Thyssen: New Skills Agenda aims to build bridges between education and labour market

10 June 2016

With high (youth) unemployment throughout the continent and with a rapidly changing demand for skills, making sure people acquire the right skills is of utmost importance. To address these challenges, the European Commission presented the New Skills Agenda for Europe, which is meant to improve skills level, relevance and transparency and to predict better which skills are needed in the future. Marianne Thyssen, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility presents how this Agenda will strengthen human capital, employability and competitiveness in Europe.

Q: The New Skills Agenda for Europe was presented by you, as Commissioner for Employment, rather than by Navracsics, Commissioner for Education, while education plays an important role in the Agenda. Can you explain what role the Commission sees for the education field in addressing the skills issues?

A: Education and training is at the heart of the New Skills Agenda. We know that there are positive links between education, skills and employment opportunities and that more educated people earn more money and live longer. But at the same time about 70 million Europeans lack sufficient reading, writing and numeracy skills and 45% of the EU population lack a sufficient level of digital skills. Many young people cannot find jobs; 30% of third-level graduates are working in jobs that don't require their level of qualification; yet 40% of employers say they can't find people with the right skills.

While job creation is picking up, still much remains to be done. This is why this Commission's first priority is to strengthen Europe’s competitiveness, to stimulate investment and create more jobs. Our education and training systems can be a motor for this, but need to be more in tune with the real needs of employers. Education should give a solid foundation for life and active citizenship, but it should also open doors to quality job opportunities in your chosen field.

Q: The Agenda is a broad agenda that should serve all education sectors, including higher education. The Commission is also working on an agenda for modernising higher education in Europe. How are these two agendas related? Do they address similar issues?

The New Skills Agenda provides a framework for the EU's activities to increase skills levels, improve understanding of skills needs and help people have their skills  recognised. Many of the specific initiatives in the Skills Agenda – such as those on the Key Competences Framework, on digital skills or the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) – are relevant for more than one sector of the education and training system, as well as for employers and people in the labour market. The initiative on graduate tracking will initially focus on higher education graduates, but will also prepare the ground for work to get a better understanding of how VET students enter and progress in the labour market.

The increasing and changing demand for high-level skills highlighted in the Skills Agenda makes it more important than ever that Europe's higher education systems are as effective as possible.  The recent public consultation on the future of the EU's modernisation agenda for higher education made this very clear.  This is why the Commission intends to follow up on the Skills Agenda with a coherent set of EU-level actions to promote improved skills development in higher education, support researchers and teachers and encourage higher education institutions to engage actively with their communities and regions.

Q: With setting up Europass and EQF, the Commission has attempted to increase the transparency of competences and skills. Under the New Skills Agenda Europass and EQF will be revised. Why are these revisions necessary? And what do they entail?

A: The skills people learn at the end of the day also need to be valued. People need to be able to document and present their skills in an easy-to-understand way to employers and training providers. The Skills Agenda proposes to improve existing tools, notably the EQF and the Europass system, to make skills and qualifications more visible.

EQF and Europass are two very successful tools to promote skills transparency and encourage mobility by enabling Europeans to go abroad to study, work or train to develop their professional, social and intercultural skills and increase their employability. However, the original objectives of these instruments are not being fully reached due to the limitations of their current legal frameworks.  

The European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning (EQF), created in 2008, does not provide information on the content of single national qualifications for example. Also, services and information for better career choices at EU level are split into too many different instruments (Europass, Skills Panorama, EURES, etc.). The revision of both the EQF and the Europass will enable the Commission to better support the Member States in fulfilling these objectives.

Q: Part of the Agenda is a proposal for a Skills Guarantee, similar to the existing Youth Guarantee, which is meant to help young unemployed get back into a job. In the framework of this Guarantee, Europeans will be helped to find out what their skills are, what they are lacking and how they can gain the skills they need. How will this process work exactly? And who will implement it?

A: The aim of the Skills Guarantee is to help people improve their chances of securing and maintaining good jobs and ultimately improving their quality of life. The Skills Guarantee will support low skilled adults to acquire a minimum level of literacy, numeracy and digital skills and - when possible - a wider set of skills leading to an upper secondary education qualification or equivalent. In order to do so, the proposed initiative offers a three-step approach: skills assessment, a tailored learning offer and opportunities for the validation and recognition of the skills they acquire.

