as the ‘foundation of the economy’: approximately 40 percent of the Dutch working population have completed a vocational course to at least a secondary vocational training level.

There are currently 630,000 students in the VET sector, 485,000 of whom take part in regular VET courses. The remainder follow adult education programmes. The government invests about EUR 2.6 billion annually in this sector–approximately 12 percent of the total budget for education–which forms the linchpin between pre-vocational secondary education and higher professional education.

MBO colleges

The VET sector consists of 70 colleges, comprising VET colleges (ROCs in Dutch), agricultural VET colleges (AOCs) and specialised vocational colleges. The ROCs offer VET in technology, economics, personal/social services, health care and adult education. The agricultural VET colleges offer pre-vocational secondary and VET in the agricultural and food technology sectors. Specialised colleges offer programmes for one branch of industry only, such as graphic art and design, butchery, house painting, furniture making, fishing or shipping and transport.

Available courses

1) VET

VET provides several programmes for young people from the age of 16 to develop their skills and increase their employability. Students can choose between a school-based learning route with full-time education (BOL) and a work-based route (BBL) in which students combine work and study. In both routes and at every training level, students must spend part of their time on work experience in order to obtain a diploma, so that all students acquire competency in a work environment.

The duration of the courses varies from six months to four years, depending on the course level:

  • Level 1:  Assistant training
  • Level 2:  Basic vocational training
  • Level 3:  Full professional training
  • Level 4:  Middle management and specialist training

2) Adult education

Adult education is accessible for adults from the age of 18 onwards and encompasses, for example, introductory courses for immigrants to the Netherlands, language and literacy courses at various levels and second-chance secondary education. It plays a major role in integration issues and contributes to social cohesion.

3) Education on a contract basis

The colleges also offer education and courses on a contract basis, such as refresher courses, in-service training for employees and training programmes for the unemployed, providing life-long learning opportunities.

Connection with the labour market

Among the Dutch educational sectors, VET maintains the closest relations with the labour market. Colleges have frequent contact with companies and organisations where students work or do work experience. Regional trade and industry communicate with the colleges about the quality and content of the courses on offer. Innovative education and training is also developed in close consultation with trade and industry.

This contact between colleges and companies is extremely important in ensuring a close match between the education that colleges provide and the skills that companies need. At the national level, the VET sector liaises with trade and industry on the content of the vocational courses, through the MBO Raad.

Competency-based vocational training

The qualification structure of Dutch vocational training is undergoing extensive remodelling towards competency-based learning, in order to meet society’s needs for modern and flexible employees. This structure describes all the occupations for which vocational courses are offered, plus the competences needed to practise those occupations. Qualifications must be broad and robust, and should indicate what qualities and attitudes are needed in the workplace.

Thus, vocational education can be more practical and enable colleges and companies to better tailor education to the needs of the region and the abilities of the student.

Globalisation in the MBO sector

The labour market is globalising rapidly: workers are increasingly internationally mobile and Dutch society encompasses a great variety of nationalities and cultures. As a result, the international dimension in VET has become increasingly important.

Vocational education has a crucial part to play in making Europe the most competitive economy in the world–an ambition declared by European leaders at the Lisbon Summit in 2000–and in strengthening the knowledge-based economy in Europe. The European and international labour markets demand highly educated workers who are prepared for the future and who take life-long learning seriously. It is the mission of the MBO Raad to support and advise its members in achieving this goal.

For more information, visit the MBO Raad website.