innovation in professional education

2 Cool 4 School – A Unique approach to innovation & development of professional education (MBO) in the Netherlands

Fronteer became involved in the world of education in 2010. We hosted an expert session about ‘How to clean up the global denim industry?’. One of the answers was to train a bright blue generation of new denim talent. Informed & inspired about a cleaner way of making jeans. To our great surprise there was no school, university or other vocational training dedicated to making jeans. Despite its estimated $100bn size… So we set out to create one. But how do you make a new school?

HoD Jean School

Working closely with Mirjam Riethof, Mira Copini and Danielle Habets at ROCvA (Amsterdam’s premier player in vocational training, MBO), our partner in crime Mariette Hoitink at HTNK and the global denim brands based in Amsterdam , we soon decided to set up a pilot programme; immersing a first class-full of students into the reality of the denim world for 12 weeks. 

Our promise: 

A guest lecture, practical assignment and/or company visit every week. Iconic leaders and experts from Levis Vintage, G-Star, Tommy Hilfiger, Denham the Jeanmaker, Scotch & Soda, Kings of Indigo and many others jumped in to help us. Following a stroke of luck and a chance meeting with Christopher Schuetze from Herald Tribune, our story AND a half-page picture hit the pages of the New York Times, spreading our story to all the key stakeholders of the denim industry.

To cut a long story short: with strong international momentum, support from the Amsterdam Mayor’s office and a government education reform programme, we transitioned from a ‘cool idea’ into a fully accredited, government funded and industry-co-created 3-year curriculum, called Jean School. We have since seen 5 classes graduate. And we are ranked among the world’s top 100 fashion schools (at place #98). This has also proved that focused, ambitious ‘maker’ education can be recognised by industry as highly valuable. A huge boost for the MBO, which is rarely recognised for its efforts & ability to develop new industry talent.

photo: NY Times

New courses for new professions

Talking to our partners at ROCvA, we wondered if our approach (ambitious, industry-driven, co-creative) could be used to develop other new, fresh, vocational courses for other (new) professions too. You will not be surprised to learn that the answer was ‘Yes’. We have since contributed to over 10 other ‘new schools’, ranging from event production to logistics and from retail to hospitality

In many cases, the existing course materials and curriculum provide an excellent backbone of content. The roadmap approach brings 2 interesting enrichments:

  • We identify the future roles/jobs and determine the required skills & knowledge first. Then, we go back to see which (elements) of the existing ‘dossiers’ are adequate to move forward.
  • To the ‘Content’ of the course, we add three other C’s: 
    • Context: what actually does my future job/place of work look like, what’s going on in terms of trends & developments?, 
    • Culture: how do people act, talk, dress, behave? 
    • Connections: who’s who; who can I call, who should know who I am.

Teachers can’t do all this on their own: there are specific roles that need to be filled by industry too.

A ‘Roadmap’ for MBO innovation

As more schools see this form of public-private collaboration as ‘the future’, we sat down with our counterparts across industry colleges to discuss & capture learnings from the wide variety of projects that had thus-far been relatively ‘ad hoc’. Collaboratively, we translated our best (and worst) practices into a ‘Roadmap’ consisting of 6 stages with focused topics, roles, tooling and checklists per stage – loosely inspired by the ‘stage-gate’ approach to corporate innovation. 

It feels good: a structured, multi-stakeholder approach for the fuzzy, creative process of developing new schools. Newcomers appreciate the security that the structure brings, experiences can be shared among teams and tools & methods can be fine-tuned.

  • Stage 1 focuses on developing a ‘Well-defined Idea‘, based on the initial prompt  (problem, opportunity, request, research)
  • Stage 2 is about creating a ‘Compelling Concept‘ (in co-creation with leading experts from the world of work in question)
  • Stage 3 transitions the concept into a ‘Detailed Design‘ (with 2 key deliverables: a curriculum and clearly outlined roles for industry)
  • Stage 4 is ‘crunch time’: ‘pilot‘ the prototype (and get feedback from key stakeholders like partners, students and teachers)
  • Stage 5 turns the hard work into reality: running the new course for its first few seasons
  • Stage 6 is when the ‘special project’ is locked in to business as usual, becoming the ‘New Normal‘ (including scheduling, staffing and finance)

Although at this relatively early stage only a few projects have entered phase 6, the presence of a structure is allowing us to share experiences across teams. And to define specific roles and start thinking about ‘train-the-trainer’ type tooling. This is important, because in the medium term, the schools will need to develop innovation/co-creation skills & strategies of their own.

The Roadmap at Work

To our delight, the leadership team of Rotterdam’s Zadkine school group embraced the full ‘Roadmap’ approach. This spring, we have passed stages 1 to 3. Currently we are preparing to pilot 2 new schools, specifically developed for the Rotterdam employment context. If all goes according to plan, stage 5 is scheduled for 2020 in both cases.

The New House of Drinks is a fresh, reality-based course that will train a new generation of great bartenders to ‘raise the bar’ in Rotterdam’s booming restaurant, bar and nightlife scene. E-Com Academy will develop new talent for e-commerce jobs ranging from retail to utilities. Both courses were based on expert interviews, co-creation with local industry leaders and validation with students, teachers and professionals alike. Using tools & methods from our design thinking, sprint and co-creation toolbox, we managed to realise this process in just a few months.

 ‘Wow. We made more progress this afternoon than we usually do in half a year’. 

Member of project team

Although it’s early days, we feel that the Roadmap and the formats & solutions being developed within it, can be a very strong  framework for ambitious educators across industries.

If you are interested to know more about our perspective, approach and case work (spreading from Amsterdam to Hilversum, The Hague and Rotterdam), please do contact us.