Servoz: 'Better linking to business is essential for vocational and higher education'

5 april 2017

It seems that 2017 will have a lot in store for DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion. Reason for Neth-ER to ask Michel Servoz, Director-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL), about his view on DG EMPL’s contribution in realising some of the major policy initiatives announced in the Commission Work Programme, especially those concerning youth. In this respect, the Commission has announced that it is a priority to help Member States to create the best possible conditions for young people to develop the skills they need and become active on the labour market and in society. This commitment has recently been fulfilled with the launch of the European Solidarity Corps, the ErasmusPro initiative and the call for Sector Skills Alliances.

New Skills Agenda

The New Skills Agenda for Europe (hereinafter: the New Skills Agenda) proposes ten key actions to be taken forward over the next two years in the areas of skills relevance, transparency and skills intelligence. Some of the initiatives have been launched last year, whereas others will be launched in 2017. What can you tell us about the timeline of the Commission’s current and future proposals under the New Skills Agenda?

We are working full speed on delivering all of the 10 actions of the New Skills Agenda as well as implementing more broadly its key policy messages in cooperation with the Member States and all the relevant players in this field, such as Neth-ER.

The Council Recommendation on Upskilling Pathways will help adults develop their basic skills and progress towards higher qualifications, in a flexible way. We are now focusing on helping Member States with its implementation so as to offer adults flexible opportunities allowing them to combine learning with their other responsibilities.

In December 2016, the Commission launched the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition to develop a large digital talent pool in Europe and ensure that individuals and the labour force are equipped with adequate digital skills. We had a great response and already almost 40 organisations have come forward and made pledges to take action on reducing the digital skills gaps in Europe.

The Blueprint for Sectoral Cooperation on Skills needs identification and development has also been launched in the form of a Call for Proposals covering six sectors and amounting to 24 million Euro. This bottom up approach seeks to coordinate key sectoral stakeholders to address specific skills gaps and shortages that are holding back growth and innovation in their industry.

Our proposals for the revision of the European Qualifications Framework and the Europass Framework are on the table of the Education Ministers and the European Parliament. These are two very important actions that aim at boosting skills intelligence and improving visibility and comparability of skills and qualifications to facilitate work and study mobility in Europe.

Together with the colleagues in DG Education and Culture, we are also working on a proposal for an initiative on graduate tracking in higher education and vocational education and training that should see the light in May. Also ongoing is the revision of the 2006 Recommendation on Key Competences for Lifelong Learning, for which a public consultation is open until 19 May.

The Commission is developing a multilingual "Skills Profile Tool for Third Country Nationals" to support national authorities, NGO's and other relevant organisations to identify and document the skills of refugees and other migrants in a consistent way across Member States. A demo version of the tool is currently being tested and the aim is to launch this in the summer.

Finally, we are about to initiate a study on brain drain in order to better understand this phenomenon and identify policies and measures to better manage it.

Funding for skills

The need for adequate EU funding for New Skills Agenda actions was highlighted by the Council. Could you tells us more about how synergies between European funding programmes in the area of skills development, in particular the ESIF (ESF and ERDF), and Erasmus+ are established?

Current EU funding can effectively underpin the implementation of the New Skills Agenda. For example the European Social Fund (ESF) in the period 2014-2020 contributes more than EUR 27 billion to "education, training and vocational training for skills and life-long learning'. This represents a third of ESF resources. We see that this money is being used at a very slow pace, so there is plenty of room to use part of these funds in coherence with the Skills Agenda.

The European Fund for Regional Development promotes balanced development in the different regions of the EU focusing on four priorities: innovation and research; the digital agenda; support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the low-carbon economy. Again, this is very much in line with the Skills Agenda.

Finally, Erasmus+ supports skills development in education and training with nearly EUR 11.5 billion and is already financing several priorities underlined in the Skills Agenda, such as adult learning, vocational education and training and sectoral cooperation on skills.

The first European Vocational Skills Week and its success

The first European Vocational Skills Week was a big success with more than 900 events and activities across Europe and over 1000 attendees to the events and activities in Brussels. It lays a firm foundation for follow-up actions and you mentioned that the world of education, business and labour institutions need to be better connected. We are curious to hear what follow-up actions the Commission has in mind for the coming year, especially for increasing the attractiveness of VET and making it ‘a first choice’?

Indeed, we were very pleased with the results of our first European Vocational Skills Week that took place in December 2016, aimed at raising the attractiveness of VET. We associated nearly 1000 events to the initiative and reached out to nearly 800,000 people. We had 1,500 attendees in the Brussels events. And media reach came to a huge 71 million. 

