New Skills Agenda; a good start
The New Skills Agenda for Europe is a good step in addressing the skills gap and skills mismatch in Europe, but there are still some questions concerning the implementation. That is the general conclusion from the Neth-ER Seminar ‘Reflections on the New Skills Agenda for Europe’, which took place on 23 June 2016 in the European Parliament. The seminar brought together over 70 representatives from the field of education and policy makers for a first reflection on the newly presented Agenda.
The time is now
European action is needed in the field of skills in order for Europe to deal with the consequences of the economic crisis, such as youth unemployment, and to prepare for the future. Most speakers at the Neth-ER seminar ‘Reflections on the New Skills Agenda for Europe’ agreed with this reason of the European Commission for drafting the new agenda. In her presentation, which kicked off the seminar, Carla Pereira, Head of Unit at DG EMPL of the European Commission, painted the picture rather clearly: there is high unemployment among low-skilled people in Europe, 70 million people lack basic skills, 40% of employers struggle to get positions filled, and a growing demand for digital skills. Jeroen Lenaers, Member of the European Parliament, agreed with her analysis and emphasised that the employment rates of high-skilled people recovered after the start of the crisis but they did not recover for low-skilled people.
Importance of VET
Paul Oomens, Director of the Association of Dutch VET Colleges, and Dorthe Andersen, Member of the European Economic and Social Committee, agreed with the problem analysis of Carla, but questioned the actions proposed by the Commission to tackle the existing issues. Mr Oomens applauded the initiative to make VET a first choice, but stressed that this should include making VET providers partners of the Commission in policy making and that more funding for VET mobility would be necessary. He also emphasised the need to leave the implementation of the agenda to the national and regional authorities and the education field. Ms Andersen also agreed with making VET a first choice, especially because employers need VET graduates to fill their positions. She argued that although the Agenda is a nice first step, the Commission should learn more from best practices in the Member States on how to ensure that the demands of the labour markets are fulfilled.
Skills for society
The Skills Guarantee is meant to give people in vulnerable positions in the labour market a chance to obtain the skills needed to become an active member of the labour force again. This way the agenda also addresses the societal role of skills development and education. Michael Gaebel, Director of the Higher Education Policy Unit of the European University Association, therefore welcomed the attempts to improve the transition between higher education and VET, because it allows people to find the right education for them. He stressed however, that these sectors have different structures because they have different societal roles (for example when it comes to employment). He also argued that the whole education sector plays another important role in society, namely in education on values. This is also essential for an inclusive society and according to Mr Gaebel the Commission should pay more attention to this in the agenda.
The Agenda was published in June and was accompanied by proposals for the Skills Guarantee and the revision of the EQF. These proposals will now be discussed in the Council before the Council adopts the (revised) recommendations. These are merely recommendations by the Council to the Member States, so the Parliament formally does not have a role in this process. Later in 2016 the Commission expects to publish proposals for the Blueprint, the revision of Europass, a Toolkit for Third Country Nationals and on the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition. In December the first VET Skills Week will take place. In 2017 four more initiatives of the Commission in the framework of this agenda can be expected.