Reinventing vocational education

#Service design

Haridus- ja Noorteamet / Education and Youth Board


What we did?
Innovation program, service design

Who did it?
Brand Manual
BDA Consulting

The Education and Youth Board of Estonia (HARNO) has been one of the drivers to reform vocational education in Estonia.

HARNO engaged us to create out a development program, during which three organisational models of workplace-based learning would be created, using the principles and tools of design thinking, with team members selected from different social partners. The program’s end deliverable was three different workplace-based learning models, which could be piloted in the vocational education schools starting from the 23/34 education year.

The process

Brand Manual, together with our partners BDA and ReThink created an innovation program, that during half a year brought together various social partners (vocational schools, companies, associations, department of education, education and youth board) and facilitated a learning and innovation process. Three industries were addressed in this program: construction (environmental systems), metal (production of metal products) and retail. 

Each industry team was facilitated by a design manager. Each development day was introduced by a limited amount of service design / design thinking theory as well as tools and methods. The development days served to bring the team into the same information space and to create the work plan that needed to be completed in time for the next development day.

The program itself followed the classic double diamond process (discover, define, develop, deliver), and each development day served as a gate / stage for moving along the process. Between the development days, the design managers also coordinated activities and information, in order to reduce the amount of potential double work that the teams could inadvertently do.


Three different work-place education models were created by three diverse teams. The construction team developed a model for a 3 year vocational secondary education program. The metal team and retail team both blueprinted models for a 1 year post-secondary qualification program. Each education model differed quite a lot in the details, however many principles were applicable to all vocational education programs.

Most important learnings: 

– The recruitment of internship companies for work-placed learning cannot be left to the student. Schools must work and train internship companies to manage the interns for work-place learning;

– The curriculum must be rewritten in a manner that is accessible to companies and students. The current curriculum format is reasonable only for the Ministry of Education for approval purposes;

– The longer (3 year) program must integrate a lot of the theoretical and secondary education and re-adjust subjects to be more general during the first year and very industry and specialisation specific by the third year;

– Vocational schools must work on their image. The overall image of vocational education in Estonia is that it is a second choice, if students don’t make into gymnasium. This affects both the motivation and quality of students that are to become high-quality workers in industry;

– Overall cooperation between industry and schools is low. In fact, research during the innovation program indicated that many companies distrust schools and do not value the quality of the education students receive, which is why many companies have their own training programs.

The final models were very well received by schools and industry and are currently in the piloting process.

The innovation program model itself is universal, and can be applied to narrow challenges within a company or to address multi-stakeholder wicked problems. Contact us, to find out more how to unlock your organisation’s innovation potential.