The enthusiastic contribution of stakeholders throughout Europe shows clearly that there is a need to intensify our work to raise the attractiveness and esteem of VET as a "first educational choice". Commissioner Thyssen has decided to launch the second Vocational Skills Week, due to take place from 20 to 24 November 2017.

We are equally conscious of the role of multi-stakeholder partnerships bridging education and employment, and making best VET practices a part of the mainstream. We are thinking about a particular emphasis on enterprise and education this year, as the European Pact for Youth (a business-led initiative to prepare young people for employment) concludes with a summit on 23 November 2017.

The Vocational Skills Week is just one of the many actions foreseen in the Skills Agenda that we are taking forward to make VET a "first educational choice". We are also actively working on implementing the Riga Conclusions and the 5 medium-term deliverables agreed by the Ministers responsible for VET in their meeting of June 2015, as well as the recent measures announced in the Commission Communication on "Investing in Europe's Youth".

Modernising Higher Education

In the process of the modernisation of higher education, many of the challenges that were identified on the basis of the public consultation on the EU's Modernisation Agenda for Higher Education, such as skills mismatches and the creation of better links with the labour market, also seem to apply to the VET sector. In your view, how do the modernisation Agenda for Higher Education and the New Skills Agenda relate to each other and how will synergies be drawn between the measures for the higher education and the VET sector?

In a time of high youth unemployment, including for highly qualified people, better linking to business is an imperative for both the VET and the higher education sector - not just for each of them, but for them as a coordinated learning provision agency. Effective cooperation with business, and with the community at large, should be organised around the skill needs of business and society in a given geographic area or a given sector.

VET and higher education both contribute to prepare people for the labour market as well as for active citizenship. It is therefore not surprising that their challenges are largely overlapping, which offers the opportunity for synergies. As the boundaries between these two sectors are increasingly blurring, we also aim to encourage stronger links and more permeability between the two sectors. The New Skills Agenda for Europe recognised this, envisaging action to support the modernisation of both VET and higher education.Two concrete examples of possible synergies are the Blueprint for sectoral cooperation on skills and the graduate tracking.

The Blueprint for sectoral cooperation on skills will establish European skills partnerships of sectoral stakeholders, such as business, education and training institutions, unions, and chambers. Together they will define sustainable sectoral strategies to identify skill needs and respond to them through appropriate skill development programmes at the level needed – upper secondary VET, higher VET or higher education.

Another example initiated by the Skills Agenda concerns graduate tracking – getting information on what people do after obtaining a qualification in either VET or higher education. This will help adjusting supply so that it can better meet the demand and increase the employability of graduates. The Commission is preparing a proposal for a Council Recommendation addressing both sectors and will set up a joint network to coordinate action at national level.

It is important to emphasise that good cooperation with business, unions and chambers also includes an active role for them in designing and delivering education and training. Companies can provide a valuable service to themselves and to society by hosting learners in apprenticeships or other forms of work-based learning. Learning on the work site must become a standard share of any learning programme. The European Alliance for Apprenticeships is an initiative that promotes this crucial approach.

Companies are also vital partners in cross-border mobility projects. In our Communication on Investing in Europe's Youth we announced the new activity ErasmusPro, which we are now defining together with the Erasmus+ Committee. It will offer apprenticeship placements in companies abroad of the same duration as higher education periods, ranging from one semester to one year.

This will only work if there is effective cooperation between VET providers and business, supported by intermediary bodies such as the chambers of commerce.

Meer informatie
Artikel Neth-ER: De focus van Brussel in 2017
Artikel Neth-ER: New Skills Agenda for Europe gelanceerd
Artikel Neth-ER: Raadsconclusies over skills en radicalisering
Artikel Neth-ER: Digital Skills and Job Coalition
Artikel Neth-ER: Commissie publiceert Blueprints for Sectoral Cooperation on Skills
Artikel Neth-ER: Europass weer bij de tijd
Artikel Neth-ER: Wat zijn de sleutelcompetenties van de toekomst?
Artikel Neth-ER: EC: modernisering en verbetering onderwijs hoog op de agenda
Artikel Neth-ER: Jongeren aan het werk in en voor Europa
Dossier Neth-ER: Diploma erkenning (EQF)
Dossier Neth-ER: ESIF (EFRO &ESF)
Dossier Neth-ER: Erasmus+
Publicatie Europese Commissie: Coordinated approach to (tertiary) graduate tracking
Publicatie Europese Commissie: European Vocational Skills Week
Publicatie Europese Commissie: European Alliance for Apprenticeships
Persbericht Europese Commissie: Save the date: European Vocational Skills Week on 20-24 November 2017

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