Implementation arrangements are left to the Member States to decide in the light of national circumstances. As the potential target group is very wide and heterogeneous, Member States may decide to prioritise certain subgroups. Strong coordination will be needed at national level but implementation will be a shared task between many actors, both in the public and private sectors, hence a strong call for working in partnerships across different policy sectors. European funds – around €30 billion - from the European Social Fund (ESF) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) are available to support the Member States in their implementation of the Skills Guarantee.

Q: During the Neth-ER seminar ‘Towards a European Skills Strategy’ on January 27, representatives of the Commission emphasised that the Agenda would address concrete problems with concrete and tested solutions. How is this reflected in the Agenda?

A: Although people in Europe are more educated than ever before, 40% of employers cannot find people with the right skills to grow and innovate and only a third of graduates and a third of employers believe that tertiary education providers prepare their students well for work. These gaps and mismatches are hampering employability and competitiveness in Europe. The New Skills Agenda for Europe aims to improve skills relevance by building stronger bridges between education and training providers and the labour market. These partnerships will help to identify skills which are crucial for competitiveness and enable education and training providers to develop, retain and attract the talents needed in specific regions and industries. In order to deliver these concrete sector-specific skills solutions, the European Commission has launched the Blueprint for Sectoral Cooperation on Skills to improve sectoral cooperation in the automotive, defence, space, tourism, maritime and textile industry. In a second wave, more industries may follow. This is crucial to better identify current and future skills needs and put in place the right training strategies to support growth and innovation.

Let me mention the specific issue of helping to make full use of the skills of migrants arriving in Europe as well as third country nationals already living here. I firmly believe that having a job is one of the quickest ways to integrate into a new society. For this to happen, we need to make it easier to see and understand migrants' existing skills and qualifications. In this respect we also propose a specific tool kit for third country nationals to help them move quickly into employment.

Q: Improving the transversal skills, like language and entrepreneurial skills, is one of the aims of the Agenda. Improving these skills has also been one of the aims of the European mobility programmes. Considering this shared aim, should the Agenda contribute to encourage mobility of students, teachers, researchers and workers?

A: The New Skills Agenda will support the mobility of students, teachers, researchers and workers. As mentioned earlier, the strengthened EQF will make qualifications more transparent across Europe. The new Europass will not only offer a wider range of tools and help people with career and learning choices, it will also work as a CV-builder for documenting skills and qualifications. Connecting the new Europass with available information on cross-border recognition practices and learning and career opportunities at home and abroad will provide a valuable integrated bundle of information services on skills and qualifications that will facilitate lifelong learning and mobility for European learners and citizens.

In addition to promoting mobility through transparency and skills intelligence, the New Skills Agenda will also provide enhanced support for the mobility of initial vocational education and training (VET) apprentices and learners. For now, only few countries include opportunities for mobility in their national schemes. In order to support more and better opportunities for learning mobility abroad in the field of VET, a mobility scoreboard, developed by CEDEFOP, will be launched in 2016. The Commission will also carry out a project commissioned by the European Parliament to assess the benefits and feasibility of longer mobility periods (6-12 months) for apprentices.

Q: Recently the Commission presented its Digitising European Industry package, in which it called for improving the digital skills of European citizens. In which way does the European New Skills Agenda contribute to this strategy?

A: The New Skills Agenda gives priority to digital skills at all levels - from basic to high-end - throughout all of its actions. It includes a flagship initiative called the "Coalition for Digital Skills and Jobs" which supports national coalitions connecting public authorities, business, education, training and labour market stakeholders; by bringing digital competences to all levels of education and by sharing of best practices. The Coalition will contribute to develop a large pool of digital talent and ensure that people in Europe are equipped with digital competences.

Meer informatie
Artikel Neth-ER: New Skills Agenda for Europe gelanceerd
Artikel Neth-ER: Ingredients for a European Skills Agenda

Beeld: Europese Commissie

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