16 mei 2023

Neth-ER event kicks off European Year of Skills: “lifelong learning should be the new normal”

Nienke van Liempt

Nienke van Liempt


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Up- and reskilling should be normalised and the European Year of Skills can help stimulate a positive image and convey a sense of urgency for skills. However, this does not unfold on its own record, so it is important to collaborate strongly between the education sector, civil society, business and government to create a flourishing lifelong learning market where microcredentials are validated and the same skills language is spoken. This was the bottom line of an event organised by Neth-ER just one day after the launch of the European Year of the Skills by the European Commission.  

Neth-ER event kicks off European Year of Skills: “lifelong learning should be the new normal”

The European Year of Skills: How to foster lifelong learning?

On 10 May 2023, Neth-ER, MBO Raad and Vereniging Hogescholen organised an event on the European Year of Skills and fostering lifelong learning (LLL). The activities and the goals of the Year of Skills were highlighted by Sabrina Ferraz Guarino, policy assistant from DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (EMPL). During the event, five pitchers painted a picture on how Dutch stakeholders are working on key elements of the Year of Skills, such as promoting upskilling and reskilling, skills languages and microcredentials. The overall message of the pitches highlighted the importance of everyone perceiving the need for skills which can be acquired through lifelong learning and validated through microcredentials, as well as the importance of having a strong collaboration between and in sectors.

Reskilling and upskilling should be the norm

The European Year of Skills promotes the mindset of reskilling and upskilling, told Sabrina Ferraz Guarino from DG EMPL. The aim of the European Year of Skills is to raise awareness and support a holistic approach to lifelong learning. This will be done by making the tools already available better known and giving an extra boost with new proposals, such as the launch of the pilot for the European Digital Skills Certificate or the recently launched Net-Zero Skills Academies. The Year of Skills and lifelong learning are featured prominently through the individual learning accounts, microcredentials and the Pact for Skills. Regarding the latter up to now fourteen large scale skills partnerships have been launched committing to reskilling almost six million people the coming years. Two partners from these partnerships feature as pitchers during this event .

Gaining experience with microcredentials in a national context

Next up were the different pitchers. Bart Lamboo, project leader of the National Pilot Microcredentials, shared the Dutch experience with the implementation of microcredentials, a key initiative of the European Skills Agenda. The goal of the pilot is to create a system in which microcredentials have a recognized and recognizable value. Through the pilot they discovered a number of challenges regarding the implementation, such as the lack of clarity about who is nationally responsible for the registration and storage of microcredentials, how their quality can be assured and making higher education familiar with the development of ‘commercial’ LLL educational offerings. The pilot thus gives time and opportunity to learn together how to scale up this development and implement the EU Recommendation on a European approach for microcredentials.

An integral approach and common language is needed

Microcredentials alone are not enough however, as an integral approach to lifelong learning is needed, said Wieger Bakker, dean of lifelong learning at Utrecht University and member of the programme team of the National Life Long Learning Catalyst. He explained the challenges for lifelong learning which include the insufficient current supply to meet the demand and the insufficient understanding of the labour demand in the future. The LLL Catalyst ambition is to create an ecosystem that independently generates structural insight into market needs in order to develop demand-oriented products. To reach this goal an integral approach with players from education, civil society, business and government is vital, he concluded. The third pitcher Joost van Genabeek, from CompetentNL, underscored the importance of developing an integrated Dutch skills language that is clear for all actors. Currently there is no universal standard for the different sectors, but many different standards and skills languages. A common skills language will contribute to individuals being able to also show the skills they obtained after their diploma. The distinguishing features of CompetentNL include that it is free to use, it connects labour market and education, it is dynamic and validated and will speak everyone’s language.  

Working as a partner in EU's Pact for Skills

The importance of skills and a sectoral approach specifically the creative industries and IT sector was advocated by the last two speakers. David Crombie explained the Cyanotypes project, a blueprint for skills funded by Erasmus+. The project partners are active members of the Pact for Skills partnership for the Culture and Creative Industries. Cyanotypes addresses the cultural and creative sector’s needs and skills gaps and tries to come up with new curriculums that are embedded in lifelong learning  environments. And as finisher, Ronald Kleijn from Make IT Work, part of the Pact for Skills for the digital ecosystem, brought together many of the previous points. Ronald confirmed the importance of acquiring skills and microcredentials as a validation of those skills. In the project Make IT Work people explore job possibilities in the IT sector based on their skills and a shared skills language. Furthermore, they are able to see personalised learning paths to a specific job and which skills they would need to acquire. After the participants learned those skills they will receive microcredentials which will help them to connect with employers in the IT sector.

The added value of EU cooperation on skills

Lastly, the pitchers discussed the added value of EU intervention and cooperation in the context of the Year of Skills. The collective consensus was that the EU level can be helpful and has plenty of available knowledge, for example Joost van Genabeek underscored the importance of the EU with regards to the experience that is there, which is being used by CompetentNL. Wieger Bakker mentioned that institutions in the same domain are already part of European networks and these networks are needed to elevate lifelong learning to the next level. Bart Lamboo mentioned that the EU definition for microcredentials is helpful, but some form of stimulation from the EU for the implementation would give it a boost. David Crombie mentioned that the EU brings a focus which is not available on the national level. He concluded that the sense of urgency regarding skills comes from the European level. When asked what the hopes of the future are Ronald Kleijn answered he hopes the European Year of Skills will contribute to the normalisation of retraining and reskilling, so people will no longer be told that they made a mistake in the past when indicating they want to retrain. In conclusion the pitchers are unanimous: convey the sense of urgency for skills and related concepts to everyone during this Year of Skills but surely also beyond by putting it high on the agenda of the next European Commission.


All presentations can be found under 'Documenten'. 


Mede geschreven door Lotte Kloosterhof.